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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Speaking from Stereotypes

There are personal, cultural, learning, and social reasons people don’t speak up in class.  Students of color and women of all races, introverts, the non-conventional thinkers, those from poor previous educational backgrounds, returning or “nontraditional students,” and those from cultures where speaking out is considered rude not participatory are all likely to be silent in a class where collaboration by difference is not structured as a principle of pedagogy and organization and design. 

This is absolutely not true. African American students, returning and mature students, and working class students are my best participators, both in Spanish and English. I think the quoted person speaks from stereotypes and not from any real experience. She decided these students must be silent, shy victims and is squeezing them into this role because it’s convenient and enjoyable. 

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds often have lacunae in their knowledge and need remediation. That’s a real problem. The ease and the joy with which they participate definitely isn’t. 

“Women of all races.” Really? You’ve had a black or a Hispanic woman in your class and she sat in the corner, completely quiet? And this kept happening for years? I’ve been teaching for a while but I can’t imagine this happening. Black or Hispanic women are a gift from God to every teacher because of how well they participate. What you need to be doing to force them into silence is a total mystery.

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12 thoughts on “Speaking from Stereotypes

  1. JProf on said:

    I think this really depends on the individual. I have had minority and female students who are very vocal in class, as well as students from these groups who don’t want to say a word, and everything in between these two extremes.

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    • Absolutely. There are students who won’t speak in class because that’s their personality. I usually find a way to accommodate them , like putting two quiet students together or giving them credit for something else.

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  2. I think the person quoted is so desparate to be seen as an empowering force that she oppresses her students herself (since they might not be pathetic enough without her ministrations).

    And I bet that departures from the orthodoxy would not be an accepted part of collaboration by difference (god that sounds like a commie slogan).

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    • That’s what I think, too. In my Hispanic Civ class this year, my African American students are making the class for me. They are so engaged active that it’s a pleasure to teach the class.

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  3. As I recall, there was a study a few years ago where classroom observers monitored classes in public schools and kept track of how often students from different demographics spoke up, were called on, and how the teachers responded to them. One of the findings was that public school teachers were more likely to treat African American girls as though they were being disruptive when they were simply attempting to engage in the class.

    Of course, if you were a professor who was worried that minority students weren’t engaging in your classes, you could either take a hard look at your teaching style, and consider your internal reactions to students speaking up, or you could decide that continuing to shut them down is “respecting their culture” no effort on your part needed!

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  4. Stringer Bell on said:

    Tangentially related, this is from a nursing textbook.

    http://nypost.com/2017/10/18/education-company-under-fire-for-racist-nursing-textbook/

    “Native Americans may prefer to receive medications that have been blesses by a tribal shaman,” reads one of the 19 featured bullet points.

    “Jews may be vocal and demanding of assistance,” another says.

    “Arabs/Muslims may not request pain medicine but instead thank Allah for pain if it is the result of a healing medical procedure…Filipino clients may not take pain medication because they view pain as being the will of God…Indians who follow Hindu practices believe that pain must be endured in preparation for a better life in the next cycle.”

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    • Lord. This is a great example of how this kind of thinking might actually become dangerous and cause physical pain. Unbelievable.

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      • “believe that pain must be endured in preparation for a better life”

        The idea that not everybody stuffs handfuls of painkillers down their throats is so exotic to Americans that they have to invent weird cultural practices to explain it.

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        • “The idea that not everybody stuffs handfuls of painkillers down their throats is so exotic to Americans that they have to invent weird cultural practices to explain it.”

          • Exactly. 🙂

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  5. Shakti on said:

    Teachers need to apply pedagogy if they’re concerned about overall class participation and not freight all of these measures with their ideology.

    Students of color and women of all races, introverts, the non-conventional thinkers, those from poor previous educational backgrounds, returning or “nontraditional students,” and those from cultures where speaking out is considered rude not participatory are all likely to be silent in a class where collaboration by difference is not structured as a principle of pedagogy and organization and design

    Why is this person projecting their nonsense all over their students? I had one English teacher say in a report card I had a “bad habit of trying to answer every question” out of insecurity and I was making “headway in curbing [my] desire for attention.” I merely raised my hand silently almost every time she asked a question. And then a couple years later, she decided I was too damn introverted and needed to take her speech class “so people would like [you].” It had nothing to do with my introversion (which is falling off a cliff) or ethnic background or being a girl. In a seminar, the professor wanted more class participation but only acknowledged certain people to let them speak and would actually shut people down mid-sentence.

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    • “I had one English teacher say in a report card I had a “bad habit of trying to answer every question” out of insecurity and I was making “headway in curbing [my] desire for attention.” ”

      • This is simply unprofessional. It’s ridiculous behavior and, as you say, it’s nothing but idiotic projections. Jeez, can’t one just teach students without trying to “psychoanalyze” them?

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    • My English professor shared her notes on my failures as a student with my mother (who was one of her favorite students ever, apparently) (any discussions of my classes in college with my mother always turned to monologues by my mother of how she was everyone’s most favorite and amazing student)

      One of her complaints was that I tended to “over-participate” in class discussions. It curbed me of that habit quickly and forever.

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