Sunday, October 25, 2015

August - "Safe Spaces"

Dr. August's piece, "Safe Spaces" really made me reflect on the day to day proceedings in my own classroom. Dr. August explains that marginalization often comes in the form of messaging. This messaging refers to the verbal and nonverbal communications that LGBTQA youth receive from family, peers, teachers, the media, etc that indicate what is supported and what is not. 

During passing, I must admit that I do hear many students reference homosexuality in derogatory manners by saying expressions like, "that's gay" or call another student "a fag". While these are blatant expressions of negativity towards homosexuality, Dr. August notes that we do not necessarily have to use overt language to show our acceptance and promotion of heteronormativity.

I, like most teachers, hope that my classroom is an open and safe place for my students. While it is difficult to moderate all of the language used in the hallway, I always make a point to stop my lesson and ask a student to "watch his language" if he uses a derogatory term that refers to someone's race, gender identity, or sexual orientation. I often see many teachers at my school who do not address these commonly used phrases, so I figured I was doing something right to help my underrepresented students. 

While I do think that it is better for me to say something rather than remain unconcerned when I hear these phrases, I am starting to realize that I too take the "path of least resistance" when I work with my students. For instance, if a student is late to class - she gets a detention. If a student says "that's gay", she gets a stern look and a "watch your language" warning from me. What kind of message do these two differences in punishments portray to my students about what I value? Likewise, part of my school's mission is to "value all students", but what do we tell out LGBTQA community members when we punish students for having cell phones in the hallways but we act like we do not hear the derogatory slurs and homophobia that endlessly persists in the same hallways?

So why don't more educators try to consciously take a stand against this marginalization? Dr. August suggests that it is because we often fear repercussions from parents and administrations. I have no doubt that this is what prevents many teachers from doing more. Personally, I think many educators hear their students say these phrases and they think "oh, they didn't mean anything by it" or "that was harmless." Admittedly, I do not think that all of my students who use these phrases intend to ridicule those who identify as LGBTQA. That's not the point though. The fact is, these small messages prevent us as a school and as a society from truly accepting all persons in our society. By not saying anything, we are part of the problem. We need to take an active stance to support all members of our schools, or else our passive stances actively support our culture of marginalization. 


  1. I like that you brought up Dr. August's point about fearing repercussions of talking about these issues in class. I find it interesting that so many years later, many teachers still have trouble discussing racism and sexism, but we can do that without fear of being fired or getting in trouble from administrators or parents. Do you think this is because issues of LGBTQA rights are fairly recent when compared to those of race and gender? I wonder what this landscape will look like 10 or 15 years from now.

  2. Liz, I was thinking something quite similar. It seems that the LGBTQA is very far behind the issues of gender and racial equality. It would be interesting to research how different classes and races address LGBTQA.

  3. Love the picture of "A Christmas Story" - very funny... On a more serious note, what a great connection you made between the punishments and the silent message that may send to students. There would be zero tolerance for aggressive physical behavior, right? so why would there be any tolerance for aggressive verbal behavior (if that is the intention?) or inciteful language for that matter? I would imagine that admin. would want to steer clear of the judgement call it would require teachers to make - where could they draw the line between the words and the intentions behind the words? Tough one...

  4. It's hard to know where to draw the discipline line. You hear name calling in the hall and the students are told to watch their language, maybe they taken aside for a conversation, often with the student apologizing to the recipient of the name calling. But sometimes it's not enough. Last year, an eighth grader in our school asked a sixth grader if he was gay. The sixth grader had a melt down. He was so upset he ran and hid and two other teachers and I found him hiding in an empty classroom. He actually tried running out of the building and was restrained by another teacher. What kind of hell had this boy been going through for that comment to be the breaking point for him? The eighth grader received a two day suspension, and I have been vigilant ever since, but I have not heard any other comments directed at the younger boy.
    Since our principal at the time was a stickler for privacy, we were told not to bring the incident up in front of other students. The whole aftermath has been very frustrating.

  5. The path of least resistance I think is such an important point! Fear of repercussions and the overall uncomfortableness of a discussion with students become reasons that we do not take a stronger stand. I think the quote "good intentions are not enough" really stood out for me for this.