Teaching Controversial Issues

Confronting Islamophobia in the Classroom


"It's where terrorists come from!" "Don't they wear towels on their heads and live in the desert?" "They have Saddam Hussein."

The previous are all quotes pulled from students in my classroom, many of who I never would have expected to say these words. These are students that generally display the characteristics one would expect from a "socially conscious"; understanding, care, compassion, empathy, open-mindedness, etc. When I asked these students what they knew about the people who lived in Afghanistan, I hadn't prepared myself for the level of naivety and ignorance my students would portray. We were starting a new unit that was centered around a novel titled The Breadwinner, which follows a girl's journey navigating life in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule. I believe that all texts should be anchored in the culture and time-period in which they were written, so I was assessing my student's prior knowledge in regards to the mountainous region of the Hindu Kush. I had to work hard to keep my frustration from showing when my students referred to the people of the region as "A-rabs," "Towel-heads," and "Camel-jockeys," and push myself to recognize the situation for what it was; ignorance and misinformation that was screaming for attention and the opportunity to be turned into a teachable moment.