The Most Effective Tool
There are many ways that you can create a prejudice-free atmosphere in your classroom. For one thing, you should be very welcoming to all students on the first day of class. You can also discuss the issue before it arises, announcing to your class that your room is a “prejudice-free zone.” To make this idea more concrete and humorous for students, one of the most effective tools you can use is “The Box.”
The Box is an imaginary space located outside the classroom door. Its purpose is to hold all the prejudices, stereotypes, and hatreds that students might have while they are in your class. Instruct students as they come into your room, to leave these ideas, opinions, and words outside in The Box. Ultimately, you hope that by using this tool, you can help students leave their prejudices behind even when they are outside your classroom.
Creating The Box
You create The Box on the first day of class by explaining its location and purpose to the students. Explain what you want the students to leave in The Box. Have students reflect on what parts of their belief system they need to put there. Maybe it is their racial prejudices. Maybe it is more of a prejudice against a certain clique in your school. It could even be prejudices against people of a particular religion or political group. Whatever their prejudices, students should understand they are not allowed to bring them into your classroom.
If you closely observe your classes, you will notice that most students really like this idea. Often they feel justified in their own prejudices because they feel that everyone else in the class is also prejudiced. If you remove this idea from the system, then you are left with much less prejudice.
The Box in Practice
The Box is a serious subject, but it works best if treated in a lighthearted manner. Tell a student who begins speaking in a stereotypical or prejudicial manner that he needs to “put it in The Box.” Even though The Box is imaginary, students have been known to get so involved with this idea that they bring in their own “boxes” as props. Encourage this behavior because getting students involved will help produce buy-in necessary for The Box to work. Students who do not participate will need to be dealt with individually and may need further disciplinary action for inappropriate speech.