How the Taking a Stand program teaches children to shatter stereotypes

The year I spent teaching the Voice of the Child’s Taking a Stand Program provided me with some momentous experiences that made me appreciate the importance of the program and the significance of outside teachers who come and talk to students about hard-hitting issues such as ostracizing, bullying, equality, and sexual harassment.

I must admit that when we first started I had great expectations, but also great fears. I was worried about the informal interaction with such young children, particularly discussing topics such as sexual harassment. I was worried about the nature of our relationship – could I break the barriers and form meaningful relationships in such a short period?

My fears were nullified once I entered the classroom as an observer. I left the lesson happy, overjoyed with the love these kids shared with this outsider and their immense yearning for knowledge. Once I started teaching, I loved every minute of it. Children appreciated the fact that someone finally breached the topics they face, things no one has previously dared to discuss.

Throughout the year I taught the program to fifth and sixth-grade students in four different schools. Each classroom was a world of its own: they differed in student expectations, comprehension, relation to the topics, and their acceptance of me and the program. At the end of each program, I felt I succeeded in developing their awareness and understanding of topics that until then, were not part of their daily discourse. Time and time again I was invigorated by students sharing their own experiences regarding the topics at hand. I saw their awareness increase, along with their confidence in discussing these matters.

I have never worked with such young children. The experience made me nostalgic, and I shared these feelings with the kids. I feel strongly about ostracizing, for one, as it reminded me of my childhood experiences, and I shared this with them. Their empathic response and the ability to impose it onto their own reality amazed me. I understood just how much, as a child, I was unaware of issues of sexuality, issues I only began to explore when I was older, independently, or with friends. I had so many questions and no one to ask. I felt that I was giving these kids the answers that I did not get, and was happy to take part in opening up this world to them.

Discussing gender and sexist stereotypes is new to these kids. Each time I am surprised at how much they are affected by their home atmosphere, and how difficult it is for them to open up and view the world from a different perspective. I see girls who have no faith in themselves and diminish their value and boys with a strictly defined idea of their future. These to me are the most interesting discussions because they bring up an entirely new topic for these children. I always succeed in shattering myths. Students often mention sexist stereotyping as the issue that introduced the most change into their lives and allowed them to view reality in a new light. When asked to find sexist stereotypes in advertisements and television commercials, they reveal a complete change in thinking patterns. By the end of the program, most students state that they are now more critical of television shows and advertisements.

In conclusion, I wish to say that while these programs are my job, I feel it is my right and privilege to teach them – specifically in this time and age. I believe our work is nothing short of life-saving, even if we are not always aware of that.