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
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
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.