Refuting stereotypes through 'Not in Our School'

In effort to stem bullying, discrimination, students offer opinions on ethnic and religious bias

"Not everyone is smart."

"Not all Jewish people are rich."

Students at JLS Middle School offered those suggestions when asked to name stereotypes they thought should be "dissolved" or "buried."

The exercise is part of "Not in Our School Week," an annual observance on Palo Alto secondary school campuses around this time of year.

Through art, rallies and teacher-guided activities, students consider how to recognize and refute discrimination and stereotypes -- and reach out to get to know people they see as different from themselves.

In the Gunn High School quad last week, students posted anonymous recollections of times they've felt slighted because of their religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

"It felt really bad when this girl was, like, 'You're actually proud to be Asian?'" one student wrote. "And I felt really bad about myself because I felt she was insulting my entire life, culture and heritage."

With enrollment from all over the world -- and an Asian/Caucasian mix of 41 percent and 49 percent -- Gunn has many teens who said they've had occasion to feel stereotyped or excluded.

One student, born overseas to German parents, said it hurts to be called a "Nazi," even as a joke.

"I don't like it because I don't want to be associated with those people," the student wrote.

Another student said she was devastated when a classmate at her previous school, not in California, called her a "half-breed b----" because of her mixed Chinese and European heritage. She wrote that she wished her friends -- and the teacher -- had taken a stronger stand against the taunting classmate.

A Muslim student said, "The thing I want is for everyone to stop judging us all based on what only a fraction of our population did."

Before returning a quiz last Wednesday to her class of 30 freshmen, Gunn math teacher Gopi Tantod took time for a discussion about stereotypes.

"It's important for me that we think about this," Tantod told the class, asking students to put their heads down and close their eyes while she took a short poll.

Twelve of the 30 students raised their hands when asked whether they or a friend at Gunn had ever felt "unfairly judged or treated differently" because of their ethnicity.

In a class discussion that followed, students pondered whether it was appropriate to wear religious T-shirts to school.

"I usually avoid the topic of religion because I thought I might feel like a loner," one student said, adding that he'd considered wearing a religious T-shirt but decided against it. "But when I go to school, I find out that half my friends are actually Christian."

Tantod told students they should resist pressure to be anyone but themselves at school. "We are in the United States, and we should be comfortable expressing whoever we are, whatever we are in whatever way we're comfortable with," she said.

Tantod encouraged students to post their experiences anonymously in the quad for others to see.

"It helps people realize, 'It's not just my problem, not just their problem, but a school-wide problem, a social problem, a society problem,'" she said.

She urged class members to make a point of speaking to students who are eating lunch by themselves.

"Just say 'hi,' because not everybody has been through Palo Alto Unified all their life, and not everybody knows everybody around them," Tantod said.

Last week marked Gunn's eighth year of participation in Not in Our School, a project of the Oakland-based nonprofit media company The Working Group. The group, which produced the PBS series "Not in Our Town," says it combines media and outreach efforts to "battle against intolerance" and encourage democracy and citizen participation.

All five of Palo Alto's secondary schools observe "Not in Our School," with timing and activities driven by the interests of students and teachers.

A popular middle school activity is "dissolving" stereotypes -- written by students on scraps of rice paper -- in a wading pool or "burying" them in a coffin borrowed from the school theater.

High schools give attention to discrimination based on sexual identity, with Gunn students last Thursday encouraged to wear "Gay, fine by me" T-shirts, rainbow ribbons or purple armbands.

For younger students, there's a greater focus on standing up to bullies.

"We work on recognizing hate and talking about how it makes us feel," said Arvind Arya, a counselor at JLS where "Not in Our School" is in its fourth year and takes place this week.

"We talk about how, if we see bullying or hateful language, we can recognize it and be an 'upstander' rather than a bystander."

At Palo Alto High School, Not in Our School week kicks off today with a ceremony of flags from around the world.

"Not in Our School" observances were held last week at Gunn and Jordan Middle School. Terman Middle School will participate the week of April 18-22.

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Like this comment
Posted by Christian
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 1, 2011 at 5:08 pm

The one group it seems is OK for everyone to be against are Christians. We are not all Palin loving, Tea Partier, non everything dull people, y'know.

Like this comment
Posted by Alfred E Newman
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 1, 2011 at 5:51 pm


Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Tired of this
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm

This is nothing but BS. It is just one more way the district wants to look good, but in practice is not the same.

Like this comment
Posted by also very tired of this
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2011 at 6:02 pm

TIred of this,

I agree

pompous ignorance,

let's not make any of "them" feel bad, not in our school!

RELAX people,

the percentage ignorant bigots does NOT change, it is just HIDDEN better

Like this comment
Posted by Los Altos Dad
a resident of Los Altos
on Apr 4, 2011 at 9:59 am

Hi Christian,

Never complain about people "being against" Christians.

Either be happy that you are in the company of saints or take it as constructive criticism. Maybe there's something about your religious views that you haven't realized is arbitrary and hurtful to others. While there may be absolute truth, we're not going to know it by closing our eyes to others and just believing something.

Like this comment
Posted by K
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 4, 2011 at 10:30 am

The lesson is the person 'hating' on you is the real loser. It is sad that they don't know we are all different and it is ok. that is what makes us unique.

Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 4, 2011 at 11:04 am

I wonder if a new approach could be taken in the social studies classes, of having students explore their ethnic roots for positive historical examples of why their ethnicity is something to be proud of. First, the students should identify the ethnicity they feel identifies themselves, and then they should research that ethnicity for its contributions to humanity for as far in the past as is required. Who are their ancestors, where did they come from, who are notable individuals and why are they notable. Sharing the findings later on would teach others of your ethnicity, and garner respect for it hopefully.

The kids should not focus AT ALL on the negative aspects of their ethnicity, but should focus on its positive side.

I remember all the Polish jokes when I was a kid, and then I read Jame's Mitchner's Poland, learned more about their history, and have a different attitude towards them.

Jewish kids should be pointed to "The gifts of the Jews" by Thomas Cahill for example, and realize that the whole world owes a great debt to their ethnicity.

All it takes is an education to change an attitude, even one you have about yourself.

Like this comment
Posted by surprised
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 4, 2011 at 11:28 am

I don't understand the "nothing but BS" comment. How can we be against helping our kids be tolerant and kind to one another?

Like this comment
Posted by DZ
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Apr 4, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Hi Los Altos Dad,

What is your “absolute truth”? Whatever it is, when it is “absolute”, it sounds “extreme” to me. What we should teach our kids are tolerance and respect of diversification. Not the kind of aggression behavior you are showing here.

Peace and Appreciation.

Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 4, 2011 at 5:19 pm

NIOS is a useless effort to "cure" intolerance in 5 days. No mention was made of the racist hate messages written on a black teachers door in March. The little Gestapo divas were upset because some adult dared to challenge their very sexist play poster. Most parents felt that it was most inappropriate for a high school campus. But sex sells and they wanted to put butts in the Little Theater seats. So what's wrong with objectifying females to sell tickets? Are the inmates running the asylum? Where were the adults who were supervising this activity? What a shame? What a pity? Children need guidance and supervision. Yes, high schoolers are children.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Yes, I saw one of those posters and couldn't believe my eyes. Was the drama dept. staff asleep at the wheel? Did they need to stoop to such sexist garbage to sell tickets? Gunn's drama productions are well known and usually excellent.

What did the new principal think of this trash being displayed on her campus & in the community?

Who is running the show at Gunn? The kids or the adults?

Like this comment
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Not all stereotypes are based on ethnic heritage.

It is a short step from this kind of harassment ("half-breed b***h") to more egregious forms of bullying to which school administrators generally turn a blind eye. From there it is a short trip to the train tracks at East Meadow. If you think harassment and bullying only take place in Bubbaville, think again. It's a slippery but dangerous slope.

Like this comment
Posted by lived on both sides
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 5, 2011 at 6:30 am

I have lived in the south and I have lived here.

The only difference is that in the south, you know who the haters are and can deal with them.

Here, they are more hidden, "underground", and thus more dangerous.

Like this comment
Posted by circus
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2011 at 8:55 am

THe kids are smarter than this,

many know the "drill" and don't pay attention to the self-promoters that have to make a big deal about not being bigots

I agree with Christian, that there are certain categories of people to whom "not in our schools" has the other meaning

people forget that african-american, hispanics and some Chinese are among the highest populations of Christians.

these kids will not speak openly about their religion, but can see through the hypocrisy

the circus around these programs can get very silly indeed

Like this comment
Posted by Ethnos
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 5, 2011 at 11:42 am

Intolerance will not be tolerated!

Like this comment
Posted by Christiaan Huygens
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2011 at 11:44 am

"The world is my country, science is my religion."
-- Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695)

Like this comment
Posted by Good Work Tabitha
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 4, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Last week 3 public meetings and many more (we don't know how many -- how about some reporting) private meetings between stakeholder groups, former board members, and others (don't know who, how about some reporting) were held about the superintendent search.

Instead of a story about that, which is newsworthy, the Weekly has published what is essentially a district feel-good press release about a bullying prevention program. The story never mentions, not one time, the problematic last 2 years on the bullying front. If you were not familiar with that history you would read this story and believe that why, Palo Alto is a model district on anti-bullying efforts.

I don't know what you are thinking but frankly this falls far below the standard that we have come to expect from the Weekly.

Report on the superintendent search process. What happened in those meetings? Did your reporter attend them? What did people say? Did bullying by any chance come up? Hard to believe it didn't and hard to believe that this story reflects the full reality here.

Not in Our Schools is a great idea. How about making it a reality? Not so much.

Like this comment
Posted by Alfred fan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 5, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Thanks to Alfred for his refresher on refudiating. It seems that this program is about refudiating intolerance and descrimination. I'm good with that. Perhaps we should coin "rescrimination" to describe it.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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