By the students, for the students. We want to be relatable, and we want to accurately represent the students of HISD. Anyone can submit – see the sidebar to learn how. Powered by the HISD Student Congress.
Lauren Nyquist, Carnegie, 2016
Growing up, there were three things that I was instructed by society not to talk about: religion, sex, and politics. While these topics are generally considered taboo throughout society, the youth of America has never been limited to the barriers and limits that adults strive to set out for us. Therefore, it is not surprising that my first conversation about religion was in the first grade, and that was when I first realized that my beliefs on religion were not the same as the majority of my school community.
I was the only one in my class that did not attend a church or believe in a God, and that information spread quickly throughout my grade, leading to inadvertent bullying and questioning that was not addressed by my teachers or administration. This was a large amount of stress that was placed upon my shoulders at a young age, and at that time, I immediately tried to conform to the expectations of my peers by demanding from my parents that I begin to attend church every Sunday in an attempt to avoid further harassment.
Surprising to many, this situation is not one that was exclusive to me, and with the growing diversity of residents within the city of Houston, it has become necessary to put precautions in place to prevent young children from being harassed and polarized by their classmates. Statistics published by the Anti-Defamation League show that 85% of the brain develops between the ages of 3-5, and at least 50% of children have developed prejudices by the age of 6. These ages are when most children begin school in either pre-kindergarten (otherwise known as early education in many Houston ISD schools) or kindergarten, and it is the responsibility of the district to ensure that students are provided a safe, unbiased school environment to provide equal learning opportunities to all. Therefore, with the further expansion of early education programs within the district, all teachers responsible for teaching pre-kindergarten through first grade should receive instruction to combat the prejudices and bias that may spread throughout the classroom.
Reflecting on my experiences in elementary school, I do not remember any teacher who got involved. Even worse, reflecting on my middle school experiences, when I tried to fight against the religious bullying directed at a peer and sought the punishment of the offender, I felt as though the school administration did not support neither my peer nor myself, and I felt as though there was an inadequate support system in place for students subject to religious bullying. This led me to talk to a series of instructors that I knew within my community. The general message that I heard was that they, as teachers, would feel unprepared and inadequately trained to deal with this type of situation.
Our society stresses that we avoid the topic of religion, and therefore, most teachers felt that if they were placed in the situation where one of their students was being bullied because they identified as being part of a certain religious belief, they would avoid addressing the reason behind the bullying and just focus on the general problem. They feared that they would insult someone’s beliefs or possibly impose their own beliefs on the situation, which would create a bigger problem.
While the teachers addressed the fact that bullying was occurring, the problem is that when a problem is ignored, in this case the reason behind the bullying, religion, the harassment of students and bullying will continue to persist. The perpetuation of misunderstanding, hatred, and prejudice is something that can be addressed, maybe not banished from schools, but combated by instructors’ creating lessons against bias, encouraging research and the education of other student’s cultures, and addressing the problem when it occurs in schools. This can be achieved through the anti-bias training of teachers and through providing teachers with anti-bias resources that can be found at organizations like the Anti-Defamation League. As Houston becomes more diverse and classrooms begin to portray this diversity, it is necessary that the school district meet the demands of this population by providing every student with a safe environment where everyone has the equal opportunity to grow and learn within the public education system.