Shattering Stereotypes: When Building a Wall Opens Doors

Oct 17, 2018 | All School, Build People Up, Come to Play, courage over comfort, Impact, Middle School News

“It is always exciting when a class novel creates a new way for students to look at the world, as well as each other. Grade 6 discovered this when they read “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton. One of the themes in this book is class conflict between the groups in this book, The Greasers and the Socs. The students in grade 6 embraced the theme of this book through the discovery of their own perceptions of each other. Classroom discussions and written reflections led to the “building of an ‘I Am’ wall” in the hallway. #courageous conversations” ~ Mrs. Maggie Menkus, Grade 6 Literature
Recognizing her students are just starting to understand who they really are, grade 6 literature teacher Maggie Menkus guided them through a project to help shatter stereotypes.
The conversation began while students read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton together, as a class. The story, set in the 1950s, pits one group of teens against another, strictly based on their social class. As students analyzed statements in the book such as: “I am labeled, I am worried about my future, I am courageous, I am unsure of my potential, I am scared, I am sometimes hiding behind my sadness, I am a dreamer, and I am looking for solid ground,” it shaped their understanding of each character from multiple perspectives. They discussed how people might react to those who seem different.
Before they began their “I Am” project, students were a little apprehensive and unenthused, because it seemed awkward sharing their personal thoughts with teachers and peers.
However, at the start of the project, students wrote down all the common stereotypes they knew of, and shared them with each other by posting them on an “I Am Not” wall. Many students were surprised by how many groups and even sub-groups there were, that they weren’t aware of. Additionally, they were surprised that so many people would actually take the project seriously and that so many words and descriptions were on the wall.
This was an important exercise for Mrs. Menkus to be able to talk through what stereotyping really means and how everyone is, or can be, affected by it. It also paved the way to bring her students along on a very positive ride. They then created an “I Am” wall.

Student perspectives:
When I saw that someone else had written the same thing as me, that there was that connection.
Before this project my thoughts were “what could we do?” and that we couldn’t really change stereotypes. But now, I believe that we can actually change stereotypes if we get to know each other.
To change stereotypes we need to be more aware and think before saying.
I thought people would be small, but people actually opened up. The book, The Outsiders showed you could break stereotypes and be open. We wouldn’t have been so open if we had just started with the wall.
Everyone thinks that all these different groups have to follow these stereotypes and are stereotyping themselves but we got to see a side of ourselves that we didn’t usually show.
You don’t always have to feel comfortable — you can just be who you are.
This wall lets us express ourselves anonymously – we wouldn’t really want to say these things in front of our friends.
I was surprised that people felt lonely, and different, and didn’t feel good – but other people felt free and happy. It was good that people could show that on the wall.
I didn’t think stereotypes were OK, but didn’t really think it was a problem until the book and this project — but now I realize how big it is.
Instead of just looking at people. You need to get to know each other and talk.
It was important to get to know each other and it was fun to get to know each other.
You can choose to be who you are, other people cannot choose that for you.
I will try and prevent stereotypes and I will stand up for others.
Saying who you think you are is a good thing to do. It’s fun to get it in the open. I wouldn’t do anything different about the entire project.
It was surprising to see things like people were scared, or worried for the future.
Everyone could be all those things on the wall. You don’t know who wrote it so you have to think of everyone the same.
It was a project to help people discover stereotypes. Now the whole grade knows about them and can stop it. It brings attention. Helps realize people have a rough time and stereotyping is a big reason why.
I bet everybody is all these at some point in their life.

Never stereotype, never assume who they are or what they could do. Just meet them.