A recent PD session at our school reminded us of the value and necessity of looking through the different lenses of our students and school community. We were cautioned against the incompleteness of whatever truth there may be within a stereotype. We were asked to consider the many stories of a young person’s identity, not just the first story we assume.
As educators, we like to think we fairly distribute knowledge, but we are not immune to our own prejudices and biases, cultivated by our experience (or lack of it), fears and beliefs. Whether these creep into slanted chatter with colleagues, careful holiday displays in school foyers, or missed opportunities for equitable dialogue in the classroom, we sometimes distort the lens. It’s easier to ignore the blur than to face an uncomfortable ray of truth.
As we embrace inclusion, we may discover we’re living in a time of blur. The Accepting Schools Act 2012 in Ontario amends the Education Act with a focus on safe schools. It lists fifteen areas of acceptance of others’ identity, including “creed.” That should be clear, but is it?
We appreciate caring intentions and initiatives. We welcome an anti-bullying speaker. He talks, surprisingly, on forgiveness. Our students participate in a 30-hour famine for World Vision, and fundraise for Habitat for Humanity. These are all worthy causes, but would we dare or care for their bigger “creed” story?
Education is a weighty profession, close to the power of influence over young minds. Why wouldn’t we have increased anxiety about the shaky platform of political and public correctness?
Maybe we become hyper-sensitive at times, tip-toeing around words, ideas, symbols, and music. At other times, we may be the ones to slip into an uncharitable tone of voice about another’s lens.
Do we cause even a slight tip in the balance of truth, history and tradition? Not consciously maybe.
We don’t tell our students what to think—or do we? We’re to show them how to think and spark their curiosity towards a broader view. We all agree we need to guide them towards a bigger exit than when they first entered our doors.
How knowledgeably richer our students would be if we stepped past the edges of our comfortable, maybe narrow, lens to invite or join with them in seeing the bigger picture.
If Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X or Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, in their very different ways, had bowed their heads to their society’s political correctness, the outcome would have been quite different. Instead they annoyed a great many people.
Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is not so long that we should skip his inspiration. The words “God” and “Lord” were important to Dr. King, so he used them. That was his lens. “Les Miserables” has its lens messages. The civil rights movie, “The Great Debaters,” has a powerful speech some may recognize—directly from First Corinthians in the New Testament.
In whatever area we teach, let’s not distort the clear lens. We can choose a wider view, tell the bigger story. After all, there are many stories of dreams becoming the reality we enjoy today— ideas we support: the end of slavery, health and prison reform, free public education, the gift of A A, our own free country.
Many inclusive initiatives didn’t just happen with a government’s good intentions, but arose from those challenging the norm; brave, self-sacrificing individuals, motivated by their faith and strength in something greater than themselves— often with a big G. Maybe politically incorrect, but true.
So, how clear is our lens? How inclusive are we, really?
Let’s clean our own lens first. We’ll see better to share the view. Then the students will see for themselves.
Accepting Schools Act 2012
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lidia Vieira is a teacher in Burlington, ON
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s May/June 2013 issue.