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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


From Prejudice to Personal Authenticity: Gestalt Learning for Diverse Classrooms

Jack Panster.

Nearly half of residents of Toronto, Canada, 43 percent by the latest census, belong to visible minorities. If current demographic trends continue, by 2050 the situation will be the same everywhere in North America (McDaniel 1995).

The heterogeneity among the population at large is naturally reflected in the school system. In terms of linguistic diversity, 60 percent of students in Toronto do not speak English as their mother tongue (Cummins 2000). However, most teachers are white, often with little background and preparation to deal with multicultural students. Without proper training, teachers often fall back on their own stereotypes.

This paper shows how teachers can address the issues of racial and cultural discrimination among students who learn and express racial concepts and attitudes very early in their lives (Van Ausdale and Feagin 2002).

In my presentation I use the example of the Aboriginal community in Toronto whose numbers are largely underestimated in the latest census report due to past experiences of discrimination (The Toronto Star 2003). I briefly review the history of cultural and linguistic prejudice against the First Nations people and present a Gestalt approach for dealing with such discrimination.

In Gestalt psychotherapy, no quality or attribute can exist in an individual without its opposite (Polster and Polster 1973). Obviously, whenever people identify themselves as victims of discrimination, the presence of the opposite, the persecutor, is implicit. I provide a supportive environment for students to attend to both sides of the polarity without guilt or shame. I encourage students to experience directly the disowned parts of their nature in a role-play or dialogue between the polar parts. The experiential component expands students’ awareness and allows them to integrate the fragmented and unknown parts of their personality. In the process, students face their feelings in the moment, take responsibility for their pain and anger, and find personal authenticity.


Jack Panster  (Canada)
Ph.D. Candidate in Linguistics; Post-Graduate Student in Gestalt
Department of Linguistics
University of Toronto; Gestalt Institute of Toronto

I am a Ph.D. student in Linguistics at the University of Toronto specializing in language variation and educational linguistics. I am also interested in Indigenous education and the use of Aboriginal spirituality in the classroom. As a senior student at the Gestalt Institute of Toronto, I focus on issues related to linguistic/cultural diversity and immigrant identity. I am currently working on an approach to culturally diverse classrooms which integrates linguistics, critical pedagogy and Gestalt psychotherapy.

  • Diversity
  • Prejudice
  • First Nations
  • Gestalt

(Virtual Presentation, English)