Monday, May 12, 2014

Examining our Prejudices

I found a great activity on Learning to Give to help our fourth graders understand prejudice and discrimination.  Many of us have misconceptions about the worlds demographics in regards to population, health, wealth, and resources.  I started by giving students an activity called "If the World Were 100 People."  I had students imagine that our ever-growing population of 7.1 billion people would be represented by only 100 people (roughly each 1 person would represent 70,000,000 million people - as figured out by one of our students).  The handout had numbers listed up top that were to be placed next to different groupings of people. I gave them about 5-7 minutes to work on this before we went over the true results.  The true answers shocked them.  We discussed what surprised us most about the truth.  I reinforced that if our perceptions about the world are not accurate, then how accurate are our perceptions of our own country? state? community? school? and other individuals?

People often use labels or categories to describe others.  These labels might be based on clothing, looks, the way someone talks, the groups they belong to etc.  Categorizing things or people is a natural behavior, however, people often make assumptions about groups of people they don't even know.  I asked students to come up with some categories that we use to group people.  Their answers included: nerds, blacks, whites, homeless, jocks, popular kids, gays, etc.  I then challenged them to describe what a "nerd" was - how would you know someone is a nerd?  They listed out some characteristics and I then further probed by asking if our assumptions we have about this group apply to everyone in the group?  Do most people hold the same assumptions about a group?  Why or why not?  Do assumptions tell us anything definite about a categorized individual?  How do our assumptions affect our behavior toward others?  When we make assumptions about a group of people or a person - these are called stereotypes.  Stereotypes are often unfair and hurtful.  When assumptions and stereotypes influence our attitudes, we may find that it's hard to make a fair judgment about them.  This is called a bias.  We reviewed the list of important vocabulary which raised a rich discussion.

Finally I used the activity "Stand and Deliver".  In this activity I read statements aloud that would describe something we could categorize others by: diversity, experience, etc.  If the statement was true about you, you were to stand.  If the statement was not true about you, you were to stay seated.  This activity was done silently and after each statement was read and responded to, I had students look around the room and make observations.  Statements varied from male/female, to citizenship, to birth order, to family composition, to teasing/discrimination.  We debriefed by discussing the feelings that came up for us during the activity.  What was the hardest part?  What did you learn about yourself?  What did you learn about others?  What surprised you?  What did this show you about discrimination?

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