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Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 10 , 2002 - Issue 67


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Ways to Fight Hate for Educators

In the next issues of Canku Ota, we are going to share ideas with you about learning and teaching tolerance. Perhaps this will inspire you to come up with your own ideas to share. For more ideas and information, visit

Somewhere in America...

Every hour ...
someone commits a hate crime.

Every day ...
at least eight blacks, three whites, three gays, three Jews and one Native American become hate crime victims.

Every week ...
a cross is burned.

Bias appears in many guises.The following guideline will help you respond promptly to overt expressions of intolerance, such as racial slurs, hate graffiti and hate literature, as well as more subtle messages of bias, such as casual putdowns, the use of school mascots that promote stereotypes, or mockery of students with disabilities.

Educators teach respect most effectively to both students and colleagues by modeling it in classrooms, halls and lounges. In class and faculty discussions of bias incidents, focus on the reasons an offense is unacceptable, rather than on the offender. Nurture student leadership in responding to and preventing bias.

One of the simplest measures of a school's commitment to respect is the quality of interaction in its hallways. Unchecked use of putdowns and epithets, physical intimidation or visual messages of hate creates a toxic environment for learning and growth.

The First Amendment may protect students' right to say, write or display offensive words and symbols, but courts have ruled that schools can punish behavior, including speech, that is disruptive to the educational process. Perhaps the best approach in balancing First Amendment rights with other concerns — and in avoiding win-lose confrontations — is to stress the importance of a safe atmosphere in which every student is treated with respect. Send a strong message that hateful words and images are "uncool" at your school:

• Create deterrents to disrespectful language. Set clear prohibitions against the use of racial epithets, ethnic slurs and pejorative terms relating to ability, appearance, country of origin, home language, religion, sexual orientation or social class. Establish consequences for repeated use and enforce them throughout the school. If these prohibitions are not already stated clearly in the school handbook, add them as soon as possible.

• Denounce hate speech immediately. Respond every time you hear a slur or any example of bias speech, whether the speaker used it in a joking or serious manner, so that everyone knows that disrespectful speech is always unacceptable. For example, if you hear a student use a hateful epithet such as "redskin," "faggot" or "nigger," or other slurs such as "four eyes," "spastic" or "taco," you might say, "That word hurts people, so you may not use it in this classroom" or "Disrespectful words are never acceptable at this school."

• Discuss the meaning of pejorative terms. If a student uses hate speech in the classroom, decide whether the whole class will respond seriously to a discussion of the word's offensiveness at that time. If not, speak individually outside of class to the offender and any targeted students and plan a better time for class discussion. In either case, avoid railing at the offender, as that is more likely to alienate than to educate. If you feel too uncomfortable to address the issue, invite the school's "safe contact person" or a counselor to talk to your class.

• Look for patterns of disparagement. If a particular type of disrespectful language occurs frequently, address it directly with students and teachers. For example, one Missouri civics teacher responded to widespread use of the terms "faggot" and "gay" by inviting a representative from Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (p-flag) to talk to freshman classes.

• Post reminders about respectful speech. One example for a classroom or cafeteria poster might be "Words can hurt. Words can heal."

• Respond to non-verbal derision. If a student mocks another's appearance, mannerism or mobility, call the offender's attention to the fundamental issue of respect. Reassure the targeted person that such behavior will not be permitted.

• Recognize hate symbols that appear at school. Know how to identify hate symbols that may be displayed on clothing patches, bumper stickers, notebooks, tattoos, graffiti and the like. Ask one knowledgeable, sensitive person to keep abreast of hate symbols, to periodically educate teachers about the symbols, and to be available to talk to students about offensive symbols that appear at school.

• Discourage the use of divisive school emblems. Common examples include the "Rebel" flag or a Native American "Warrior," which may be perceived by some students, parents or community members as disrespectful. Research the issue of mascots and consider holding a school or public forum to debate the topic.

• Sometimes a pragmatic consideration of safety can help schools break a deadlock on a divisive mascot issue. For example, Kelly Childers, a Vale, N.C., principal and former football coach, convinced students and parents that the Confederate flag had to be removed after 30 years as a school symbol by pointing out that it was so offensive to some visiting sports teams that it created serious safety issues. Despite walkouts by students, protests from parents and insults by schoolmates to his own daughters, the principal continued to appeal to students, the pta and athletic directors until the Confederate flag was removed as a school emblem.

• Unmask hate at Halloween. Costumes and pranks sometimes involve negative stereotyping and other hurtful messages. Recent examples in schools have included kkk robes, grotesque "Arab" masks, "Gypsy" costumes, "homeless person" and "battered woman" outfits, and displays of racist symbols. As the holiday approaches, discuss the hurt that cartoonish or sinister representations can inflict on racial, ethnic or other groups. Enlist students' help in setting guidelines for appropriate costumes, or plan holiday activities that do not include costumes.

"If I were a teacher and saw students mocking classmates with severe disabilities, I'd get those [classmates] who had observed it to brainstorm ideas for responding. Ultimately students are the best people to take responsibility for those kinds of social norms, and often they have the best ideas for how to work with the individuals involved."
Dr. Charles Peck, professor of special education, Washington State University at Vancouver.

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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