Sunday, April 3, 2016

Inside the Classroom Walls

Chapter 5, Inside the Classroom Wall, of Safe Spaces by Annemarie Vaccaro, Gerri August and Megan Kennedy describes two ways that educators can create safe and inclusive classroom environments that recognize and empower LGBT youth. I really enjoyed reading this weeks article. It is a great resource to have in our toolbox. Another great tool is the Safe Space Kit and the National School Climate Survey which can be found on the GLSEN website.

The first way is through curriculum. Educators should ensure that "curriculum includes the perspective, experiences and history of LGBT people" (98). The authors discuss how the topic of sexual orientation is absent from nearly half our elementary school curriculum. The topic of family which is a large part of every childhood curriculum rarely if ever discusses same sex parents, "such families rarely make the curricular cut-they are invisible" (85).  Another example is the PBS television series called Postcards from Buster ( a series about a bunny who travels around the world meeting children and exploring different cultures)  which was taken off the air do to an episode that featured two moms. "What we are trying to do in the series is connect kids with other kids by reflecting their lives...we are validating children who are seldom validated" (86). The crazy thing is that the episode did not once mention any language related to sexual orientation, just the main character saying how much she loves her two moms. Another example is related to high school level where Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass is rarely talked about because it has a romantic relationship between two men. The decision to omit this from lessons "keeps LGBT people outside the walls of our classroom and, by extension, outside the canons of polite society" (87). Another example is how History classrooms talk about themes of oppression and the struggle of civil rights for straight people. We all know about the bus boycott of Montgomery but do not no about Stonewall. I didn't know about Stonewall. I have never heard of this in my history classes. Here is some more information to learn about the Stonewall Riots. "Our classrooms needs to be mirrors and windows' for all students-mirrors in which youth see themselves in the curriculum and recognize their  place in the group; windows through which youth see beyond themselves to experiences connected with, but not identical to their own. Creating safe spaces for all students means not ignoring or erasing the experience of LGBT people in K-12 and higher education curricula" (88). By including LGBT in the curriculum we create a safe space.

The second is through communication. Educators should "ensure that communication inside the classroom walls validate the LGBT experience" (98). To do so, educators needs to be comfortable using the words related to sex orientation and gender identity as  they are using words related to heterosexuals. They also need to be comfortable answering questions from students.  It is so true how  "words invite or exclude, recognize or erase, empower or intimidate, examine or assume" (95). One word can carry such meaning that accepts or oppresses individuals. Nonverbal communication also falls into the category of communication, negative facial expressions can carry the same weight as a word. By making grimacing faces at a male who dresses female sends them a message that you are uncomfortable without even saying anything. I liked the example of the teacher, Patrick, who questioned his students use of the words 'bisexual' and 'gay'. "He prods and questions, requiring students to define the terms. His actions prompted discussion and understanding" (98). 

As educators it is our responsibility to create inclusive and safe classrooms. At the end of the chapter, the authors propose a question "What will be your next step?" My next step is to incorporate literature about same sex families into our curriculum at school. We have a library center that is readily available and I think it would be a great opportunity to start to introduce children to different kinds of families. The NAEYC has an article about how to incorporate the literature into the classroom and how to answer students questions. I plan to print this article up to present to my supervisor and staff at our next staff meeting.

Here is a local story from 2010 about  Raymond Chase, a student, at Johnson and Wales University who killed himself. I do not know about my fellow Rhode Island classmates but I do not remember hearing about this on the local news.


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  2. I’m so happy you added the link about Stonewall, which was less than 50 years ago. I will keep saying this… but we need to keep up the work that has been done and do A BETTER JOB advocating for LGBT. However, this will show you that in less than 50 years we are beginning to make SOME progress. I believe in 2012 NYC opened their first “Gay Resort”, The OUT NYC, which I worked at while I lived there. We were a “straight – friendly” resort. If you ever have a chance… you should definitely check it out. The resort includes hotel, spa, restaurant, and club and my favorite part was Sunday Brunch, which included a show by Haus of Mimosa.
    I’m super excited that you wrote: “My next step is to incorporate literature about same sex families into our curriculum at school. We have a library center that is readily available and I think it would be a great opportunity to start to introduce children to different kinds of families”.

  3. I was also quite struck by the examples, Postcards from Buster and Leaves of Grass, described in the text. It is not enough to include a subtle mention of LGBT topics in media that students engage with. We truly do need to "use the words." As educators, if we shy away from using the appropriate terminology and language, where are students going to learn it? I fear that when teachers avoid "going there" with LGBT topics, students teach themselves--and sometimes the words that are most frequently heard are hateful or derogatory. Students deserve to learn the respectful language, I DO believe that this is in a teacher's job description!

  4. Alicia, I agree that more history and information is needed about all of the issues that we have learned in this class. If this course was made mandatory for all undergraduates, then maybe the new teachers would be more informed and change may take place. All principals should also have to take this course in order to start the change from the top down and so that they would maybe be a little more supportive of the teachers who do know about these issues and try to inform their students without any reprimands upon them.