As I laid in bed Sunday night, texting with a group of non-black teachers (this part becomes important as you read), I was wondering, “What do I say to my students about current injustices in their own city??” I’m the only black female teacher in my building and not that I in anyway feel I’m the spokesperson for my people, but I feel an obligation to ensure I’m putting forth the necessary dialogue to make the students comfortable with the uncomfortable discussion.
We are amidst a teacher-created unit teaching about the civil rights movement, activism, upstanders and inspirers of the 2000s (like Malala and Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah), and more. The timing of St. Louis showing its racist tail was sadly right on track with our teaching. This verdict provided lessons on lessons on lessons.
Soundless Cries Don’t Lead to Healing is one resource that provided suggestions on ways to address the uncomfortable conversations.
It’s no surprise to hear of another killer cop being thanked for doing his duty of removing a brown body from the streets. Rather it’s disgusting, sickening, deplorable…and many other synonyms bringing me to the same conclusion, “How in the world did we get here AGAIN?”
As we head back to work this week and beyond, teacher friends must remember what research has shown. (Thank you to my teacher friends for this important list.)
1. Explicit conversation about race improves racial attitudes across groups (Rebecca Bigler, 1995-2010)
2. Teaching about the country’s history of bias and discrimination is the most effective technique for decreasing bias (Hughes, Bigler & Levy, 2007)
3. Even slightly more exposure to other racial groups, even through children’s books, helps to counteract bias and discrimination (Crisp & Turner, 2009) (Krista Aronson, 2014)
Another resource down below!
Being a black woman, race has always been something I notice. I became aware of my blackness at the tender age of 6 while in kindergarten. So I can only imagine how strongly some students feel that awareness of race in 2017. When I’m the only black teacher in a meeting of 30 on the first day back to school, I notice it. When I was in graduate school and class after class I never saw a professor or student who shared my melanin, I noticed it.
And I went to an HBCU on purpose to avoid that feeling. I feel more at ease with those who share my melanin. It doesn’t mean I cannot work with and be friends with non POC, it just means more times than not, when in the presence of those who look like me, we share similar #fortheculture aspects of life. I find comfort in this. I therefore want all my students, in particular the non-white students, to feel comfort in our classroom when discussing topics like injustices for minorities outweighing those of Caucasians.
The teachers I work with have done a great job of engaging students in discussion and have based it on facts and on their own experience with activism – even those new to it in this way. I’m proud to work in a district that does not ignores travesties in our city.
I heard of a principal telling teachers, “I don’t care how you feel about this. We are here for the kids.” Perhaps the sentiment was genuine in meaning to put more emphasis on teaching than personal emotions, but our emotions cannot be denied. I was in tears at least twice Friday at school when the Stockley verdict came down, but I held it in for the kids because they didn’t know the latest news update nor did they need to know my thoughts on the situation before I had time to process.
In speaking with coworkers, many sources have been gathered to help not only adults process but to assist students in processing and discussing topics that we cannot ignore. Here’s a few:
Books to lookup: Let’s Talk About Race and Soundless Cries Don’t Lead to Healing
Suggestion for opening up discussion with kids:
-Start simple with asking is there anything they want to discuss current event wise.
-Print pictures and headlines and have kids plan a discussion around their views.
-Explain ways people show traits of activism.
-Read. Read. Read. What better way to expose children to the world than through carefully sought out books that show people breaking the barriers of inequalities, sexism, and racism!