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Why Representation Matters

So, I went to the local Walmart yesterday to pick up some household necessities. As a bribe for my son to behave and let me do what I needed to do, I allowed him to go to the toy section of the store to browse and see if there is anything that he may like to get in the future (I didn't go there for toys so he has to wait to get a treat until a later date). At any rate... As he was browsing, I was casually glancing at all of the toys and noticing how different the toys of today are from the toys my siblings, cousins, and I played with when we were kids.

And that's when I saw her.

She had a brown complexion that was close in hue to my own. She had natural hair that was styled into an Afro similar to how I often wear mine. She wasn't stick thin... she was shapely-full hips and big thighs... just like me. She was GORGEOUS and I WANTED HER! I have never seen a BARBIE that looked like her in all of my 30 plus years of living. The only thing I kept thinking as I looked at her was, "I never played with Barbie as a kid. But if she had looked like THAT, maybe I would have."

Several of the reasons that I didn't play with Barbie as a kid are:

1. Barbie didn't look like me.

-I have always had big thighs and an even bigger booty. My nose has never been slender and cute. My hair wasn't long and flowing down my back. I didn't see myself in this doll. Granted, people told me I was pretty or cute. But Barbie was the epitome of all that was GORGEOUS and luxurious. She wasn't me and I wasn't her. And that bothered me. I knew I would never look like her so I didn't want to play with her.

2. Barbie didn't do the things that I dreamed of doing.

-Barbie, in my opinion, was the epitome of the "trophy wife." She seemed to not have goals or aspirations aside from keeping her dream house in order, keeping her convertible clean, and hanging out or partying with her friends who were all ridiculously skinny and well off. This is how I thought as a child- I was always more intuitive than most kids my age. I would look at her and think to myself, "What is it that she wants to be or do with her life? Is this all that she wants to accomplish?" She and I were so different.

3. Barbie seemed so shallow.

-Barbie didn't read books. She didn't keep a journal. She didn't like science or literature... At least that's what I saw from the Barbies that were available when I was a kid. All she seemed to care about was how she looked, her clothes, her fancy house, her fancy car... Did Barbie go to school? What were her grades like? I had all of my honors awards and ribbons all over my room when I was a kid. And then I looked at Barbie and I saw nothing of the sort from her.

Fast forward 20 plus years and I see this NEW Barbie and all of the others. They are high school graduates, doctors, veterinarians, astronauts, and so much more. They now have a variety of body types, skin complexions, and hair types. Had I seen this sort of Barbie when I was a girl, I might have played with her. But she didn't exist.

I say all of that to say this- just as much as representation matters in our personal lives, it also matters in education. When students have teachers that look like them, who are perceived to have come from the same background as them, they are better able to make connections to that teacher. Making connections in the classroom is just as important, if not more, than the content being taught.

When teachers can connect to kids on a more personal level, when they can pull in experiences that the kids relate to in order to make the content real- this is when learning truly occurs. When you look like them, and understand the nuances of their language and are able to incorporate that into your lecture, it changes the climate of your classroom. They then can see themselves in you.

The one major thing that I have learned about representation in the classroom is that students who have teachers that look like them are more likely to be placed in honors classes. We all know that black and brown children are more likely to be labeled as troublemakers, are more likely to be suspended and expelled, are more likely to "diagnosed" as having learning disabilities... What if all of this is because the educator at the front of the classroom is just unable to connect with the student(s) and because of this is stereotyping the student(s) which then causes this negative stigma to be attached to the student(s). This could all be prevented if the teachers in the classroom reflected the population of the students that are being taught. We could build honors programs and boost student confidence. We could actually change the stereotype. For these reasons, and many more, I believe representation matters.

...Now if we could only get more black and brown men in the classrooms- I wonder how this would change things...

Let me know your thoughts.

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