Combating Bullying through Safer & Inclusive Classrooms
October 19, 2020
October is National Bullying Awareness and Prevention Month. Unfortunately, from ugly, racialized epithets to even more egregious cases like involuntary hair-cutting and violent assault, religious minorities like the Sikh American community are already acutely aware of the problem.
Students from many religious communities—especially those with visible religious identities and articles of faith, such as Sikhs, Muslims, and Jews—are often the targets of bullying at school. The keeping of uncut hair, and the wearing of a dastaar (turban), are some of the most noticeable articles of faith that practicing Sikhs are required to keep.
Bullying can lead to severe physical, emotional, and mental anguish for those targeted, as well as their families and their communities. Demonstrating this point, a 2014 report by the Sikh Coalition that surveyed Sikh youth across the United States found that turbaned children are bullied at a rate twice the national average.
And things have only gotten more complicated since then. From the trickle-down effect of bigotry on the national stage to the unique challenges of cyberbullying during a time of pandemic-driven e-learning, bullying continues to weigh heavily on the minds of students, parents, and teachers.
How can faith communities combat religious-based bias and bullying? At the Sikh Coalition, we have been encouraging parents to take a proactive approach by introducing resources and opportunities to their young children’s teachers that will create safer and more inclusive classrooms for all.
As a parent and Sikh community member who rarely saw myself or my child reflected in children’s literature, I was inspired to partner with three talented authors who have written books with diverse characters and create discussion guides in partnership with them. The guides are an invaluable educational tool for teachers, especially if they are as unfamiliar with Sikhism as their students! When creating the guides, we ensured that the content was constitutionally appropriate—this is about representation rather than teaching about religion, after all—and that the words and concepts matched appropriate reading and literacy standards. Above all else, though, we worked to make them as interactive and engaging as possible.
What do these guides have to do with bullying, though? Our hope is that in introducing young children to protagonists with a visual religious identity in a positive and proactive way, Sikh students won’t just see themselves reflected in art—their non-Sikh classmates, in turn, will be familiarized with the things that often end up ‘othering’ students from minority groups. This kind of learning opens up critical conversations about navigating differences, celebrating diversity and uniqueness, and also exploring universal themes and values such as kindness, compassion, courage, and determination. In other words, we have to pull ignorance out by the root to prevent bullying later on.
If you are a parent or an educator, please consider introducing these books and resources into your local classrooms! The discussion guides are open access and free of charge; if you would like to enquire about purchasing copies of the books for your school library, or arranging a virtual visit by one of the authors for a classroom, please contact [email protected].
The featured authors and discussion guides are:
We hope that this and similar efforts will lead to better representation of faith communities in children’s literature and teaching resources. That, in turn, is the best way to push back against bullying and make schools safer for all children.
Pritpal Kaur serves as the Education Director at the Sikh Coalition. She was an inaugural fellow for the Faiths Act Fellowship (a program of the Interfaith Youth Core and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation), and is presently a World Council member for Religions for Peace.