The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released a new report this week that focuses on school climate, biased remarks and bullying in elementary schools across the US.
The report, called Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States, is based on national surveys documenting the experiences of 1,065 elementary school students in 3rd to 6th grade, and 1,009 elementary school teachers of K-6th grade. The surveys, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of GLSEN during November and December 2010, allow a snapshot of students’ and teachers’ experiences with bias, bullying, and their attitudes about gender expression and family diversity.
The survey found that the most commonly heard forms of biased language in elementary schools are the use of the word “gay” as a pejorative, reported by 45% of students and 49% of teachers, and comments like “spaz” or “retard”, reported by 51% of students and 45% of teachers. Other homophobic remarks were heard quite frequently, such as “fag” or “lesbo,” while negative comments about race/ethnicity were also frequently heard (students: 26%, teachers: 21%).
In addition to this, 75% of students report that students at their school are called names, made fun of or are bullied regularly because of a students’ looks or body size (67%), not being good at sports (37%), how well they do at schoolwork (26%), not conforming to traditional gender norms/roles (23%) or because other people think they’re gay (21%).
The report also examined the experiences of gender non-conforming students. It found that nearly 1 in 10 elementary students in 3rd to 6th grade, about 8%, indicated that they do not always conform to traditional gender norms/roles. These children are less likely to feel safe while at school (41% vs 61%) and reported an increased level of wanting to stay home from school because they feel unsafe or are afraid (35% vs 15%). Gender nonconforming children are also more likely to be called names, made fun of or bullied, with a margin of 56% of gender nonconforming children verses 33% of those who do conform to traditional roles reporting such incidents.
In terms of family diversity, 72% if children say they’ve been taught that there are many different kinds of families, but only 2 in 10 (18%) reported they had learned about families that have two dads or two moms. Further to this, 89% of elementary school teachers say they include representations of different families when the topic of families comes up in their classrooms, but less than a quarter of teachers report any representation of lesbian, gay or bisexual parents (21%) or transgender parents (8%), and only around 24% have said they have engaged in efforts to create welcoming classroom environments for families with LGBT parents.
The study, attempting to address how empowered teachers feel on these subjects, also examined teacher preparedness. The report tells that a eight in 10 teachers would feel comfortable addressing name-calling, bullying or harassment of students because a student is perceived to be gay, lesbian or bisexual (81%) or is gender nonconforming (81%). However, only 48% felt comfortable responding to questions from their students about gay, lesbian or bisexual people, and an even lower level of comfort about responding to questions concerning transgender people (41%).
In addition to this, the study found that while 85% of teachers said they received professional development on diversity or multicultural issues, less than half of teachers have ever received specific professional development on gender issues (37%) or on families with LGBT parents (23%).
The GLSEN says that while it is encouraging that more and more teachers are grappling with these issues, teachers need more support in this area in order to be truly effective.
“School climate and victimization can affect students’ educational outcomes and personal development at every grade level,” said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. “Playgrounds and Prejudice offers invaluable insights into biased remarks and bullying in America’s elementary schools. The report also shows the need for elementary schools to do more to address issues of homophobia, gender expression and family diversity.”
“Over the past few years, there has been an increase in research on bullying in schools, including elementary schools,” said GLSEN Senior Director of Research & Strategic Initiatives Dr. Joseph Kosciw. “However, our report is one of the few that examines bias-based bullying at the elementary school level and the first to examine incidence of homophobic remarks and the negative experiences of children who do not conform to societal standards in their gender expression from a national vantage point.”
“Playgrounds and Prejudice articulates a desire among elementary educators to create optimal learning environments for all students, but there is a larger need to provide educational tools and resources that enhance their understanding of gender nonconforming students and families with LGBT parents,” said Byard. “Providing this kind of support to teachers and school staff serving our nation’s youngest students will build a lasting foundation of learning and development for all elementary school students.”
As such, GLSEN has released a Ready, Set, Respect! GLSEN’s Elementary School Toolkit. This kit is an instructional resource to help educators address the issues raised in Playgrounds and Prejudice.