School violence and the social climate of the public school system in the U.S. are often sensationalized and news-worthy topics. Daily I work with drug addicted women who are slightly older than this age category, but the climate of judgement and bullying continue to exist. This week I thought a great deal about how to teach understanding and acceptance, especially as it relates to the LGBTQ population, as these youth are often the recipients of violence, misunderstanding and are subject to the painful product of the ignorance of others.
The movie, “Bully”, set to come out in theaters nationwide on April 13th, exposes the stories of kids who have experienced bullying within the public school system. Included in the film is Kelby’s story, a 16 year old lesbian who continues to be harassed by other students in her school system. Kelby fights against the ignorance and violence of other students with support from a few close friends and her Parents, but many other students are not as lucky.
A heterosexist environment exists not only within our public school systems, but within the social climate in general, creating a hostile atmosphere for LGBTQ students (and adults, for that matter) to communicate honestly with those around them including Parents, friends and educators. Further, a gender binary system also exists, representing a black and white thinking pattern within social stereotypes. Students are categorized either “feminine” or “masculine”, with little room for androgyny, let alone the acceptance of identification with both or neither gender.
Which leads me to the question within sexuality education; How can we teach compassion and understanding of the unknown (or the “other”). I thought about some of the strategies that would be most effective in doing so and which of these I could apply in my current work setting to foster increased unity within the population.
According to Anderson et al (2010), teachers rarely intervene when presented with bullying situations with school systems and approximately 1/3 of transgender youth within this study mention that bullying comes from the educators themselves. First and foremost, educators need to have the knowledge required to live by example for their students and advocate for understanding, compassion and kindness among students. We can’t teach what we don’t know.
Some of the recommendations made by TYFA (Transgender Youth and Families Alliance) include: educating parents, educators and students, creating a gay/straight alliance, expose the rarity of LGBTQ characters, issues or concerns within the curriculum and teaching engagement, not simply content. (SITE TYFA) I think the most important component of this type of both affective and intellectual education is beginning by showing students how similar they are and advocating for them to challenge their current belief structures, even if they don’t change them. Uniting students with each other can be the beginning of life changes for them and social changes for us.
References: Fabrikant-Eagan, Amy (2012, March 12). Changing social norms in school starts with a conversation. Retrieved April 7, 2012 from: http://www.imatyfa.org/permanent_files/Changing_Social_Norms_in_School_12mar12.pdf
Bully. Retrieved from: http://thebullyproject.com/indexflash.html#/educators.
Anderson, C.R., McGuire, J.K., Russell, S.T. & Toomey, R.B. (2010). School climate for transgender youth: A mixed method investigation of student experiences and school responses. Journal of Youth Adolescence(39).