Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How Do You Talk About Race in Your Classroom? Do You?

I teach two classes where I am a minority in the room. While I'm still the teacher and the one who ultimately holds authority over when someone can get a bathroom pass or needs to take a moment to collect oneself with the discipline secretary, issues of race run deep and obviously.

In honor of Black History Month, my teaching associate and I organized a discussion about Black History Month -- its history, meaning, and usefulness to us today. First, we looked at the different stages of multicultural education. Next, we looked at an overview on perspectives about Black History Month.

We discussed the value of a more inclusive curriculum not just on students' and teachers' feelings about school, but also to give us a more complete understanding of history, literature, and scientific contributions. We brainstormed how to move from a "Heroes and Holidays" view of including other perspectives toward social action. To my delight, many students cited the letters we wrote after reading the New York Times series on a young girl who is homeless as well as the letters they are crafting at the end of our dystopia-based research project (more on that later).

Some students, however, weren't ready for the conversation. They wouldn't focus and, as teenagers are wont to do, chose sneaking cell phone use over a difficult conversation without a clear or prescribed answer. At first, I got upset that students made these choices when we'd put so much work into designing a discussion that met so many critical thinking objectives with such high-interest material. A kind (and wise!) administrator reminded me that this job is above all a process: my classroom is a place where we all get better at thinking and expressing ourselves.

So, fellow teachers (and others who love real conversation with young people), how do you address issues of race in your classroom? What issues do you see? What solutions are you finding?

1 comment:

Jessica Church said...

With regards to the students who refused to participate, I think it's likely that no one has ever tried to have that conversation with them in such an organized and honest way.

It's also possible that those students don't know how gratifying conversations like that can be because they've never been able to participate in them. And thus, they're not motivated by the end result because, well, they don't know what the end result is (or the end result has always been hurt feelings).

I so applaud you for doing this work, Maggie. Keep on keepin on. You're an inspiration.