Today was the first ‘last seminar’ of the four that I’ve been taking this semester at the university. They call this one Professional Seminar, or Prosem for short. The goal of our particular prosem was to examine diversity and how it affects our ability to create inclusive classrooms for our students. To accomplish this, we’ve conducted a cultural fair and participated in group presentations on readings from the book, Talking About Identity: Encounters in Race, Ethnicity, and Language by Carl E. James and Adrienne Shadd.

The retrospective continues after the jump…

The cultural fair, as you might have guessed already, was a chance to research and display cultural information on a given number of countries. Each group selected one country from the list of six (Philippines, Iran, China, Argentina, Afganistan, Pakistan) and then proceeded to find a way of sharing said research. The entire thing was conducted much as you’d expect, so I’m not going to spend much time discussing it other than to say there were key points that did come up during the post-fair discussion. One of the biggest things we learned was the vast array of cultural minutia which plague every classroom. The best example of this was the reluctance of some girls from muslim countries to interact with boys. This situation raises some very important issues, one of which is cultural sensitivity and how it is handled in the context of a multicultural classroom. I don’t have an answer to this situation, short of suggesting that parents be contacted and brought in on discussions about how to tackle the issue.

Following the cultural fair, we split into five groups to do our group presentations. We were given a choice of five chapters from the book to read, reflect upon, and present to the class:

  1. Who’s Canadian, Anyway?
  2. Growing Up “Different”
  3. Roots of Identity, Routes to Knowing
  4. Race, Privilege, and Challenges
  5. Confronting Stereotypes and Racism

These presentations were by far the most interesting part of the entire seminar course because they allowed for open discussion and the freedom to interpret the content in various ways. I chose to be a part of the second group because my life can be neatly summed up by the topic title. The chapter deals mostly with the idea that growing up with an ethnic background that is not caucasian can be both difficult and frustrating (something we later discussed as “white privilege”). Now I knew that given the title of the book and the course description we wouldn’t be touching on gender diversity, so I seized the opportunity to steer the class in a slightly “different” direction (no pun intended).

It is incredibly important to me that we discuss gender diversity in a semester focused around inclusion because it is rapidly becoming a more prevalent issue in classrooms, especially in Alberta. We know this because of the arrival of Bill 44, which I won’t discuss here, and the changing social climate of today’s youth. It is more common now than it has ever been to see gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) youth in Canadian classrooms. And though they are not a “visible” minority in the most literal sense, they remain a (sexual) minority nonetheless. The assumption that most students are straight and that being such is superior, is known as heterosexism, or heterosexual privilege. Current research supports the notion that as many as one in ten students might identify as GLBT, with the potential for that number to be even higher because not all GLBT youth identify as such openly.

This year I’ve had the opportunity to attend two very informative professional development (PD) sessions: “Preventing and Dealing with Bullying” and “Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity: Exploring the Issues.” Both have dealt with issues that surround GLBT students (and non-GLBT students alike), and both share the common theme of bullying. For instance, did you know that “fag” is the most commonly used put-down in schools today? Or that according to a Twitter counter, it has been used over 1500 times today in said social networking communications? (On a side note: this is an interesting quantification of cyber-bullying.) I would not be surprised if most of you have heard such terms used in your classrooms already.

At this point, I’d like to introduce you to the internet movement Their mission is to educate youth, parents and teachers about how they use words and expressions which might be hurtful to those around them. How many of you have heard the expression, “That’s so gay”? Or better yet, how many of you have used it? One of the goals of is to reduce the prevalence of “that’s so gay” in everyday language because despite the innocuous connotation, it remains a hurtful phrase that draws from ignorant misconceptions. According to Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary, the definition of gay is as follows:

  1. Happily excited, keenly alive and exuberant, having or inducing high spirits
  2. Bright, lively, brilliant in colour
  3. Given to social pleasures

Not too long ago, was airing public service announcements (PSAs) on TV to promote their cause. Their message in these PSAs was to take the phrase “that’s so gay” and turn it on its head by swapping one stereotype for another. In one of them, Wanda Sykes can be heard telling a group of boys that she thinks their use of “that’s so gay” could just as easily be turned into that’s “so sixteen year-old boy with a cheesy mustache.” Now we had a bit of discussion in class around how this might not necessarily be a good message to be using instead, because it is really just switching one stereotype for another. My only answer to that is that what we really should be saying, and what they are trying to say in the videos, is “that’s so stupid and/or dumb.” The point is to show that by using any stereotype in the “that’s so [blank]” someone is getting hurt. I’ve attached two of their ads to illustrate their message.

During the Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity PD session, I was given a pamphlet produced by the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) on their policies regarding gender diversity. The Diversity, Equity and Human Rights (DEHR) Committe of the ATA reminds us that the Code of Professional Conduct recognizes gender diversity in relation to pupils in its very first point:

“1. The teacher teaches in a manner that respects the dignity and rights of all persons without prejudice as to race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical characteristics, disability, marital status, family status, age, ancestry, place of origin, place of residence, socioeconomic background or linguistic background.”

It also recognizes the rights of teachers to be open about themselves:

“9. Teachers have the right to be protected against discrimination on the basis of prejudice as to race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical characteristics, disability, marital status, family status, age, ancestry, place of origin, place of residence, socioeconomic background or linguistic background and have the responsibility to refrain from practising these forms of discrimination in their professional duties.”

As part of my section of the group presentation, I provided a list of resources that I will share here with you as well because we have not had the privilege of being educated properly in class about these issues. And with that, I leave you to the links.