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Prejudice Starts Young

May 18, 2007

Just a few moments ago, I was reminded that prejudice is indeed taught, and that it is taught to our children at a very young age. I’m a teacher in an elementary school and since there are only a few days of school left, I’ve made it easy on most of my music classes; I’ve allowed them to do some music instrument sudoku puzzles. While they worked and listened to some music, I surfed the net and came across a link to an interesting news story. This story: 60 Minutes on Yahoo: Gay or Straight?

I had taken a look at the various stories, realizing that most were video segments and nearly impossible to download here at work. As I scrolled back to the top, one of my students got out of her seat, came near my desk and saw the banner across the top of the webpage. She immediately returned to her seat to tell 3 other students what was on the monitor. I felt the discrimination and bullying kick in. These are ruthless sixth graders just beginning to experience puberty.

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I felt the power of their incredulous looks. I hadn’t felt this in years, but those horrible moments that were a daily occurrence back in jr. and sr. high flooded back into my memory. This time though, I remembered that I am in charge. I confronted the girl by asking if there was something she wanted to share, anything she’d like to say to me. I could see the guilt on her face. I held my ground and fixed my gaze on them. I asked her if she was sure. Then I reminded them to stop talking.

But now I get to concern myself with the fallout. Is there any reason for me to feel guilty for looking at a news story concerning orientation? Absolutely not. Should I be concerned that a 12yo girl saw that headline? No. Obviously she’s thought about the differences between people who are gay and those that are straight. She knew enough to run to her friends with this piece of information. She knew, because someone has taught her, that the response elicited from her friends would be that of laughter and ridicule of the target: me. Yet, here I sit wondering if I will receive a phone call from a parent, a visit from my principal, or something worse. How have we failed to teach students about orientation? How have we succeeded at teaching them that anything different from the tiny bubble in which they live is deserving of laughter, ridicule, disdain, or even hatred?

There are all kinds of people living in all kinds of families. I often think that these people need to pay attention to themselves. That’s a full time job for me. I’m sure that not everything about them is “normal” whatever their definition of “normal” is. It’s a big world, there’s got to be room for everyone.

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