You may have heard common advice to children and youth about speaking up (or not) when they encounter bias at school. “Say something to the person”; “Think about your emotional and physical safety.” “Don’t hit or threaten or cry.” “Tell a teacher.” “Talk to a friend.” “Walk away.”
Those are all valuable considerations and advice. But it’s hard for children and youth to assess the situation and decide which response to use.
I found this Speak Up at School Pocket Guide om at Teachng Tolerance which seems very much in line with our UU values or respecting the dignity and worth of each individual, working for justice and treating others and ourselves with compassion.
The guide was designed for teachers to use. If teachers need to rally support to respond to their students, you can imagine the difficulties children and youth face in some schools.
Find a way to pause ‘Errrrrrh. Hold on a second.’ Find a way to temper your own response, so that you’re not so angry or out of control.
Here’s where I’m looking from responses from you and your child. What are some responses that children and you think would work to interrupt a situation without escalating emotions or making recriminations.?
“This is not cool.”
“This doesn’t feel right to me.”
Asking simple, exploratory questions in response to bigoted remarks can be a powerful tool: “Why do you say that?” “What do you mean?” “Tell me more.”
Don’t try to lecture or judge.
Be kind. Nearly everyone is fighting a great battle.
“Do you know what that word means? Where is comes from?”
“My aunt is gay/is an immigrant/uses a cane/ is of African descent.”
Consider this moment, shared by Vanessa D’Egidio, a second-grade teacher in New York City: A group of second-grade girls was overheard on the playground, laughing and making negative comments about classmates’ clothing. They found fault with clothing that wasn’t name brand and laughed at others whose clothes were faded and frayed.
“Another teacher pulled the group aside to discuss what she overheard, explaining to the students that what they were doing was teasing, bullying and very hurtful toward their peers, regardless of whether it was to their faces or behind their backs,” D’Egidio says.
Afterward, the second-grade teaching team collectively decided to follow up with a community meeting of all second-graders.
“During the meeting, we did not single out the students who had done the teasing, but we brought up the issue of teasing someone about their clothing or something else about them through gossiping,” D’Egidio says.
It’s powerful to be the first voice that interrupts bias. It’s also powerful on another level to be the second, third or fourth voice to join in the interruption. In group settings, if someone has said something biased, and not one but four people speak up, the echoing power of those voices can have a multiplying effect.
As the echoing voice, you can reiterate the anti-bias message or you can thank the first person for speaking up—or both!
Consider this, from a high school teacher working with ninth-graders:
I overheard a side conversation where a student said, ‘That’s so gay.’ I was shocked. I thought that phrase was rarely used. (Maybe I just wasn’t aware.) Immediately, another girl in the group said that was a wrong thing to say. The first girl giggled and said she was just being funny. The second girl said it’s not funny because it hurts people. I was impressed, so I jumped into the conversation. I told her, ‘Thank you. I have a lot of respect for you speaking up like that, and I totally agree with you.
MORE RESOUCES TO USE AT HOME
Spaghetti In a Hot Dog Bun a picture book with a timeless message: have the courage to be exactly who you are, no matter what other people say.
Stick Up for Yourself This has great ways for children and create within themselves ways to feel good about themselves and feel empowered
40 Ways to Raise a Nonracist Child Help your child to honor the dignity and worth of every individual. “Despite the best intentions of a generation, children today are still learning the dangerous lessons of prejudice, hate and bigotry.”
Check out the Monthly Theme Handouts that give you quick suggestions to help your children engage with our UU Values. Here’s the set for December. You’ll find hard copies at the RE Office Window and on bulletin boards in the RE hallways.
Here’s a table grace in line with our UU values that a workshop participant shared:
I pledge to myself, on this day, to be kind in every way.
To every person, big and small, I will help them if they fall.
If I love myself and others too, that is the best that I can do.
Here’s to a great meal. Let’s eat!
RESOURCES FOR YOU TO BRING TO YOUR SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS
How to Implement “Speak Up at School”
Mix It Up at Lunch Day
Common Questions About Youth and Prejudice A good read for parents and caretakers too.
What do you say to “That’s so gay,”?
What are your resources, tips, comments on this topic? How can we respond as Unitarian Universalists?