Stereotypes and English Language Learning Students

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When I was working on my undergraduate degree the professor asked the students of the college class to consider what our preconceived ideas and prejudices were about our future students. When I really thought about it I found that I did have prejudices against certain cultures more than others. I found that I considered Caucasian and Asian students to be smart and well behaved and considered African American and Hispanic students as not as smart and poorly behaved. It bothered me quite a bit but I realized I could not change if I did not recognize my faults. Obviously this is not true. The intelligence of a person is not based on their skin color or culture. The thoughts I had in my head came from somewhere.

In this research paper I will explore the issue of stereotypes as it pertains to English Language Learners (ELL) who speak Spanish as their first language in particular. When I refer to Hispanic students in this paper I am inferring the student is also an ELL student. I work with Spanish speaking students, primarily Mexican. I felt researching this subgroup would be most beneficial to me and my co-workers. Much of the information could be accurate for other groups as well.

The definition of stereotype according to Dictionary.com (2010) is, "A set of inaccurate, simplistic generalizations about a group that allows others to categorize them and treat them accordingly." Unfortunately the majority of the stereotypes about Hispanic people are overwhelmingly negative. Some examples of stereotypes against Mexican students are, (1) gang members, (2) boys are macho, (3) girls should be submissive or objectified, (4) large families/many children, (5) dirty, (6) illegal aliens, (7) parents work mainly in the hotel and landscaping industries(Terra, 2010. The photographs below demonstrate some of the images that people are subjected to. People who are not in contact with adults and children from the Hispanic cultures may think that this is how all people from Hispanic backgrounds truly look.

Images speak a 1,000 words. The media including television, magazines, and the Internet often perpetuate the stereotypes of different cultures. According to the Media Awareness Network, stereotypes act like codes that show audiences a quick, common understanding of a person or group of people. The image usually relates to a person's class, ethnicity or race, gender, sexual orientation, social role or occupation (Media Awareness Network, 2010). The images Hispanic children and teens are bombarded with can cause confusion. They may get brainwashed into believing that they are supposed to look and behave in a stereotypical manner.

The problem with media stereotyping is that stereotyping can reduce substantially the amount of personal differences about people into an over simplified category. Media stereotyping can also convert assumptions about particular groups of people into what is commonly considered a fact. People in power use the media stereotypes to justify statements they make. The media stereotypes also perpetuate inequality and social prejudice (Media Awareness Network, 2010). "More often than not, the groups being stereotyped has little to say about how they are represented (Media Awareness Network, 2010)." For example television corporations have a lot of power, control, and influence over what images they put on the television programming. If the station chooses to put images of gang violence or stereotypical Hispanic images the culture represented would have an uphill battle trying to get the television station to change the programming to a more positive view of the Hispanic culture.

It is important for teachers to attempt to help filter the harmful effects of the media that students of all cultures are bombarded with on a daily basis. Careful selection of books, videos, internet sites, magazines, and activities need to be carefully evaluated before showing them to students.

I constantly complain about what I see on television when I watch programs with my sixteen year old daughter. We talk about the inaccuracies and stereotypes. If teachers make children aware of the stereotypes on television the students will learn to see the bias for themselves.

After listening to the A-Z lectures (Blecher-Sass & Russell-Fowler, 2010) and reviewing the slides it occurred to me how important it is to have a classroom that is representative and respectful of the cultures contained in it in order to address stereotyping. I also know that it is important to expose the children to cultures from around the world. The world is becoming a small place with the instant information of the World Wide Web.

Collages came to mind when I thought about representing the different types of people within a culture. Referencing the picture above, the images represented do show people from a Hispanic culture, but so do the three images inserted below. The collage project would be a wonderful activity for the students to undertake. The students would write reports and make collage posters to represent different cultures. I would let them pick from all areas of the world so that we would have a variety of cultures represented in the classroom (Blecher-Sass & Russell-Fowler, 2010).

(Getty Images, 2010)

Traditions can also be a part of a stereotype of a culture. For example, not all Hispanic girls will have a Quinceanera (Terra, 2010). Some Hispanic girls might have a sweet 16 or no significant party at all. I think it is important for teachers to have the parents of the children volunteer in the classroom to share family traditions. My school is 87% Hispanic (CCSD, 2010). It would be extremely interesting and beneficial to the students to learn about the different traditions of their friends families. Many of the students have a culture in common but each family is unique. It is important to highlight the differences and the distinctive attributes of every family.

"When people think of parent involvement in schools, they typically imagine a middle-class parent attending a PTA meeting or school board meeting, or volunteering to make cupcakes for a class party (Airola, 2004)." In this example there is a preconceived notion that only certain people are welcome at school. Or that people need a certain set of skills to help at school. I had a parent just the other day tell me her stay at home husband, "only spoke Spanish," when I mentioned I would love for him to come and volunteer in the classroom. I told her that it did not matter. Her husband was uncomfortable volunteering in an English speaking kindergarten classroom. I will continue to welcome all my parents into my classroom. People can stereotype themselves. Sometimes it is comfortable to be what the media says you are.

All students may not be headed to college, once they graduate. It is important to make sure that it is the students' choice. Educators must not use stereotyping to pigeon hole a student into any educational, vocational, career, or job choice. I have heard too many stories of successful adults that have been told they were, "not college material" (Jackson, 2010). Teachers should provide students with positive role models, of former ELL students, who have overcome the obstacle of being a non-English speaker, and how they have become success stories.

Clark County School District has 65.4% of students who are considered part of the minority population. Hispanic students make up the largest population of students in the Clark County School District (CCSD, 2010). It is imperative that teachers do not stereotype the students into what the media and politicians would like community members to believe. The students that teachers are educating today will be the leaders of tomorrow.

(CCSD, 2010)

According to Pew Hispanic Center 23% of the Hispanic children in the state of Nevada live in poverty (Demographic Profile of Hispanics in Nevada, 2008, 2010). Nearly one quarter of the children live in low-income areas and go to low socioeconomic schools. The teachers need to take into account that many of the students do not see Hispanic role models in professional jobs in the environment where they live. Teachers have the responsibility to bring in speakers and volunteers to work with the children and open the students' eyes to the big wide world outside of their neighborhood. If the children see successful adults who look like them it just may foster their ambition to reach for higher goals in the future.

Another definition of a stereotype is a generalized image of a person or group, which does not acknowledge individual differences and which is often prejudicial to that person or group. Many of our students may encounter a feeling of not belonging due to their language and/or culture. An educators' job is to try and help students avoid these possible situations by addressing the issue with our entire class, staff, and all that come in contact with the child. Success can only be achieved when all those involved agree to work as a team (Blecher-Sass & Russell-Fowler, 2010).

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