I walked over and closed the door, faced my classroom of 1st year high school students and said, “I need your full and undivided attention for about 10 minutes.” Kids are tuned in to ‘differences’ in classroom ritual and routine. They were immediately quiet, they sat up and had that look of , “what the heck’s going on?” in their eyes. Silence. Waiting.
I have had my freshies for about a month now. I really like this year’s crew of kids. My classes are attentive, communicative, and curious. We’ve got some good rapport established already. I’ve already gotten their attention, and I sense I have made strong connections through our anthropology curriculum. The kids come to class ready to learn – and curious about our day’s agenda. We do good stuff together – and I feel there is a good learning environment in my classroom.
On this day, Friday, I chose to speak out very clearly in support of our school and community LGBTIQ students. I began in the morning with an all staff e-mail commenting on the risks of not tackling the power of heteronormativity in our district wide diversity discussions. A middle school teacher quickly wrote back to me that words like “fag” and “homo” and “gay” or the most prevalent bullying words he hears in his classroom. My heart hurt reading that – but I knew this already. His middle school kids were soon to be my high school students …. and I have heard the same in our hallways and classrooms.
Our classroom event was far more personal than an e-mail. There was no keyboard separating me from my audience. I looked my students right in the eye while talking about the death of Tyler Clementi. I spoke into the silence with passion and a heartfelt plea. I also spoke a directive about behavior in my classroom. I believe rules matter. I made clear that I will never tolerate the words ‘gay’, ‘fag’, or ‘queer’ in my classroom. There will be NO BULLYING in my classroom. I’ve said this before, but some things must be repeated. I pointed my finger around the room and told them we were not going to be mocking or making problematic any experience with difference or sameness in our cultural anthropology class. I affirmed that our classroom will be a place where learning will be engaging and interesting, and where differences and similarities will be experienced in safe and respectful ways for every single student in the classroom. After all, I said, we were now all anthropologists embarking on a journey of inquiry and understanding. Part of our goal, to be clear, IS to experience difference and sameness from a place of positive interest.
I asked my students to carry this message of NO BULLYING into the hallways, the lunchroom, and outside the doors of our highschool into their home communities. You know what? I had some kids fist pump their agreement. I had a girl in quiet tears make direct eye contact that said, “thank you.” Yeah. They heard me. And those kids who needed to know I have their back – got the message. I shared that my room, my space, my side, was ‘safe’ for each and every one of them.
Period. End of story. Exclamation point.
I sealed the deal. Won’t you?
Visit the “It Gets Better” project. Talk to your kids. End bullying. Make the pledge. There are a million things we can all do to support all of our kids. You can add never referring to anyone as “Illegal” to your list of “things I can do today”. We ALL have work to do….so please do it where you can. Our kids deserve the best model of humanity front and center so that they can step forward in life with compassion and kindness.
Kids learn bullying from their social worlds. They learn to mock and make fun of difference from admired adults around them. Remember, we, the adults, are their models. When we speak out, when we say enough is enough, when we break the silences, we make the difference. I really believe this. I witness classrooms full of young teens every single day. I know what mocking laughter sounds like and I know the sound of gentle encouragement and acceptance.
I teach stuff that makes kids wiggle with discomfort and exclaim GROSS! Gender discussion and my hairy legs are a SUREFIRE way to get kids to nearly climb onto their tabletops – like they need to be a little less close to my offensive calves. “That’s not right!” they yell. “I don’t want to see that!” they screech. Watching young Suri women insert lip plates is cause for uncomfortable outbursts of “that’s so ugly” and “Agh! Why do they do that? It’s so weird!”
Tyler is among many young people who taught me, once again, that we needn’t go to Ethiopia (where Suri live) or to Finland (where I learned I didn’t have to shave my legs) to discover differences that make people uncomfortable in ways that often translate into nasty, bullying words and behaviors. In honor of his life, and the lives of LGBTIQ teens who are bullied and harassed, I say NO MORE. I promise today to be part of the “It Gets Better” movement FOR ALL KIDS. I’d love your company!