the power of words

finding ways to help students understand the power of the spoken word

Photo of Susan Blackmer
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I struggled with how to get my students to recognize that using racial slurs in the hallway "just as a joke among friends" was so much more than that.  My students said that they heard racial slurs every day; some of them insisted "it was no big deal," "nobody was racist at our school," and "it was just among friends". Others became very uncomfortable. Within my class, the students all seemed to get along, but I detected tension when I mixed Hispanic and Black students with White students for group work. I wanted to bring this out in the open.

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I realized that the students' discomfort seemed to come from lack of knowledge about lifestyles different from their own, from wanting to pretend there were no racial differences, and from not wanting to speak about them openly for fear they might look ignorant rather than prejudice. They want to be educated about racism, but how to make it accessible to all in a diverse classroom?

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Photo of Erin Quinn

I run our district's Chief Superintendent's Junior Advisory Council, made up of grade 9 students who counsel our Chief Superintendent about issues that affect them. They brought this topic up themselves - they hate when people make jokes or use derogatory language without realizing that it could be hurtful to some people. Your question is such a good one - how can we design experiences that would make the solutions to this problem come from the students themselves?