Stereotyping and prejudice: congratulated!

Well, it’s a shame when you lose the ability to judge the character of someone because of their belief, their race, their religion, their ethnic group, or their sexual preference. It is a tragedy when we lose the ability to identify the difference between policing and supervision.

I judged a person I believed to be controversial. I defended a co-worker subjected to endless teasing by a colleague. I respected a graduate student who sought to pursue interests, even if they were unconventional, even if they proved unpopular with the times, and ultimately failed. I even admired a mother and father who opened their home to homeless teens, who had no other home, no friends, and were suffering from addiction. These examples of judging or stereotyping, or even prejudice, occur every day in LA.

I judged a manifesto to be controversial because it promoted ideas that had not been tried before. It was new and it was different. The people I was brainstorming with on this project included an urban planner, artists, a minister, a scientist, a restaurateur, and a chef. None of these people I judged by their lifestyle, their opinions, or their personality, they all had PhD’s, taught at Claremont McKenna, and had met each other at community groups before.

I judged a book by a writer, because I appreciated the fresh ideas and perspectives shared by that writer. But most of all, I judged people by their actions, because they are what they are. If you want to know why people act the way they do, look no further than your next-door neighbor.

But still, there must be some place for people to act on their own behalf. Well, there always has been. Napoleon Hill observed that there are three types of people: those you see, those you hear, and those you see and hear. This means that there are a lot of people who you don’t necessarily see as being the loudest, or being the most intelligent, but who, in fact, are the loudest and most intelligent. Of course, there are exceptions; I lived in Italy as an exchange student for several years, and I was exposed to many Italian speaking Americans. But by far the most interested and receptive palate were those who could see what was going on, who could read the signs, who could figure out why people were different, and who could play bridge with you.

This became even more interesting when I discovered that the people I exchanged exchanging student with were also the ones adding up the numbers in the statistics. It was like looking at a bunch of freshmen at the university bar. They may have been good students, they may have been rubbish, they may have been schmucks; what they had in common was their ability to see the bigger picture, to evaluate things from multiple perspectives, and to see the interrelationships between things. That is what diplomacy is all about.

So how do you get those who see the bigger picture, who elevate the intellectual conversation to the level of father/son, and get them involved in the learning process? The obvious answer is your classroom. Unfortunately, that’s where most teachers tend to hang up their shakers. In their classrooms, they are usually busy calling on participants for their attention for ninety minutes or more. During this time, they are often engaged in chit-chat with other students, catching up with what happens in their classrooms, learning information that only they know, and otherwise interacting with ease and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, by the time the whistle finally sounds off, the student’s attention has typically rotated to the audible part of the classroom.

One of the best ways to help students participate in a conversation is to have open channels of communication so each party can talk to the other without fear of others interrupting orInterrupting the flow of discussion. One way to do this in a controlled way is for the teacher to have a special notebook for each student. When the bell rings, the teacher unrolls the papers and describes what happens in each of the lessons. Sheets can be sheets of paper – anything visual will do – and the teacher constantly checks in on her students. She can describe activities in progress, the group dynamics, and answer questions and get immediate feedback.

Each student has a page of their own. They can describe what they are learning at any given point. They can describe what works and what they might want to change. They also can review their notes, and identify problems and areas needing improvement. The notebook is their map, and they can use it to plan and reflect on lessons of importance, and favorite memories or daily activities.

Students can use their notebook to record suggestions for improving the lessons.