kids and *isms* - Ice Cream Assassin
Apr. 20th, 2010
07:48 pm - kids and *isms*
I work at an elementary school tutoring K-5 kids in math and reading. With one other tutor, I work with 12-15 kids each day for about an hour; we each supervise a group of 6-8 kids. Due to the location and nature of the program, most of these kids come from low income families and are non-white.
Most of the children I work with don't know anything about racism, sexism, or cissexism, but they frequently use language that promotes all of these. Some seem to be genuinely ignorant and curious about the meanings of words like c*nt, g**chie, and motherf**cker. Others play games where they'll corner another kid and ask "Are you straight or curved?" followed by the reveal of "haha, that means you're gay!" A few days ago, one kid implied that he was gay, and the teasers paused before saying "You aren't supposed to say that. You're supposed to pick the other one. Are you really gay?" in kind of a laughing way, like it was a joke and there was no way this kid could *actually* be gay. Today, four older kids surrounded a Vietnamese first grader. Three of them tried to steal her money, and later the fourth, M, started talking in a fake Asian accent to tease her. M frequently insults all the girls at tutoring based on their appearances, calling them 'snaggle-tooth' or saying "Uh oh, here comes the big girl."
I am in charge of too many kids to be capable of stopping all conversations to address every incident as it comes up, but I don't want to imply that these things are okay. These kids are ignorant of issues surrounding prejudice, and it's practically impossible to talk about human rights to a kid who has no moral qualms about stealing from a kid three grades younger than them. I tried to have a conversation about respect recently, and all they were interested in was whether I would bribe them to act more respectfully. It also provoked a string of name-calling by M, who doesn't seem to care about anything or anyone, followed by a slew of tattle-telling by kids yelling out whatever supposed insult M had just said in attempts to get him in trouble. M really needs some one-on-one help and discipline, as none of his teachers know what to do with him. He is frequently suspended and sent to work in the hall, and told me his absence yesterday was because he did something wrong and had to go to court. Add his behavioral problems to the tendency of police to disproportionately target young men of his race, and I'm worried he'll be in jail when he reaches his teens.
The question I really want to address is how to teach kids about prejudice. Adults seem to shy away from talking about difficult issues with children, and expect someone else to do it for them. No one is explicitly given the responsibility to educate them in these topics. I only have an hour a day with them, an hour which is most often frantic and involves my hopping from child to child to correct mistakes and teach them concepts they missed a few grades back, so I can't give them historical background or go into much depth, but I need to do something.