Inclusion fail

(via Tessa de Jongh on flickr)

A number of years ago, I attended a Bachelor of Education program. I’m theoretically qualified to teach junior and senior high school, but I have not maintained my membership to the Ontario College of Teachers, so I’m not eligible for any (public school) jobs. Teaching didn’t turn out to be what I actually wanted to do with my life.

Among the things that happened that annoyed me during the program (and there were many; because Ontario has dedicated Catholic school boards for all districts, a distinct proportion of the students accepted to Ontario teaching programs are Catholic, to fill the rosters of those schools), one haunts me in particular because of its genuine good intentions, but failed execution.

There’s a disturbing pattern among the classic lesson plans for teaching tolerance of diversity, which is that the plans tend to assume that they will be applied to a homogenous class of students who sit solidly on the privileged side of whatever division is being discussed.

For example, there’s the Jane Elliott’s blue eyes/brown eyes exercise that is meant to make white students understand what it is like to live in a world where you are a member of a discriminated-against class of people (i.e. what it’s like to be a person of colour in North America). It’s not clear to me how this exercise would work in a mixed-race context. It might actually be more interesting in some ways, but it’s pretty clear to me that it was not designed for this purpose.

The clearer example I have is geared toward reducing anti-LGBT (ar at least anti-LGB) prejudice. In one of my classes, the professor actually ran the exercise on us, so I got to experience first-hand just how problematic it is. It’s a simple enough premise, and involves walking through one version or another of this questionnaire.

The questions are kind of cute, and intended to inspire reflection among straight people on their assumptions about sexuality. And that’s all well and good. But.

As a queer person, I found myself completely and utterly excluded from the entire exercise and ensuing discussion. The answer to many of those questions for anyone who isn’t heterosexual is a simple “not applicable”. It was extremely frustrating, not least because the exercise could easily be altered to explicitly ask for input from LGB people (or, for the sake of not putting LGB students on the spot if they are not comfortable discussing it, at least leave some implicit openings/prompts that can be meaningfully addressed/answered by LGB people.) As it was administered, the whole process was deeply lacking in opportunities for meaningful diaogue.

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