There’s so much talk nowadays about gender. Binary, non-binary, fluid, female, male, the list seems never ending especially when the majority of us have been brought up knowing only two and those two have been so separated that we find it difficult to see how they can merge.
A few weeks ago there was an incredibly interesting programme on BBC One investigating if a gender neutral classroom would aid a child’s learning, the clip above is taken from this programme.Now I won’t lie and say I wasn’t sceptical about this to begin with as it’s so ingrained into our attitudes towards gender that they should be separate and even as quite an open minded 19 year old I still think that. Spoiler Alert; my mind was changed.
This programmes showed how making small changes in a classroom can increase confidence, help children express emotions and breakdown gender stereotypes all in a one-r! Our society is full of little niggles of discrimination and its not until you think about them that you notice them. The pupils in the Primary 3 class took a short test to evaluate their thoughts and abilities to be able to track their progression throughout the experiment. The first thing that was “abolished” so to speak was the teacher using separate pet names for boys and girls to encourage the children to stop seeing each other as different, something so simple made a huge difference on the children’s mind set. One of the actions to be taken that really interested me was that positive slogan were put up around the round further embedding the fact that boys and girls are the same into the everyday lives of the children. “Boys are funny”, “Girls are clever”, “Boys are sensitive” and “Girls are strong” were just a few of the positive messages but this was done with the aim of improving the confidence of the girls in the classroom. During the initial test they found that the girls in the class were underestimating themselves about their performances and achievements while the boys managed to accurately predict their performances. I just found this so interesting as I couldn’t think of their upbringings being much different between boys and girls but through media and the world around us girls as young as 7 thought so lowly of themselves.
In our workshop we were shown the clip above and I just think this clip really encapsulates how our society views gender. Whether or the not the adults meant it, they automatically were drawn towards the stereotypical choice of toys and even in some cases they were deciding the children liked these better. It was so interesting to see how the adults unconsciously made these decisions even though they were actually playing with a child of the opposite gender.
Slowly but surely our society is beginning to see the problems that these gender stereotypes have created and while it won’t happen tomorrow, we are on the way to a more equal world referring to gender.
I, like most people I hope, don’t think of myself as a racist. I define a racist as someone who makes decisions or judgements based on their preconceptions of someone and I don’t put myself in that category.
However, during a lecture the other week we spoke about conscious and unconscious bias and I really like these terms. I think we all do possess an unconscious bias and to an extent a conscious hidden bias as I certainly catch myself making a comment to either a friend or just thinking something that if said to the wrong person could be offensive. I believe that thinking these things doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a racist. In our society we are surrounded by sayings, attitudes and behaviours that can alter our perspective on topics such as race and ethnicity. I’m sure we all had grandparents that would use a term that certainly wasn’t politically correct but you would know that they wouldn’t mean it as a derogatory term, or if they did it would most likely be because that’s what they were brought up saying. We all possess this unconscious bias that we accept as normal but other may not.
Nowadays we are much more open and that is a fact. The next generation seem to have really embraced every walk of life you’ve heard of and probably some you haven’t. At the beginning of our lecture covering this topic we were asked to note down a few words that showed our understanding of Racism, ethnicity and discrimination, my words were
colour country pride preconception nationality community
bias sexuality gender bigotry hurtful self doubt
After a some thought and considering the ideas covered in our lectured I stand by my initial thoughts but would add a few more in such as fear, embarrassment and suspicion. I feel I have a further understanding of racism but not enough to truly understand it and I don’t think anyone really can. One thing I can say a that I took away from these lessons was a sense of confusion. I don’t know if I will ever be able to understand how people can treat other people with such disgrace. We are all human after all. While I may have a few rogue thoughts every now and then I really do believe everyone is equal which apparently is not everyone’s thoughts if we refer to recent events around the world.
To end on a light note, there is a song from the musical Avenue Q that I feel really encapsulates everyday bias. It touches on unconscious bias and I think, no matter open minded you are, everyone can relate to this.
This past Tuesday was our first experience of a university style workshop and what an experience it was. As we walked into the teaching room, with excited chatter and nervousness (even if we didn’t want to admit it), we had no idea what to expect. After only having a short introduction to the Values: Self, Society and the professions module we knew we would be tackling difficult topics so, when we were spilt into 5 groups I thought we would be participating in some kind of group discussion. The academic who took the module was one we had never met before so we had no preconceptions of her which made the following task all the more realistic.
In each of our groups we were given a sealed envelope containing materials we then had to use to create something that would be useful for a student starting at the University of Dundee. Our envelope contained:
3 sheets of coloured paper
3 felt-tip pens
4 coloured elastic bands
3 Post-it notes
1 binder clip
After throwing a few ideas around the table of what we would’ve found useful a couple of weeks back we decided upon a map of our main university building. Before constructing the product, we were asked to present our ideas to the class. The first group had come up with a great idea about a pin board with the basic essentials and they received much praise from our academic. The second group had a similar idea and also received praise, then it came to us. Our idea wasn’t quite as polished as the two previous groups but when we presented it we got a mere shrug from our academic and then the next few groups received the same.
At this point our team start to take a dislike to our academic but we brush it off and make a start on creating our product. Once made we present to the class again receiving the same responses again which we believe to be a bit unfair but then we start to notice the two groups before us have more materials, how is that fair? We then get our scores and the two groups before us both get 9’s and 10’s but we get a 4. A 4?!?! Our product wasn’t brilliant but we felt we’d certainly done the best we could do with the materials we had and the groups after us also felt the same.
Then it is revealed. Its all a lesson. Our academic is a lovely woman who felt horrible about neglected some of us but the point was still made. Why were some people given more and get more attention than others? We then discussed the importance of being inclusive in the classroom and making sure everyone is treated the same. It was funny how the people who had more materials didn’t notice that the rest had less as why would it even cross their minds that we would have less? It was definitely an eye opening exercise that made us all think about how we treat different people but also how we can use this lesson in our profession of teaching. Education is a right for everyone in this country and that means we will be faced with all kinds of children how have different home circumstances, learning abilities etc. and we have to start thinking now not to have prejudice before we walk into a classroom. What an afternoon!