Disability: 3-5 minute child chat about an issue of social justice

(Please see my previous blogposts from December 17, 2017, and January 2, 2018 about chatting with your child or children about issues related to social justice).

AutismMonday, April 2nd 2018, is World Autism Awareness Day. It just so happens that we have a few parents in our lives that have children living on the autism spectrum.  Therefore, in honor of my nephew, my friends’ children, and all parents and children living with Autism, here is a 3-5 minute lesson on talking to your child about disabilities. For Victorine, Hayley, and Elspeth (who keeps me honest and in check).

Children can sometimes be cruel to one another. No matter how diverse our world is, children still are socialized to believe that there is only one way to be. Despite the medical and psychological research, out there some parents and children still hold a certain norm in their minds about an individual’s emotional, cognitive, and physical development. It is sad. It is inappropriate. Those beliefs about such norms are counterproductive to us living in a culturally competent diverse society. Not only that but such beliefs do not allow our children to experience people who are different than them.

I noticed that there is not much written for people who have friends or relatives with disabilities. There is a growing set of research and resource banks for parents with children who have disabilities, but not much for those of us who want to be supportive, inclusive, competent, and allies.

I am still learning. I ask a lot of questions. I make mistakes. I look up a lot of stuff. I ask my friends for assistance. You should too! The conversation about children who do not have the same physical, emotional, or cognitive abilities as my child has come up when we plan playdates, birthday parties, or are getting ready to go to any outing where other children may be present. As we are getting dressed, my part of the conversation goes something like this:

“Are you excited about the party/play date/museum/field trip today?”

“I know I loved parties/play dates/museums/field trips when I was your age.”

“I want you to please remember to be kind to all the other children present. You know how you like it when people are kind to you?”

“Can you also remember that there may be kids there who cannot run or do not run as fast as you do or who don’t like crowds or loud noises…can you think of something to make them more comfortable/feel included?”

Our son is o.k. about coming up with things like “help them on the ladder to the slide,” or “sit with them for a while if they want to sit.” However, he also needs some prompting. I add some suggestions to help him think about children who may be in a wheelchair or who may not be able to play the running or climbing games. We talk about not forcing kids to engage if they do not want to: “Ask your friend if they are o.k….tell them it is o.k. to sit down for a while if they want to…ask them if they want to do something else.”

Teaching a 7 y.o. to be observant of their friend’s feelings and movements is a challenge, but the more I do it the more I find he is slowly paying attention. He is still uncomfortable sometimes around children with disabilities, but much more comfortable than he was a year or two ago. Exposure. Conversation. Normalization.

We also talk about people who look different (maybe a child with Down syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). Recently, we began talking about disabilities you cannot see (ADD for examkple). I ask him what questions he has. I encourage him to ask me more questions as they come up. I have been known to go with my child to ask a parent of another child a question or two. After all, I do not know everything!

  1. As always, use age-level appropriate resources and language.
  2. Normalize the fact that ALL children (and adults) matter.
  3. Teach & Encourgae your child to be observant and respond appropriately.
  4. Encourage your child not to stare.
  5. Encourage them to ask questions.
  6. Begin to teach them person-first language (“My friend Nathan who is on the sutism spectrum/who lives with autism” vs “That autisitc kid”)
    1. Another example of person first language
  7. If your child is uncomfortable around children with a disability, do not force your child to play with them. Talk time later to help your child hear you say how important it is to be inclusive.

What ideas and helpful tips do you have?

HELPFUL LINKS AND BOOKS

  1. Two great blogs I found:
    1. http://kellehampton.com/2016/09/school-talk-introducing-disabilities-to-classrooms-and-friends.html
    2. http://www.kristenannjames.com/2013/11/18/talking-to-kids-about-disability-and-he-who-must-not-be-named/
  2. Autism Speaks https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/world-autism-awareness-day
  3. HollyRod Foundation http://www.hollyrod.org/

Books

  1. My brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete
  2. I see things differently: A first look at autism by Pat Thomas
  3. A friend like Simon by Kate Gaynot
  4. Since we’re friends: An autism picture book by Celeste Shally
  5. Don’t call me special: A first look at disability by Pat Thomas and Lesley Harker
  6. A rainbow of friends by P.K. Hallinan

 

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Poverty: 3-5 Minute Child Chats about Social Justice

20170820_111007.jpgParents and guardians should be brave and create space for conversations with their children about the important topics of our society. We can no longer live in silos nor can we live in silence.

Last month I wrote that I would be sharing ways in which I have conversations with our 7-year-old son about topics related to social justice (and equity, acceptance, helping others, advocacy, etc.). My 1st disclaimer is that we live in a multicultural city in a neighborhood that is multiethnic and multi-income. We have many opportunities for us to engage with our community and have experiences that lend themselves well to discussing social justice. We also travel by car to other states and ask him to observe and ask questions. I am, after all, a social worker with a sociological imagination! My 2nd disclaimer is that we have enough resources to do what we need to do in life and a little bit more. Finally, my 3rd disclaimer is that our son is naturally curious and asks many questions, so it makes these conversations easier to initiate, but him being 7, the conversations end quickly because his attention span is short!

It is difficult for many children to understand poverty. Many parents & guardians do not discuss money with their children. So understanding that not having enough resources is connected to so many institutional and societal factors is complicated. To just say “Well…their parents do not have a job…” is such an insufficient explanation. Such a complicated issue (and the same goes for racism, sexism, disability, homophobia, etc., etc., etc.) require exposure that is consistent and wrapped in age-appropriate conversations that earnestly display your values of equity and justice.

So here are some examples of what we have done so far. What we do is very simple and we hope that as he gets older our experiences and conversations will become more complex and meaningful. I welcome your experiences and questions:

  1. We start with us & him and our & his money:
    1. We tell him how much he has, how much grandpa sent him, etc. We tell him that he has to save, give, and then he can spend a small portion of it.
    2. When it comes to giving, we make suggestions and then let him choose. We do not give online because we want him to have the experience of going somewhere to make the donation in person. It is usually at church, but he has also chosen to give to someone standing on the street corner or give to a jar at the store counter.
      1. “We believe that helping others is important.” “What do you think?” “Do you like it when someone helps you? Do you have an example of a time someone helped you?” “Why is it important to you?” “How do you feel when you help someone else?”
    3. When it comes to spending, we have taught him how to read prices. We talk about not buying more than what you need. We use the word greed (Eric Carle’s Greedy Python can be used in many ways!)
  2. We have served meals through a program that operates out of our church for people with not enough resources. We have done this on a weekend and on Thanksgiving (not as consistently as I would like). We tell our son what we are going to do and explain to him who comes to eat a meal
    1. “Do you know what we are going to do today?” “Do you know why we are going?” “What questions do you have?”
  3. We donate books, clothing, toys, etc. to a local organization and to the school when they collect coats, toys, etc.
    1. “Let’s look at what you have…what can we share with someone who doesn’t have any of this or enough of any of this?” “Can you imagine not having coat/gloves in winter?” “How do you think the child who gets this coat will feel?”
  4. We have conversations about the people we see on the streets holding signs.
    1. He has initiated these conversations. He asks why people stand on the street with signs asking for money. Our responses have varied, but the answer to his questions usually starts something like: “Sometimes people are unable to work and if you are unable to work you probably do not have enough money to pay rent or buy groceries.”  “Sometimes people cannot work because they are disabled…”
  5. Finally, we admit our privilege. We cannot have an honest chat about poverty if we do not talk about our own privilege. It is often uncomfortable, but it is part of what needs to happen.

Remember: 

  1. Keep it simple and short.
  2. Use words, language, and experiences you know your child can understand and handle. Try to relate it back to what they may already know (being helpful, being kind, being fair). AND use a book (some suggestions below).
  3. Do not overwhelm them by trying to do too much or have too many experiences in a short period.
  4. Do not force it. It should happen with the natural context of what you already do. The New Year is a good time to start new habits of justice.
  5. Be consistent and nurture their curiosity and their desire to engage in acts of social justice.

Children’s books related to this topic:

  1. Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt
  2. The family under the bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson
  3. Poverty and Hunger by Hanane Kai
  4. On our street: Our first talk about poverty by Jillian Roberts and Jaime Casap
  5. Everybody can help somebody by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

 

 

 

Six reasons why we shouldn’t worry about the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria

kids in a cafeteriaDr. Beverly Tatum just released (September 5th) a 20th anniversary version of her ground-breaking and well-informed book Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria: And other conversations about race.  She discusses the phenomenon at Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity.  This is a topic I think about a lot as the mother of a Black child.

In my son’s small, private, predominantly White school I noticed that in his particular grade all the Black students are in one classroom and all the East Indian students are in another classroom (those are the two major non-White groups in his particular school). This got me thinking. School has begun and at public and private schools – elementary through high school – the Black students, the Latino students, the Asian students, etc. are probably sitting together in the cafeteria as I write this.  And on that note, so are the band students, the drama students, the athletes, and so on…AND here are some reasons why school social workers, teachers, or administrators should NOT be concerned:

  1. Yes, they are sitting together and it is o.k. We like to sit, play, live, and work with people who make us feel safe and comfortable and the fact is, that is often people who look like us. If I spend all morning and all afternoon in situations that make me feel unsafe and/or uncomfortable or with people who are different than me and I am the minority in numbers, then I want to be able to share a meal (a sacred joyful time in many households) with people who make me safe and comfortable.  Usually, this means being with people with whom I share some values and beliefs based on our identity. We have to remember that students, particularly those in middle and high school, are figuring out their multiple identities and how those identities intersect. Students are navigating a complex world both internally and externally. To help promote student wellness, let the girls sit with the girls and the drama students sit with the drama students and the Black students sit with the Black students…if they want. Now, this does not mean that you should tolerate purposeful exclusion, discrimination, or mocking, but rather accept that students (like adults) need to create their own safe spaces. AND you and your colleagues should think about how you can systematically and intentionally create spaces for cross-cultural dialogue that may bridge any gaps at lunch tables or on playgrounds.
  2. Forcing students to sit together in some orchestrated inclusion situation will always back-fire. Let it happen organically. You cannot force people to like each other just because it is a rule in a student handbook. Rather, you can teach students to talk to one another and to hear each other’s stories. You can create spaces and facilitate times for dialogues and learning. Cultural competency is a value and a skill that should be integrated into our schools’ academic curriculum and co-curricular activities. The dialogues about this should be ongoing. Cultural competence should be reflected throughout every aspect of our schools. Students may still choose to sit together by identity group and with ongoing dialogues there will be more awareness and understanding of why.
  3. Have you paid attention to what the students’ other needs are? The Brookings Institute estimates that 1 in 6 children come from food insecure household. Add to that the fact that at least half of our school-aged children have a mental health need. And these are just two examples of need.  Our students have a multitude of needs and obstacles that need addressing before we can even get them to attend to sitting and playing together. If a student is struggling at home, in their personal life and space, it is even more challenging for them to be ready to discuss and embrace sitting with people different than them.  A student may be worried about what others know and think of their situation. Or, a student may be too distressed to attend to their neighbor. Just think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – individuals need food, shelter, safety – basic necessities before they can begin to think about and get situated in belongingness and love for others.
  4. The guilt or discomfort we may feel about students sitting together based on identity groups or shared interests has nothing to do with them. How you or I or our peers feel about race relations or interacting with groups of different social identities is not how the children of the 21st century feel. Not a scientific study with proven significance, but still worthy of mention, Good Morning America has done a series called “Black and White,” in which Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts interview children about their thoughts and feelings about race. When Roberts asked them if their different skin color makes them different from each other the children answered in unison “No.”
  5. We should not place our expectations, guilt, hurt, anger, etc. on them. Students have their own emotions to deal with as it relates to equity, inclusion, and social justice. They don’t even always use the same language to describe it. We need to see them and hear them and let them develop their own space and ways of facing race relations in the 21st century. Inter-racial friendships may be challenging for some kids to form as Nadra Kareem Nittle points out. Children, and especially young people are navigating their own identities and navigating someone else’s adds some sort of pressure or complication to their lives. When your school begins to create a cultural competency plan, include the students and the parents.
  6. Diversity work in schools and anywhere is best done when it becomes part of the integrated fabric of the school and is not just an add-on 1 day or 1-semester program.   If you want the students to sit together in the cafeteria or anywhere else, then the school needs to have an ongoing, comprehensive, effective, and impactful plan that begins on day 1 and never ends. The National Education Association has great resources that schools can utilize as a starting place. Teaching for Tolerance is another good place to look.  Remember too that cultural competence needs to be shown in who is hired at the school and who holds leadership positions. Diversity and cultural competence needs to be seen in photos, posters, and textbooks year-round. And parents and guardians (as extensions of the schools) need to also have the tools to facilitate such conversations at home and with their families.

So, I am okay with the fact that my son is in the same classroom with the other 3 Black students in his grade. I know that he has always played and sat with all the children in his school, and vice-versa. In reconsidering our concerns about all of the Black children sitting together, social workers should help teachers figure out why this is or is not okay for each child, and administrators should think about what will work best for each school’s culture.  The famous Black scholar W.E.B. Du Boise wrote that the “problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” It is now the 21st-century and we should ask ourselves what are we doing if this problem still exists? We also need to think beyond the dichotomy of the Black and White binary and make sure we pay attention to the diversity and intersectionality within our schools and neighborhoods and speak to that specifically, and not just speak to Black and White students

In the coming decades, the population of our country will continue to become increasingly diverse. Soon, we will need to ask ourselves “Why are the White students sitting together in the cafeteria?” And then we must be prepared to answer that question and do something about it.

 

Between Privilege and Vulnerability: Social Responsibility

familyOur Pastor has been preaching on the “Great Ends of the Church.”  I am embarrassed to say that I missed what all the great ends are.  Last week’s sermon (which was awesome) was about telling our truth. We had a great Black History Month litany honoring truth tellers in a variety of fields (art, music, science, education, etc.).  This week Pastor Heather is leading a group in Israel so Rev. Cindy came to preach. I LOVE Cindy, really I do. You know you meet someone and you instantly feel like “I could hang out with her often.” Yep. That’s how I feel about Rev. Cindy Kohlman.  Today she ROCKED the message on Justice and Social Responsibility.  As a social worker I was “Yea. Right on! We are about justice and helping others, and spreading the good news, and social responsibility.”

I wish the sermon had been tapped so y’all could see because I am not able to do her justice! She asked if some folks were uncomfortable. I ask this in my diversity courses all the time, with the premise that my space is safe and there will be discomfort because diversity…justice…social responsibility is challenging, controversial to some, and uncomfortable to many. The question for today’s sermon was “What Shall We (You) Do?” Justice and Social Responsibility is ACTIVE work! (Ephesians 4:25-29, 5:8-7 and Luke 3:1-14).

Our son, who has no enemy that he knows of and everyone he meets is a friend knows how worldto do justice and social responsibility in a very nice 5 year old way.

  1. On the playground or in a play setting he may notice that a child is different in some way and that does not stop him form playing with that child or inviting that child to play if the child was not already playing.
  2. Three times now at school I have received an email from his teacher saying that our son shared his costume with someone who forgot to wear their costume for that day (Whakcy Dr. Seuss Wednesday, or some other day…)
  3. Whenever we go out – to a friend’s house, to church, to a meeting, wherever…he insists that I pack enough snacks for him to be able to share with others. Sometimes he doesn’t get a snack he’s so busy sharing!
  4. While he likes to consider himself a BIG boy at age 5 and tends to gravitate to the older children (ages 10 and up), he always first looks out for those younger than him – giving them his toys to play with, a snack, a hug, before running off to be a big boy!
  5. When he is tired of a book or toy he always says “Mommy, you should give this to so-and-so.” We then discuss making a bag of toys and clothes to give away either to friend or to an organization.

His heart is so BIG and sensitive.  I am heartened that even though he has faced not being included because of his age or gender or race, he still takes the time to make sure to include and give to others.  (He by the way is often oblivious to being excluded…that’s a blog for another time). The scripture that come to mind is Matthew 25:45 “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.

We, of course have done some prompting on giving, being generous, being aware of others and their situation. But our son has done a lot of 5 year old social responsibility work on his own.  Our job now is to continue to nurture that and make sure he continues to become more aware, ask bigger questions, and continue to actively work for justice. Because even those who have been oppressed or fee vulnerable or discriminated against have MUCH to give!

If your child has the tendency to ask questions, be generous, include others, give of him or herself – ENCOURAGE it and engage him or her in age appropriate discussions about justice and social responsibility.  One of the things I see missing in the larger society is justice being enacted across cultures, ethnicities, ages, genders, religions, political affiliations, religions – it’s OUR world and we ALL have a responsibility to do GOOD and RIGHT!

 

Between Privilege and Vulnerability: Social Protests

familyI said that this Lent I”d be blogging about raising a son in a faith-based home that values social justice.  I keep landing on how our identities straddle privilege and vulnerability…This post is inspired by our son’s trip with me to campus.  The university where I teach participated in a #BlackLivesMatter teach-in.  Even though I am on sabbatical it feels important to stay engaged around such issues.  I volunteered to facilitate the faculty discussion. Here is an example of a Lib Guide from San Francisco Public Schools: http://sfusd.libguides.com/blacklivesmatter)

“Mommy why are you wearing all black?”

“Well, my university had a #BlackLivesMatter #TeachIn. The teachers taught their students something that had to do with #BlackLivesMatter. Today I am going to help the faculty talk about what they did.”

“Oh. Is that what you did with Anye?” (This story has many newspaper articles, this is just the one about the actual march & rally: http://www.lowellsun.com/todaysheadlines/ci_28953936/marchers-protest-handling-lowell-high-texting-incident)

“No. With Anye we had a march and rally. We walked around the city so that people could pay attention to an important issue. It is what #BlackLivesMatter does often.”

“Oh. Are we going to march today?”

“No, not today.”

“Oh. Boo! I wanna march!”

Flash forward to after the teach-in debrief

“Mommy. Who were the people sitting on the other side of the room?”

“Those were the students. We were listening to the things they are concerned about.”

“Are they concerned about Black Lives Matter?”

“Yes. They are concerned with being treated fairly on campus and wanting to see more people that look like them…”

“Oh! Like Anye!…And like me at my school.”

“Yes, like Anye…And like you at your school.”

“That’s cool. Students everywhere want to be treated fairly. No bullies or mean people allowed.”

Our son is five. He was not quite two years old when Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Since then many people of color, especially black men have been shot and killed by police or vigilantes. There is no way to hide all the news from him (not that we want to) and there is no perfect way to explain it all to him.

He, like me is both privileged and vulnerable.  He is a black boy (one day to be a man) living in the U.S. He lives in a two-parent home with educated parents of reasonable means. He is able-bodied in a brown skin body. He attends a private school in which he is in the minority.  In his own way, sometimes with more or less guidance from us he is coming to terms with his own position between privilege and vulnerability.

The ABC show #Blackish recently covered the topic of children & teenagers and understanding racial justice and protest.  If you haven’t seen the episode, you should!  Here are some other thoughts on the issue of kids and protest movements:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-freddie-gray-children-protests-20150502-story.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/18/kids-at-ferguson_n_5688393.html

http://www.xojane.com/issues/ferguson-protest

 

Thoughtful Tuesday

familyOur son was not yet 2 years old when Trayvon Martin was shot in Sanford, Florida. That night we held him tightly and I prayed that I would find the words as he grew up to talk to him about vulnerability, oppression, being a person of color, racism. My parents who were born in the south but grew up in the North and the West did a poor job of preparing me for the harsh realities of the isms. I was sheltered and protected. I believe my parents thought that because we moved out of Inglewood into Pasadena, enrolled me in private schools, exposed me to those upper-class activities that they did not participate in, I would be spared or safe from racism, sexism, etc. Otis Graham, author of Our Kind of People wrote a column about how privileged status does not protect our children from being called a N—- https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/11/06/i-taught-my-black-kids-that-their-elite-upbringing-would-protect-them-from-discrimination-i-was-wrong/

Since February 2012, so may incidents of racial injustice and violence have occurred that I have honestly lost track. All I know is that I am trying to remain calm, not panic, and talk to our son in ways that make sense. My husband and I have different approaches, which is o.k. I think. There are different ways to expose our children, talk to them, and prepare them as best we can for their futures. Our differing approaches collided when our nephew was elected president of his high school student body and social media erupted in racial slurs and threats of death. For the first time since our son had been born I was called to action. I participated in a rally, but our son did not go. Our nephew was on the front page of the paper and on the nightly local news almost daily. Our son is learning to read and pictures speak volumes. I felt we could not hide or sugar-coat the truth. We have responded simply or used religion or sports analogies to help.

The simplest response possible: “He won and some people were not happy, they are sore losers, and they said mean things.” And our son would say “Are they going to get in trouble? Did they apologize?” The truth was that no, those kids did not truly get into trouble and we were not sure they had apologized. So another type of conversation was had. We turned to religion: “Sometimes people do or say mean things and they do not apologize. God knows our hearts and will always protect us.” God is still a vague being/concept to our son, but he kind of got it.  IN other situations, we have turned to sports (his favorite activity): “You know how in a game there is a referee that monitors the players and when a player creates a super bad foul the player gets kicked out of the game and then later he has to pay a fee?” “Yes.” “In life there are referees who patrol our world and kick people out and make them pay fees.”

But then the news images of police, protestors, shot boys that look like him become too much to ignore. Even if we were not watching the news in his presence, he sees the front page of the newspaper as we bring it into the house, the news has a preview on t.v. as we are turning to his kid’s channel, our gatherings are a mix of adults and children and he over-hears our conversations. We cannot and will not live in a bubble under the guise of shielding him. So the real challenge is how to navigate this harsh reality without burdening his 5 year old mind, soul, and heart.

He is obsessed with playing “jail.” He also loves soccer, football, play dough, and coloring. But inevitably whatever he is building with Legos turns into a jail. His soccer players end up in jail because they cause d a foul or his play dough creation is a jail. Even his beloved TMNT are in jail! My social worker antenna is buzzing!!!! So I ask “Why is everyone always in jail?” “Because they’re bad.” “What did they do?” “They were fighting.” “Oh” I say weakly, wondering if I should continue the questioning, which I do not but instead say “I think you’ve played jail long enough, let’s read….”

Our son is very intuitive, he is smart and savvy. He listens to everything people say. He is not naïve. At the same time, we do not want to give him more information than he needs at this age. We also do not want him to be shocked (which he will be) when a classmate or a classmate’s parent says something racially cruel or he doesn’t get invited to the party because the parent doesn’t like black people, etc., etc. I also do not want to be a helicopter parent, but I can easily see how trying to protect your child from injustice based on his race or biological sex or religion or ability…could lead a parent to helicopter…patrolling the books in the library, the holidays celebrated at school, etc.

I am too often overwhelmed by that state of our country and our world. I feel paralyzed and fearful. Then I remember that I need to model what our son should be (my husband does too) and I just make sure our son hears and sees me engaged in social justice. I also remember that I have gotten through it with minimal protection and I have grown stronger, more passionate, braver.

I also just hope and pray that there are parents of every race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and orientation out there who are just as concerned as I am and are having age-appropriate conversations with their children about the same issues and about how to be an ally. I just hope and pray that there is better police academy screening and training. I just hope that the post-modernists, whom I do not always understand or agree with, are right and we reach a post-label-identity society…where we are all equal and treated as such.

Do you talk to your child about difference? Vulnerablitiy? Racism? Sexism? Current events? How do you do it?

Some of my favorite articles on related topics:

  1. To The White Parent of My Black Son’s Friends – http://www.amusingmaralee.com/2015/12/to-the-white-parents-of-my-black-sons-friends/#sthash.mZuLFa7R.dpuf
  2. Respect what black America is feeling – http://www.salon.com/2015/04/29/dear_white_facebook_friends_i_need_you_to_respect_what_black_america_is_feeling_right_now/
  3. Five recovery steps from a form helicopter parent http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/01/05/overparenting-5-recovery-steps-from-a-former-stanford-dean/
  4. What it’s like to be the only black kid in class http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/this-is-what-its-like-to-be-the-only-black-kid-in-class_568a847be4b014efe0dae77d

 

A Reflection on Teaching Religion and Diversity…online

worldI have been teaching about religion and cultural competency online since 2010.  I began doing so because (a) I had a newborn and wanted to spend less time on campus and (b) the university was asking us to create more online courses. I have tweaked the courses a lot over the years and gathered ideas from colleagues across the country.  It is a challenge and takes some fine balancing to teach such topics online. It is definitely time consuming! 😊😄Some say it is a bad idea to teach uncomfortable/controversial topics online. I think it can and should be done. I think so mainly because online offers more students opportunity to take a variety of classes that they may not otherwise be able to take because of their time and life commitments.  Secondarily, I have found that my online students are more open with their discussion than me student in my face-to-face courses (their is some literature out there about the perception of being somewhat anonymous online).

I am currently teaching an online course about religion and society. 🏯⛪🔯🔱It is a Sociology course so the readings are based on the theoretical frameworks of the traditional through post-modern Sociological theorists.  Because of where we live, I find approx 90% of the students to be former Catholics who do not currently practice a religion AND have a disdain for organized religion (LOTS of research out there on this, especially as it relates to 20 and 30 year olds). The students have been most interested in how religions address the LGBT community & people of color, and the role of women or lack thereof within some religions.

When I teach the cultural competency course (in Social Work) students are required to pick a culture that is different than their own and explore that culture’s food, socio-cultural, religious and other traditions and customs.  🎎🙇👭👬👳👲Culture is broadly defined but mostly in the course we study and discuss various social identities. In the end students tend to focus on national origin or religion, therefore most students choose either Judaism or Islam for their ongoing project/paper.  Given the state in which we live students also tend to choose Cambodian, Vietnamese, Cape Verdean, or Brazilian cultures also and thus often end up at a Catholic Church or Buddhist Temple.

This semester in the Religion and Society course, no student has chosen Islam. I asked if anyone had interest in exploring Islam for their research paper and that I had often sent students to a specific Islamic Center in our state and that the center is welcoming, etc., etc. A few brave students emailed me to say that they were interested but scared to visit a Mosque or Islamic Center.  We discussed back and forth about their fears and the pros and cons of this research topic.  In the end, no student chose Islam. I was disappointed, but each year I am learning new things about teaching topics that some students find uncomfortable, challenging, and/or are afraid of.

teacher

Facilitating Learning

  1. Even though our college and universities push us to teach online so that more students have access and can take courses, some courses really are best taught face-to-face.
  2. If I chose to teach anything related to diverse identities online then I have to require students to engage in more discussions than usual. There is typically a question/topic per week and students respond to me and to two other students. I then compose a lecture-like post based on all of their responses so and ask them to respond to that post.  So that’s at least 3-4 opportunities to discuss a topic and engage in some teaching & learning.
  3. Again, if I chose to teach anything related to diverse identities online I should think about requiring at least two (at the beginning and at the end) face-to-face meetings so that we can all see each other, have an open discussion, more forward, and end together.  This seems to defeat the purpose of teaching online, which is why hybrid is usually a good option.
  4. I like students to think about the possible wide range of topics and choose for themselves, but… it is an undergraduate course and even though it goes against my pedagogical style I could pre-select topics and say “Pick from these topics only” thus pushing students out of their comfort zone. This might be helpful to some students and patronizing to others.

If you teach about the broad topic(s) of diversity:

  1. Do you teach online, hybrid, or face-to-face?
  2. Do you allow students to select their own topics or do you have a pre-selected list?
  3. What other suggestions would you give me as I move forward in teaching this solely online?

Respectful, constructive comments and discussions are welcome, please.  Thank you.