Pop Quiz: They Took Our Jeeeerrrbbsss
Hello, Scholars of Doubt! My Pop Quiz today relates to my earlier article about Derek Black. This young man recently wrote an open letter in which he laid out his reasons for renouncing the white supremacist views that he had promoted for most of his life. He cited his college education as one of the major things that helped him to re-evaluate his opinions.
His case made me think about some of the young people I’ve worked with who have held what I view as unpleasant opinions. Derek Black seems to have learned to think rationally about his past behaviour and, if his story is what it seems to be, could represent a real victory for critical thinking education.
I’ve had a fair few experiences where a pupil has said something racist or prejudicial within my hearing. Sometimes they say these things to each other in conversations that aren’t supposed to be overheard by staff. On these occasions it often seems like the young people in question know that the things they are saying are illicit; a whispered racist joke or “funny” comment, exciting in its obvious wrongness. However, sometimes a pupil will say something like this during a class discussion and will seem genuinely surprised when called on it.
Young people like this have often been brought up in an environment where they are constantly exposed to certain viewpoints. It’s hard to put too much blame on a teenager who complains about “immigrants stealing jobs” when that teenager hears such things day in day out at home. Parts of Scotland have received quite a few refugees from various war-torn countries in recent years, with Iraq and Afghanistan featuring heavily for obvious reasons. Many families have arrived with children and many of these children now attend Scottish schools. Sadly, there has been a fair bit of racist and xenophobic backlash against these people from certain parts of Scottish society and many teachers here will have heard unpleasant comments being made by some of their pupils.
Of course, comments like these can and should be challenged. Teachers have the ability and the responsibility to promote positive behaviour and attitudes and any of us worth our salt will do our best to help our students come to the same sort of realisations that Derek Black seems to have come to. This can be a difficult thing to do at high school, however. High schools are not colleges or universities; our students are younger and less mature, often more impressionable, and many have not yet reached the point where they can rationally and critically think about their own behaviour and opinions.
My Pop Quiz questions today are:
If you are a high school teacher, have you ever encountered racist or prejudicial views from any of your students? Were they aware that their views were controversial?
If you work in a college or university, do you still see views like this in your students?
Have you ever seen a pupil or student change their views, perhaps as a result of developing stronger critical thinking skills?
The Pop Quiz is a question for you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 3pm ET.
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