Stereotypes

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about stereotypes and their impact on an individual’s self-identity.  If someone is being stereotyped, they can easily fall into a self-fulfilling prophecy and start acting the stereotype.  This is called stereotype threat.  It is a common problem among students, with some examples of it being that girls aren’t good at math, black people aren’t academic, and Asians are always good at math.  In the case of most stereotypes, the stereotyped group either passively accepts the stereotype or goes against the stereotype.  Fighting the stereotype is where stereotype threat comes in.  In most cases, going against a stereotype leads in resistance from both the stereotyped group, and the stereotyped subject’s group.  For example, if all girls are bad at math, when a girl expresses an interest in math, she can be ostracized or her thoughts on the subject can be dismissed.  Stereotype threat comes in when the individual is consistently dismissed or ostracized for their interest, and so the individual re-identifies themselves so that the stereotyped subject is no longer a part of their identity.  As teachers, we need to be aware of this threat and how to combat it in our classrooms.  The biggest strategy is to just get to know your students as individuals.  If they are reminded of their individuality every day, then they are less likely to fall prey to whatever stereotype is attacking them.  Some other strategies are to highlight diverse role models, maintain high expectations for everyone, and encourage intrinsic motivation.  If you can fight the stereotype threat in your students, then their motivation in the classroom will increase exponentially.

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