12/10/2012 05:19 pm ET

Ethnic Stereotypes In Schools: We Are All Part Of The Problem

Do students belonging to an ethnic minority have to deal with ethnic stereotypes on a daily basis? You bet. We all do!

While stereotyping in general reflects our expectations and beliefs about the group in question, ethnic stereotypes tend to be negative and prejudicial. If you think that we have gotten past all this as a nation, guess again. In Florida, a new ethnic-based educational policy is in place that sets lower achievement goals for Hispanics and African Americans–traditionally lower achieving groups. Testing benchmarks based on race, plain and simple.

Racial and ethnic stereotypes are alive and well. From Memphis City Schools enacting discipline to New York City admissions policies for elite high schools to the legislators in Arizona who passed a law banning a Mexican-American Studies program–children in ethnic groups must cope with biases and beliefs that are potentially limiting.

How can this be in 21st century America? Moreover, what are we to do as parents, as educators and as citizens seeking social justice?

First, we recognize that stereotypes are present and affecting students because of the phenomenon of stereotype threat. Hispanics are lazy, Asian Americans are good in mathematics, women do poorly in science and math and African-Americans consistently underperform on standardized tests. Stereotype threat is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Students will live up or down to perceived expectations.

Next, we do not address the issue by simply ignoring it. Sadly, that is all too often the case. Teachers will let racist remarks in the class go unchallenged–implicit acceptance in the eyes of observing students. Social segregation just tends to happen. Why? We are promoting it by not being active in seeking otherwise.

We must help students change their own perceptions of their group. We should speak out and attack stereotypes for what they are–generalizations and attitudes from prejudicial roots. Groupthink. Stereotyping can snuff out our uniqueness, our creativity. We become diminished.

Young students are highly impressionable. They are seeking direction and look to adults, peers and the information at hand regarding how to be accepted and to feel safe.

Schools should be safe havens of thinking and dialogue.

Let’s talk about ethnicity. Let’s encourage critical thinking and creativity. Personal achievement should be celebrated.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a “touchy-feeling” boost self-esteem at any cost approach. As an educator, I demand excellence in my students and I push them to their academic limits with a rigorous curriculum.

However, the realities of social constructs about ethnicity must not be ignored. Restorative practices are one way to build better relations, both between and within groups, as well as giving each student who does participate, a clearer perspective on their own biases.

The involvement of teachers and administrators, as well as students, helps create a positive learning environment where problems are out in the open, not ignored. This can be especially applicable to conflicts arising from ethnic stereotypes and the associated prejudices.

Teachers, policy makers, and parents–we all must encourage students to embrace ethnicity, share ourselves, and thus overcome any negative energy from the biases that may be encountered. Talk about the issues. Use examples. We need to be consciously teaching tolerance. We can overcome this.

Originally published by Voxxi as Ethnic stereotypes in schools: We are the problem and the solution.


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