Tackling Othering In and Out of the Classroom

Many pedagogical resources exist to help us respond to othering: UnderstandingPrejudice.org offers us tools to recognize our own assumptions about difference; A Class Divided reveals the lessons of Jane Elliott’s blue eyes/brown eyes experiment; living libraries help us see the individuals within the groups we devalue; and a couple of informative videos from our 2011 conference identify some of the silences within our schools.


Examining Our Hidden Biases

As psychology has revealed, most of us have unconscious biases against people we consider outsiders; while this does not mean that we are destined to act on our biases or even accept them when they creep into our consciousness, we need to pay attention to them. This is the goal of UnderstandingPrejudice.org, a site which offers many teaching resources that seek to make us more aware of the biases in our own thinking.

Blue Eyes and Brown Eyes

Jane Elliott’s experiment on her grade 3 class in 1968 remains a powerful reminder of how easily us and them can be manipulated by society. The widely-watched PBS film, A Class Divided, documents the experiment and brings together the children – now adults – to reflect on the impact of their experience.

Breaking Down Prejudice with a Living Library

This innovative initiative was the brainchild of a Danish youth group, Stop the Violence, which was established by 5 young people after one of their friends was brutally beaten in a nightclub. The group swelled to 30,000 members across Demnark and in 2000 held the first human library. Since then, human (or living) libraries have been held throughout the world: visitors or “readers” are given the opportunity to take out “books” and speak informally to people who are “different”. The human library encourages people to confront their stereotypes about others in a positive and humourous way. Visit the human library website and see all the “books” that have been borrowed.

The Silences in Schools

The majority of bullying taunts are gender-based, related to body size, the perception that one’s gender identity is “inappropriate” or that one may be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered; the most common slurs one hears in the corridors of our schools –“bitch”, “slut”, “hoe” “faggot”, “queer”, and “pussy” – are also the ones that are most likely to be ignored by educators. Educator and anti-bullying expert Liz Meyer points out in her work the ways in which bullying taunts frequently become a way to impose dominant views about normality and reflect common but harmful stereotypes that need to be explicitly addressed. Watch the passionate call she made at Dawson’s 2011 conference below; you can also read several of her articles, including “‘But I’m Not Gay’: What Straight Teachers Need to Know about Queer Theory”, on her web site.

Marilyn Noble, an educator who has long worked to alert teachers about issues of othering, also reminds us that diversity appears in many forms that typically go unnoticed in our classrooms. Think of such issues as socioeconomic background, rural vs. urban upbringing, political views, mother tongue, family structure, mental health issues, learning disabilities and trauma, among others. In the following video, she examines techniques that help us create a truly inclusive classroom.

You can find many other videos from our 2011 Conference on this web site by clicking here.

(Unfortunately these videos are temporarily unavailable)

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One Response to Tackling Othering In and Out of the Classroom

  1. Félix Perron December 13, 2015 at 9:03 pm #

    I believe it is a great idea to try and help people with prejudices through these kind of experiments and techniques. I believe that insulting someone because of their prejudices by calling someone a racist will not help at all or will even aggravate their situation. Making them understand their problem or even putting them in the shoes of the oppressed one, like in the Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes experiment, is a good non-violent way of changing people.

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