I was catching a bit of the early morning news recently and found myself drawn to the TV screen. It wasn’t a good fascination. It was more like one of those scenes in a movie when you know something is going horribly wrong but you can’t tear yourself away. It wasn’t anything horrible by most people’s standards. It was simply another popular feature of the station where listeners enter a contest and the lucky winner experiences a make-over – hair, nails, wardrobe, make-up – the whole thing. Those who enter always have a story to tell and out of all the stories submitted, the winner is the one deemed by the TV station to be the most deserving of a chance to become someone else – in appearance, anyway.
What drew me to the TV screen was that month’s winner – a 12 year old girl. TWELVE!!! Apparently she wanted a makeover so she could learn how to put on her make-up properly and have time to practise before her Grade 8 graduation. Physically, she was already beautiful. Why was a makeover needed in the first place????
Now I have to admit that my thoughts began to swirl and I started to seethe as I pondered this scenario. I asked myself…
…Was this whole process truly the young girl’s choice? Did she somehow believe that she wasn’t good enough and entered the contest in order to fulfill someone else’s standard for personal beauty? Is it possible that she submitted her entry for fun and was totally secure in who she was as an individual? What role did advertising play in all of this?
Questions, questions, questions…. The more I wondered about why the decision was made to have a 12 year old on the program, the more angry I became.
Within a few moments, when that particular live segment was finished, the camera shifted back to the morning announcers. One proudly indicated that the young lady was a beautiful girl and expressed her belief that the young lady would look even better with proper hair, make-up and clothing. “Better??? By whose standards???” I thought to myself.
Then I heard the following: “And now something for the boys – Monster Trucks are coming to town!!!!”… I was stunned. Is this the best we can do in our society? Makeovers for 12 year old girls and Monster trucks for boys???? Seriously??? Gender bias at its proudest moment??? My anger was immediately replaced by overwhelming sadness. I was appalled by the whole segment.
Off and on during the day, I reflected on the morning’s events and wondered why I was so upset as a result of the broadcast. I began to wonder if I had ever given such negative messages unconsciously to my students. I know that we need to encourage our students to be the best that they each can be and give them constant positive messages in order to counteract the negatives presented to them in every day life. But do I always do that?
How do we, as educators, do that? How do we keep ourselves from perpetuating the same kinds of biases? Similar messages are everywhere. We hardly recognize them ourselves.
How many times in education are we guilty of the same kind of preconceived ideas or assumptions?
How many times have we given silent agreement when we stay silent instead of offering a challenge to statements such as these:
….. “His parents can’t read. I’m not surprised that he is having trouble” (Really? Because a parent had issues with academics, does that really mean their children will struggle as well?)
” She comes from a poor family. She’ll never amount to anything” (Really? Since when did an annual income govern one’s ability to learn?)
“Why should I spend my time with _______? He/She will never learn anyway.”…. (Really? Can we really believe that another human being is so lacking in value that even an investment of time is wasteful?)
I’m certain that the news broadcast had no idea about the message I received that day. I didn’t even realize it myself until I took the time to think about what I had seen and heard.
What was your message to your students today? What were you modelling?