Teachers, racism and stereotypes

New Zealand children, according to a report last week, say they are experiencing racism from other pupils and teachers at school.

That is no surprise, despite the study's authors saying the fact pupils felt they were being treated unequally because of their culture was a disturbing ''insight''.

Everyone, from neo-Nazis to full-blown progressives, stereotypes others. It is a way to make sense of the world. Considering every interaction carefully, treating every individual just as an individual is, in many situations, impracticable. We have to categorise.

There is this theory, too, based on the need to feel part of a group - people no longer identify by small village or clan, and define in other ways, class, race, religious denomination and such like. We treat those in our group as individuals and tend to lump outsiders together en masse. There can also be the temptation to denigrate those unlike ourselves.

Society constantly bombards everyone with stereotypes, and these are reinforced when there might be some truth to them. But generalities are unfair, and often wrong, when applied to individuals.

Last week's report told of the one Pasifika-background pupil saying ''some teachers are racist. They tell you that you are not going to achieve.'' A Samoan secondary pupil said: ''What also puts me off are the teachers telling me to give up saying I am not going to pass level 3 without even checking my credits. I sense stereotypes in my teacher's eyes and gestures, and how they act towards me makes me feel like leaving.''

Another pupil, with a Maori background, said the negative statistics were ''always reminders of how we fail. Why do we constantly get reminded of how we fail?''

That is a telling remark. The statistics make for ugly reading. Whatever the reasons, and there are lots, Maori pupils are more likely to fail. Teachers know that, and the facts are paraded to criticise current attitudes and practices. Nevertheless, good teachers will know, either instinctively or through thinking about the matter, that such statistics do not condemn particular pupils to particular outcomes. Pupils from all backgrounds will succeed, and schools should expect this to happen and happen often. The effect of stereotypes on expectations is insidious.

Yet teachers, with the best will in the world - like everyone else - are prone to applying stereotypes. Many will be aware of these dangers and will do their best to approach pupil achievement, behaviour and potential with an open mind. It is even likely New Zealand teachers are considerably less ''racist'' that the population at large. They have the opportunity to see diverse pupils performing in diverse ways, whatever their background. They have the chance regularly to see stereotypes proving to be misleading or false.

Given everyone stereotypes people, even if subconsciously, similar approaches and similar open minds should be applied across society. Conscious checks on biases are required. A woman is not necessarily the better multitasker, the older person might be quick on the uptake and energetic, the young man might be mature and thoughtful. The application of all the rampant ''isms'' current in our cultures needs to be interrogated. Even should they contain a kernel of truth, they should not be applied to individuals.

Many Fijians are not wonderful rugby wingers, white men sometimes can jump, men can be caring, woman can be unemotional, not all teenagers are rebellious. Stereotypes need to be recognised for what they are and they need to be questioned.

As a secondary school student (one listed as Maori/Pacific and European) said in the report released by the Office of the Children's Commissioner and the School Trustees Association: ''Treat everyone as equals and don't jump to conclusions because of race.'' The same sentiments can be applied to sex, age, class, ethnicity and whatever other category we put people into.



Racial stereotyping is learned behaviour: children learn it from significant adults, wider culture, and the example of President Trump. Marginalization based on race is tribalist. The solution is to disregard The Tribe.