Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Judging Before Knowing

judgingIn You're Not Alone: Can't judge a book by it's cover, Patrick Black shares,

“You know the saying "you can't judge a book by its cover"? I know in my heart that this is a true statement but I also know that most people do just that. They take one look at my boy and form an opinion without ever talking to him. It is so sad that many people will never get to know the real Corey. Most people can't get past the crooked glasses with stuff all over the lenses, the bad breath from chewing on stuff or the body odor when he forgets his deodorant. This is one of the things I am struggling with right now. I am trying to figure out how to combat these things...one at a time, so that Corey's freshman year of high school is not a repeat of his dismal, friendless middle school years.”

When I read this, it broke my heart. How many times have we told our own children and our students not to judge a book by its cover? But I think that is impossible during the teenage years. I think there needs to be a developmental stage labeled - Judging Books By Their Cover. I don’t care how many times we tell students this, they will do it anyway. I think it is this “stage” that causes many students to join gangs or commit suicide.
As a special ed teacher, I deal with this a lot in my classroom. Not only do my students have peers that judge them by “their cover” but so do a lot of teachers. I can even hear the other teachers complain about having “those” kids in their classroom before they have even met them! Many times my students would come to me and complain that their teachers treat them differently in class. Sometimes I’m not sure the teachers even realize they do this.

The only way I know how to handle these situations is to arm the students with “tools.” Rather than ignore the big elephant in the room, we acknowledge that people judge them without ever really knowing them. Yes, it is wrong but there is nothing we can do about this because we can’t change other people’s behaviors, only our own. By talking about behaviors that cause people to do this, it helps my students see themselves as others do. We practice how to get people to move past that outer layer. We also talk about ways of dealing with this when faced with this kind of judgment. Sometimes it takes time to show the other person that their judgment is wrong and we have to be patient and persistent during this time.

I may have told this story before (and if so, I’m sorry you are hearing this again) but I think it really is a great example of how this happens. I had two students with mental disabilities in my self contained class who was assigned “Broadcast Journalism” as their elective. This veteran teacher ran down to my room in order to explain to me why they should not be in her class. She was adamant that they could not do the things required in class and should be removed from her roster but I refused to do that. I insisted that they be given a chance but if it wasn’t working out in 9 weeks, I would gladly change their schedule. Reluctantly she agreed. Over the next 9 weeks she found out how capable they really were. Not only did they do everything that was asked of them but they helped others by insisting they do what they were told to do too. This teacher came to me after one month and told me what a joy it was to have these two in her class. She loved them! At the end of the year, she even asked that they be enrolled in the next level class the next year.

This is just an example of how we can’t always tell people not to judge others. Sometimes it takes time and perseverance to show them that their judgment is wrong. It is a shame that we have to do this but I think this is human nature.

How do you teach others not to judge a book by its cover? Or how do you teach your students to deal with this? Please share.

Image: 'Time to Love'
Found on flickrcc.net

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