<span class='p-name'>Encountering harmful discourses in the classroom</span>

Encountering harmful discourses in the classroom

The intersections between learning, technology, and media are often the scene of tumult and change. These digital texts and tools provide groundbreaking advantages, and opportunities to information that cannot be underestimated. The Internet, video and music sharing sites, social media and mobile phones have quite literally changed our world forever. Sadly, this ubiquitous communications technology also has become a place for people to communicate and spread hate, vitriolic language, and bigotry. Embedded in these harmful discourses are also elements of harassment, threatening behaviors, cyberbullying, and trolling. Educators are struggling with how to discuss these trends affect youth learning and engagement in myriad, global contexts.

Digital streams, social networks, and media content are pervasive in our lives in a networked, connected society. Caught in the middle of these shifts and transitory times are young people immersed in technology that normally should be able to seek guidance from parents,
educators, and support systems around them. Yet, this may be a challenge as adults are trying to make sense how these digital literacies and harmful discourses affect their own lives. This is a growing concern in our society, especially for young people because of their active engagement in the electronic world.

In recent events and interactions, we need to be cognizant that children and young adults (and their educators) are watching and learning from these events. Children may be exposed to harmful discourses or online hate speech as they read online or are exposed to media sources
through online sources. A post from Edutopia defines online hate speech as “the use of electronic communications technology to spread bigoted or hateful messages or information about people based on their actual (or perceived) race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or other similar characteristic. Children may be actively or passively exposed to these messages in or out of school, but they have a real and definite impact. After encountering these messages, students may bring them into our buildings and disseminate them.

What to do

There are a number of possible responses in the classroom to address these harmful discourses and the effect of online hate speech if it enters your classroom. The first step is recognition and paying attention to the culture of your classroom and school campus. Educators also need to be cognizant of the age and developmental level of their students before working to address this content. You’ll want to make sure that your response is appropriate, direct, and does not include your own bias, perspectives, or judgement.

Howard C. Stevenson from Penn’s Graduate School of Education indicates three steps to address these harmful discourses as they enter your classroom.

  • Start with you – Process your own feelings, and address your own vulnerabilities before entering the classroom. Develop a support system with your colleagues.
  • Practice – Classroom reactions usually happen in a split second. Prepare yourself for these instances by role-playing with colleagues in your building, or online with your PLN.
  • After an incident – Resist the urge to condemn the action or content. First try to understand the motivation if is disseminated through your classroom or building. Allow the school’s code of conduct to address instances where students actively spread this information. Strongly explain to students that these harmful discourses and the messages being spread about individuals and groups are not accepted. You will not accept the silencing of voices.
  • Keep talking – After these events, the best course of action is to keep talking. Difficult discussions will often ensue, but children and adults alike need to be able to process their feelings and reactions. This is an opportunity to shut down and be silent, or engage and promote change.

Proactive curriculum

There are also a wealth of resources available online to help address these harmful discourses before they enter your classroom or school campus. Teaching Tolerance offers a guide for administrators, counselors, and teachers on Responding to Hate and Bias at School as well as a guide for Speaking up at School about prejudice, bias, and stereotypes. MediaSmarts provides a guide on Responding to Online Hate. Edutopia also provides a collection of resources to help you learn more about Internet safety, cyberbullying, and media literacy.

If you really want to be proactive, Common Sense Education offers an Anti-Cyberbullying Toolkit to help protect your school’s culture and community. Specifically, also check out the following modules provided by Common Sense Education for your specific grade bands.

Counteract these harmful discourses

It is imperative that we explore how information and technology shape the contours of the spaces in which learning takes place. Within these contexts, there are also broader civic, educative, and social-emotional concerns arising in national and international contexts, while events may also percolate in our local area. We cannot conclude that governments or the businesses that develop, facilitate, or regulate these digital texts and spaces will work to counteract these harmful discourses.

It is the role of educators to work with youth to identify best ways for youth to safely learn, engage, and connect online. Our future needs individuals that are more informed, literate citizens that educate themselves and others as to the need for new, helpful discursive practices.

Image Credit

A version of this post originally appeared on the ILA Literacy Daily Blog.

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