Thursday, April 24, 2014

What I Learned From My 8th Graders About Discrimination

There will always be discrimination everywhere about everything because pointing out others’ differences masks people’s own insecurities.” -8th grade girl

The intensity of the themes in To Kill a Mockingbird can get pretty tough to handle when you’re reading it for the first time at 13 or 14 years old. This is why teaching the historical context is so important in order for our young adult readers to gain a better understanding of the novel. I was surprised, though, that I was the one who got a lesson about discrimination from an 8th grader’s perspective. These kids have such strong voices that need to be heard. This is why I’m sharing this teaching/learning experience with all of you.

One of the corresponding lessons in TKAM is learning about Black Tuesday, the Great Depression, the Dust Storm, and Jim Crow laws. We read a selection in our textbook about a list of segregation laws and how they were enforced. After reading, we discussed some issues that could help us connect how different characters in the novel may have felt during this time period. I thought some of their responses were insightful. It made me think of looking at the world through their eyes, so I asked a few critical thinking questions about their own views on discrimination. A couple of questions brought some very interesting responses.

1.       Do you feel there is discrimination at our school? In what ways?
2.       What has your experience with discrimination been? How has it made you feel?

  • ·          “I’m an athlete and in GT (Gifted and Talented – advanced level) classes. People think I suck at sports since they assume I’m a nerd.”
  • ·         “Just because I’m white, people automatically assume I’m wealthy.”
  • ·         “Some people think that all Muslims are terrorists. It upsets me because I wear the hijab, and some people judge us from that one thing.”
  • ·         “My personal experience with discrimination has to do with my race. I am Mexican, but have light skin, freckles, and I don’t speak Spanish. Many of the Hispanic students (and adults, too) say that I’m not a ‘true Mexican.’”
  • ·         “Some students think I’m the smartest person in class because I’m Asian, but I’m really not that smart.”
  • ·          “I have been discriminated against based on my sexual identity, musical choices, intelligence level, and favorite hobbies.”
  • ·         “I have been discriminated against when I went through a voice change in 6th grade. People made fun of my high voice. Now I’m the choir manager for my Advanced Choir group.”

·        This one is a personal favorite of mine:
“There will always be discrimination everywhere about everything because pointing out others’ differences masks people’s own insecurities.”

This girl is so right! Discrimination exists because people believe they are superior to others. Not only that, but it’s obvious to this young teen that narrow mindedness prevents any progress to the development of positive social change.  

What this girl said about discrimination really embraces one of the major themes in the novel. It even sounds like what Scout would say reflecting on how her father would pass on his moral values to her:
 “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” ~To Kill a Mockingbird

Thank you, my dear GT 8th graders in English I, for teaching me what it truly means to "stand in borrowed shoes."
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