(Editor’s note: This is part three of Being Libertarian’s new series, curated to help anyone who is beginning their journey through university.
As Jordan Peterson alludes to in many of his lectures, the university can help a person read great books, absorb great thought, and develop their unique human ability to speak, argue, and articulate. However, often students face a situation where rather than being taught how to critically think, they are instead being shown one-sided arguments, or being told what to think.
This series intends to prepare future and current students so that they can move forward confidently into their university experience; one that will open their minds and challenge their presuppositions and arm them with critical thought, logic and reason.)
Before You Go To University: Education & Inclusive Language
By Luke Henderson
My first experience with being taught on using inclusive language came in my junior year education courses when we were practicing and learning skills needed in order to teach children in special education. The concept taught was to use “people first” language when describing and talking about a student with special needs, the justification being that their disability does not define them.
For example, instead of calling one’s student “an autistic boy,” they would be described as a boy with autism. Ann Logsden of Very Well Family describes it this way: “It makes us think about the person as coping with a disability rather than thinking of them only in terms of their disability.
People with disabilities are first and foremost people; their disabilities shouldn’t overshadow their humanity.”
This preferred language also includes treating ordinary things that people with disabilities complete as accomplishments or heroic and distinguishing between the use of the word handicapped (which should be used to refer to an environmental obstacle) and disabled (referencing a physical or mental obstacle).
Language for students with disabilities isn’t the only aspect that teacher’s are taught to think about; with the rising openness of the transgender community, gender diversity is becoming more important in teacher certification programs.
Ensuring that classroom jobs aren’t stereotypical and given to students based on perceived gender or racial lines, having a balance of genders in classroom decoration and providing materials that display a diverse variety of cultures are suggestions to have an inclusive classroom.
If this sounds complicated, you’re not alone in that way of thinking. On the surface, speaking this way would make sense for an aspiring teacher because you don’t want to be a source of harm for your students and want a classroom where everyone feels welcome. In addition, you’ll be taught that to be successful you need to differentiate your instruction to meet everyone’s unique needs and learning styles (this will discussed more in a later article).
But the issue becomes that, as a teacher, you are actually already generating biases about how your students will react to the things you might say. One might avoid certain topics because they don’t want hurt their students but could otherwise provide a great discussion and growth for them, or simply not be as close to students for fear of letting something slip.
It is through conflict and disagreement that students learn how to effectively argue, but also how they learn to manage their stress. Having a moderate amount of stress occasionally has been shown to improve memory, disease resistance and it provides us with a sense of accomplishment after completing a difficult task.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that pre-service teachers should be planning to stress their future students in the name of their health, but it means that one shouldn’t shy away from a controversial topic if it’s going to promote learning.
In my experience working in the Special School District of St. Louis, the opportunities for me to say the wrong thing rarely came up and I have used people first language very little. Typically, a student’s disability isn’t necessarily discussed unless addressing their Individual Education Plan or discussing with a social worker or doctor where it needs to be taken into account.
The real solution to making sure your future students feel welcome and valued is to treat them all as individuals. Get to know each of their stories and listen to how they identify themselves, then use that language. I guarantee that as a future teacher, you will demonstrate more respect in this manner than strictly following a code of speech that may not be applicable to your class.
As a teacher, you are the role model for your students, so are you going to show that you spend more time making sure every person’s sensibilities are left unoffended or are you going to show how to be compassionate to those under you by taking a vested interest in their home, their hobbies and what they like to learn.