A lesson plan to go with “Shattering stereotypes” from the September 2008 issue of L.A. Youth. In this article Lia Dun admits that she stereotypes people and says that until we all admit we make assumptions about each other based on race or ethnicity, we won’t end discrimination.

By Mike Fricano, editor

Grades: 7-12

Subjects: Language Arts, Social Studies, Life Skills

Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes-1 hour, although this lesson plan can be extended for two days if the discussions warrant.

Overview: In this lesson, students will examine their own assumptions about other people and groups, and discuss and  write about where generalizations and stereotypes come from and how to stop them.

• copies of “Shattering stereotypes”
• pens/paper
• white board/chalkboard
While extreme forms of racism are not very common today and most people are tolerant of others, stereotypes about ethnicity and race are still very common. Lia writes in her article that people who think and say prejudiced things usually don’t intend them to hurt other people’s feelings. Nevertheless, she argues, people should try to stop using stereotypes, because they can prevent people from getting to know one another as individuals.

1. Set ground rules: Before class, write a set of ground rules on the board. These rules will govern the lesson’s discussion:
• Use “I” statements—speak from personal experience rather than in broad, “you” or “they” generalizations.
• Students can disagree with ideas, but not attack the person sharing the idea.

Explain that this class session will deal with some personal and complicated issues about race and ethnicity and some potentially offensive ideas. Despite that, you want there to be both open discussion and a feeling of safety in the classroom. Have the ground rules read aloud and discuss each one. Do students understand them? Do they agree with them? Do they have any to add? Emphasize that the point is NOT to come up with a list of slurs.

2. Warm-up: Write the terms “high school football player,” “police officer,” “politician” and “student body/ASB president” in a row across the board. Ask students to suggest brief characteristics that describe each category. For example, for “student body/ASB president” they might say things like “dedicated to the school” but also “brown-noser.” Briefly discuss where these ideas came from. The media? Friends? Parents? Personal experience?

3. Ask students to discuss the positive and negative generalizations about racial and ethnic groups that they have made or heard in school and among their friends as well as what they’ve seen in the media and pop culture. Write their answers on the board. Examples: “Latinos don’t care as much about school,” “blacks are good athletes,” “whites are wealthy,” “Asians are all quiet and hard workers.” Discuss why these generalizations exist. Is there any truth to them? Do they know people who don’t fit these stereotypes? For example, a Latino student who gets the best grades in class. Or an Asian student who is the class clown. Ask the students to share how they feel and respond when they’ve observed or had thoughts like these.

4. Read “Shattering stereotypes” on page 20, introducing it as one teen’s story about dealing with the issues they have just discussed. Then talk about the article, addressing these questions:
a. When did Lia use generalizations?
• She and a friend listed reasons for hating white people, including that they are snobby, favored by teachers and rich.
• She assumed that all Asians at her school who were well-dressed and carried expensive cell phones were Korean.
• When a friend talked about going to a $5,000 summer program, her first thought was “Of course you can afford that. You’re white.”

b. What are generalizations people made about Lia based on her ethnicity?
• A friend asked her what her first language was, assuming it was Chinese, because Lia is Chinese-American.   
• Another friend thought about taping her eyes in an attempt to look more Asian, as part of dressing up for a school cultural festival.

c. Lia writes that if people took the time, they could learn interesting things about each other’s cultures. What are some things Lia has learned about her friends’ cultures or wants others to learn about her culture?
• In 1882 Chinese people were banned from entering the United States.
• Before 1972, most Chinese-Americans were born in the United States.
• Her classmate told her about one of her favorite Korean singers.

5. Conclude the class with a discussion asking them about things they would like others to know about their own cultures. Have them share things that they’ve learned about another person or culture that surprised them.

Write a personal essay of your reflections on racial or ethnic stereotypes. When have you been a victim of stereotyping or generalizing and how did you feel when it happened? How did you respond? Or when have you used stereotypes? Why do you think you used them? How do you feel about having used them after reading the story and talking about this topic?

Eliminating stereotypes and generalizations begins with everyone recognizing that they use them from time to time and trying to make changes individually. In their essays, students could say how they can help eliminate stereotypes.

Extension activity:
Have your students think of ways to talk about and eliminate stereotyping beyond this assignment. Students could meet with the school administration to plan an assembly on this issue or start an awareness campaign.