Perhaps the most notable subject that I have come across in this book so far deals with prejudice. To me this topic is very important because I personally despise intolerance on any level. The best way that I feel we can coexist is by trying to recognize our own insecurities and to find the courage to teach above our desire for comfort.
In the section, “Face Your Own Prejudices (29),” Johnson shares a story about a student she had that thanked her for forcing him to do his work like she did the rest of her students. Because of his skin tone other teachers were intimidated by the student. They acted like he would become uncontrollable if told to do his work. As a result, the student would assume the role given to him by his other teachers and would not push himself toward success but rather towards a life where he would try to intimidate others to find his success.
Though I was raised in a town of over fifty thousand, I had only met one African-American by the time I had graduated high school and enlisted in the army. My mother did her best to hide her prejudice from me, but occasionally let slip a racist comment. My father, and his whole side of the family, well, that is a horse of a different color. Growing up I had heard every idiotic racist comment in the gambit of all things inappropriate. They were common place for me, and my friends.
In ninth grade, I met Franco. We were by no means the best of friends, but I learned a great deal from him. I learned that though he had darker skin than I did, he liked what I liked. He thought the same girls were cute, laughed at the same jokes, and played football marginally well – just like me. Franco had the same friends I had. He ran the same events in track that I ran. He beat me sometimes, I beat him sometimes. He taught me that he was neither better nor worse than me, he simply looked different than me. Franco taught me not to believe in stereotypes and not to judge others by the color of their skin. Like Mrs. Johnson had done, I had taken a look at myself and realized I had no reason to dislike Franco, nor any other that shared his skin tone and was prepared for my future.
Years later, I had found myself in Ft. Stewart, GA where it seemed I was one of few white teenagers in the entire U.S. Army. Of course this wasn’t true, but at times it felt that way. I met several people of all races that I did not like, and several that I would die for. I had judged the person by their actions and not their color, and caught a glimpse of what it must have felt like to be Franco growing up in my hometown.
In my own experiences, I can think of several times where I have been in situations where I have faced challenges brought on by my own prejudices and stereotypes. I can with all honesty report that I am very disappointed in myself. Why? I can recall what I learned from Franco. I have been the person that glows in the dark (33) as Mrs. Johnson says to one of her students. We cannot help what we are, but rather who we are can be changed. I was a very tolerant young man. Formerly, as a college student I worked as a bartender near the Pine Ridge Reservation. I have been accused of being racist many times for refusing to serve an intoxicated person and for simply walking down the street too close or far from another person. I felt very much the same in Iraq as I do in my present position. Worried that every action I take will have repercussions beyond my control. So I have allowed some of my students to because that is the norm. I have allowed them to stay off task because that is the norm. There are so many stereotypes about the Native American students that it is a wonder they come to school at all and I have fallen for the crap hook line and sinker.
How will this reading affect my teaching? It will affect my teaching because it has made me realize that I am not the person that I thought I was. It has made me angry at myself. I feel as though I have done more for helping students uphold stereotypes than I have done to help them destroy those stereotypes, and it disgusts me. I will do my best not to let my own fears of how others will react guide how I teach. When I go back to my classroom after break I will be drawing a thick line on floor and naming it ‘To any place but here.’ I do my best to give my students every chance to change their stars as there are stars above by helping them realize that the only restrictions they have are what they bring with them.