We need to have a hard conversation about a video that has resurfaced on twitter, facebook and other social media feeds. I am talking about Jimmy Kimmel’s May 2012 National Teacher Day spoof – Remember, We Don’t Suck, You Suck. Although the intent of educators posting, sharing and liking this video is probably fun-natured, the impact is not, and the implications are potentially far-reaching. Here are just a few of my thoughts from my own perspective and personal experience.
The Potential Impact for Parents
As you watch this video, try to imagine a parent’s perspective. For a moment, put yourself in their shoes. How might watching this video make them feel? These feelings might be further exacerbated by circumstances and invisible challenges that you may not be aware of. For example, what if that parent is a single mother, who lost her job during the economic downturn and has since taken two part-time jobs to make ends meet and support her son with Autism? What if that parent recently lost their spouse to cancer and is doing the best they can to raise the children alone? What if that parent is struggling to care for their elderly father with Alzheimer’s, or perhaps because of a variety of other life stressors they are experiencing anxiety, depression, or addiction? What if that parent has recently fled a war-torn country, is harbouring the emotional and physical scars of trauma, is new to the Ontario public education system and speaks very little English? These are not made up examples. These are parents I know.
What if you, as a teacher, posted this video, even as a joke, and one of your students’ parents found out about it and watched it? What might they think about you, and your perception of parents? What message does that send about you? How do you think this might affect your next encounter with that parent?
The Potential Impact for Students
As labeled in the video, think about the fat, dumb, lazy kid who might find and watch this video. Let’s break it down with some possible explanations. Fat = potential or diagnosed medical or physical problem, poor nutrition, lack of access to healthy foods and a healthy diet perhaps due to a working adult unable to personally provide meals, lack of access to extracurricular activities and physical exercise perhaps due to financial barriers, and is an easy target for bullying. Dumb = potential or diagnosed learning disability, social-emotional challenges such as anxiety or introversion, failing or struggling to meet curriculum standards, lack of support at home perhaps due to working parents, cultural differences, language barriers, and is an easy target for bullying. Lazy = lack of motivation, low self-esteem, poor self-image, self-confidence issues, potential or diagnosed mental health problems such as depression, side effects of medication or drug use, disengaged behaviours, belief in a fixed mindset, and is an easy target for bullying.
Furthermore, I am going to hedge my bets here and say that fat, dumb, lazy kids are most likely at-risk kids, too. There are one in seven kids – including one in two children from immigrant families and one in four children from First Nations communities – living below the poverty line in Canada. These kids most likely come from homes of low socio-economic status, are racialized, are English language learners, or are newcomers to the country. One only has to look at the inequality in Ontario schools and EQAO standardized test results to gain a better understanding of the demographic profiling of underachieving kids.
What if one of those fat, dumb, lazy kids comes from an abusive home? What if that kid is trying to cope with a parent going through another round of chemotherapy? What if that kid is struggling to deal with the death of their sister or brother? What if that kid struggles everyday with haunting memories of having lived in a refugee camp? Do we mock these kids, or do we try to help them? Do we teach from a deficits-based approach or from a strengths-based approach in helping kids achieve their potential? Again, these are not made up examples. These are kids I know.
It’s easy to pick on fat, dumb, lazy kids. Kids do it to each other, and adults do it to kids, as is evident in this video. It’s called bullying. And where do kids learn bullying behaviours from? As a teacher, what if one of your students found out that you posted, shared, commented, liked or favourited this video on facebook or twitter? How do you think they might feel about the way you perceive, not only them, but also their parents? Remember the message kids are hearing loud and clear in this video; with middle fingers up, teachers don’t suck, their parents do. And if you’re a fat, dumb, lazy kid, your teachers think you suck, too. This is prejudice, and it goes for any target or marginalized group of people, be it parents, First Nations people, immigrants, LGBTQ persons or people of a particular culture or religion, and so forth.
The Potential Impact for Educators
Given the support of this video in the comments section, and the number of times it has been viewed on YouTube and shared through multiple social media platforms, it appears that many teachers have similar views about parents. I am sure this video has received lots of laughs in the staff lounge. But what about those teachers who do not share such sweeping generalizations and stereotypes about parents and their kids? Do they chuckle and go along with the joke for fear of standing out? Do they say something and risk being ostracized by their colleagues? As a teacher, what if you circulated this video and your department head found out, or your principal, or your superintendent? What might they think of you when they view this video? How might your next performance review go?
What you post says something about you; it can become your reputation and your brand. If someone you have never met before only has your posted content and online brand to go by, how might they judge you? Similar to the way teachers judged parents and kids in the video? Applying for a job, promotion, or a transfer to another school district? What does the content of your digital footprint say about you? Digital and media literacy goes for everyone, teachers included.
The Potential Impact on School Climate and Leadership
This type of mindset, the “Us vs.Them” mentality as illustrated in this video, has a direct and negative impact on the capacity for a school to effectively promote a welcoming, collaborative and inclusive school environment. Yet, that is precisely what is encouraged from teachers, administration, educators, staff and schools as outlined by many Provincial policies, school improvement plans, and school effectiveness frameworks. As a principal or school administrator, ask yourself, how do the messages in this video align with your school’s goals and vision? I know of one message that remains consistently clear throughout all of the following Ontario Education Policy: the importance of engaging parents, families and all stakeholders in partnership to better support student achievement and overall well-being:
Fresh from the backlash of Bill 115 last year and the subsequent deterioration of trust and respect between teachers and parents, Ontario is currently in an election year. I am not surprised that this video has resurfaced, just in time to poke the hornets’ nest and pit teachers and parents against each other once again. Playing the blame game and pointing fingers does nothing to help bridge the gap between teachers and parents so that we might build greater trust and work together in mutually respectful and positive ways for the sake of our children. The explicit and implicit messages throughout this video only serve to perpetuate stereotypes. They completely undermine efforts to build and establish the collaborative relationships needed to support students, families, schools and our communities. There is a substantial amount of evidence-based research that finds the greatest opportunity for improved student outcomes, especially for at-risk students, occurs when families, schools, and community organizations work together in partnership. Please let me know if you’d like to see some of this research and I can send it to you, as I am currently researching partnership models in education as part of my M.Ed. thesis.
If anything, this video provides opportunities for hard conversations to take place, to engage in meaningful dialogue and to learn about ourselves and each other. What if, as part of teacher PD, administrators presented this video in efforts to promote greater awareness around the assumptions, attitudes and biases that are barriers to building positive relationships with parents and families? Better yet, why not invite parents and various stakeholders, alongside teachers, to facilitated workshops on diversity, equity and inclusion, with this video as a starting point for dialogue. If ever we’re going to move beyond the blame game and the “Us vs. Them” mindset in educating our children, we need to have hard conversations, and together, with greater awareness, work to address and challenge barriers.
I am sure that there are some people out there that would like to say to me, for crying out loud, lighten up, it’s just a joke. But it’s not. While the intent of posting and sharing videos like this may be funny, I hope that I have shown that it is not, and the implications and consequences are potentially far-reaching. Because once you hit that button on your keyboard, good intentions or not, the impact becomes very real.
As always, I invite and appreciate your comments and feedback.