Ask Learning For Justice

Advice From the Experts

Answers to your toughest social justice questions.

Teaching Tolerance illustration of two girls with language barriers
Illustration by Eleanor Grosch

Q: I teach in a school with a rapidly growing Spanish-speaking population. Faculty and staff sometimes use phrases such as “straight from the border” and “lazy Mexican” in casual conversations. How can my school cultivate a more tolerant and informed faculty?

Talk with your administration about the need to foster a school climate that is welcoming to all students and their families. Our Speak Up At School guide and professional development module are great places to start. Both are available online.

The language you’re hearing also indicates biases that may translate to lower expectations for students—a situation that sabotages students’ chances at success. Dr. Robert Rosenthal, distinguished professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, found that student achievement and teacher expectations are directly related.

Finally, encourage your administration to take steps to include parents and guardians who may not speak English by providing important school documents and forms in their home languages. 


Q: We’ve noticed that girls outnumber boys by a ratio of 4-to-1 in our school’s National Honor Society (NHS) chapter. Why? 

For the past two decades, girls have outnumbered boys in the NHS by a 2-to-1 ratio. This imbalance echoes the broader achievement gap in our schools—girls graduate from high school at higher rates and attend college in greater numbers.

Since NHS membership is based on grades, leadership, service and character, the disparity in your NHS chapter is a great opportunity to explore how expectations in those areas may be affected by gender. Do your male students have role models in various positions of leadership? Are they welcome in service programs? If the NHS advisor and most of its members are female, are they creating a culture that is inclusive of boys?

During a conversation with Teaching Tolerance, David Cordts, a spokesman for the NHS, pointed out that young women are making academic strides because of a “concerted and purposeful effort” to steer them toward college. If you want to see more young men in NHS, your school needs to make a similar effort to provide opportunities for boys to lead and serve. 


Q: What should be done about a predominantly African-American public school that prefers to be segregated? Should it be encouraged?

At the very least, it should be respected. We’re not sure who in the school community is expressing this preference, or in what circumstances, but we think you should start by asking what they like about the current situation.

Maybe it’s a neighborhood school and parents are worried about their ability to stay connected to a school that’s farther away. Maybe they fear their children won’t have as many black teachers with whom they can identify. 

The goal is to find solutions that honor the community’s concerns. While the research on school integration continues to show benefits ranging from better grades to higher graduation rates, policymakers understand that the best outcomes happen when the community is on board.

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