Teaching Behaviour

So I haven’t been able to write on the blog for a while because I’m being all grown up with a real job and a class room all of my own! This being said, I am currently sick and trying to look for jobs abroad for the coming year so now I have an opportunity to finish a blog post I had started a few months ago… in October… oh dear. Well, better late than never, right?

Teaching behaviour is not as simple as giving a lecture now and then, or even a workshop, as I have been recently asked to do. Behaviour is learnt primarily through mimicry, and unfortunately, all these kids have to work with usually consists of sexist, racist or general bigoted mind-sets.

As a teacher, it is essential that we model good behaviour. One of my key concerns is the way in which teachers use language. This is one of the most difficult things to change for anyone, because we all inadvertently pick up bad habits.
Now, I’m not talking about the occasional curse word but terms like “retard”, “fag”, “gay” and “pussy” that we throw around, without even realizing that we are maintaining a culture of bigotry in doing so.
I know what you’re thinking, how could language have so much power? It’s only a word, after all! Sarah, maybe you’re being slightly dramatic with your conclusions. Well, my reply would be for you to have a quick click here to check out a site that puts your “just a word” excuse to shame. It is not one word. It is a word in your language bank, that is used, say ten times a day. By millions of people. Every day. So it is used millions of times a week. And when that word has a double meaning – for example – “gay”, it can become damaging. The word comes to hold negative connotations, it essentially becomes devalued, and people who are gay can come to consider their sexuality devalued or disliked by their culture – simply because when something is “gay” it’s bad. So are they bad?
Just like rumours, language spreads. When we use language negatively, those negative ideas spread with them.
Language, linguistics, words, signs, signals – whatever you want to call it – all play an extremely formative part in how we perceive ourselves. As my fellow blogger pointed out in a previous blog, the concept of “fat” has become so obscured that unless women are stick thin, they are suddenly deemed “fat”. And just like the power the word “fat” has to make a person simply crumble up inside, words such as “gay” or “fag” have just as much power to cause homophobic beliefs to discretely invade your mind. Well, maybe not yours. But definitely your kids.

I know this because I work with these kids every day. I hear them, and I see them, and my heart breaks in to tiny little pieces on the floor. These kids understand to be “gay” as a negative thing. They also learn that to be “gay” is to be attracted to the same-sex. The two meanings thus colluded, and the children believe that being homosexual/gay is a negative thing.

So where do they learn to use language like this? From us. From their parents, their teachers, their brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends whose brothers, sisters, parents also use those terms, from their neighbours, the guy in the shop, the girl in the line at the cinema, from television, magazines, books, music, films.
Language moves fast. In the past ten years we have moved away from the days when we began using abbreviations to shorten the character content of our texts (think “omg”, “Lol”, “lmao”) to today when the amount of characters don’t really matter anymore but you still hear “totes awky momo” in the street and need to take a second to translate, what is apparently English, into what you would consider English.

I can’t teach these kids not to have bigoted mind-sets without society helping me out. I can’t tell them that language is hurtful and harmful, if as soon as they leave school they are berated with that kind of language everywhere they go. These kids are not born bigots, racists, sexists – but they become them. It is not the school’s fault, or the governments. In the end, it all boils down to the adults to ensure that they change the way they use language in order to ensure that the next generation doesn’t grow up to have deeply ingrained preconceptions about particular groups of people.

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