Helping Teachers Help Kids Explore Bias | Teachers College Columbia University

Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Helping Teachers Help Kids Explore Bias

A new study guide probes the stereotyping of Muslims, but could apply in any multicultural setting
At a recent workshop for working teachers and Teachers College students, one lesson focused on two masks with heavy white beards, printed side by side on a sheet of paper. The two images were virtually identical except for head gear. One had a Santa Claus hat, the other a high, white turban. The images are intended to show how little difference there is between a beloved image and one that, in Western society, is often vilified. They are part of a new curriculum guide and companion Web site for public school teachers that accompanies “This is Where I Need to Be,” a collection of oral histories of Muslim high school students in New York City, published by TC’s Student Press Initiative (SPI), and the culmination of a collaboration between SPI and the Muslim Youth in NYC Public Schools Study, headed by TC faculty member Louis Cristillo.
The curriculum guide, conceived by Cristillo and written by Sandhya Kanani, a professional curriculum developer, is designed to help sixth- through twelfth-grade teachers bring to life the themes explored in the oral histories, in which Muslim high school students discuss their lives in post-9/11 New York City. These include the cultural diversity of American Muslim communities in the United States; media bias and “Islamophobia;” negative stereotypes and the role of education in promoting tolerance; the role of American cultural and civic values in shaping the identity of American Muslims; and the impact of peer pressure on the lives and attitudes of young American Muslims.
“As educators in the era of globalization, we need to ensure that students are learning about one another from one another—especially in New York, one of the most diverse cities in the world,” says SPI’s Director, Erick Gordon. “However, any teacher in a multicultural setting could use these curricula.”

That was certainly the hope of Cristillo, who has made pinpointing and challenging stereotypes his life work. Both the oral histories and the curriculum guide grew out of his recently completed study, “Religiosity, Education and Civic Belonging: Muslim Youth in New York City Public Schools.” The study found that, of more than 320 Muslim students surveyed, 85 percent felt safe in their schools, but 17 percent reported being often teased or taunted about Islam, or called a “terrorist.”

About one in 10 students in the City’s public schools are Muslim—nearly 100,000 in all. “Yet, they remain one of the most misunderstood segments of the student population, especially after 9/11,” says Cristillo, who converted to Islam in the 1980s and married a Muslim woman he met in Morocco while working with the Peace Corps and an overseas American school.

Cristillo found most Muslim students felt comfortable with their religious identities, but almost a third felt uncomfortable post-9/11 and 16 percent questioned their religious beliefs.

Published Tuesday, Apr. 28, 2009


More Stories