OPINION: We Need to Face our Own Discomfort about Discussing Racism

via Medium

via Medium

In this interview on Education Week Teacher, columnist Larry Ferlazo talks to predominantly white teachers and educators on how they handle race and racial identity conversations with their pupils.

Discussing racism and race issues in the classroom can be a challenge for teachers and students alike. This article will talk about mistakes that are often made when trying to tackle that challenge, and explore what teachers can do, instead.

Today's guest responses come from Marian Dingle, Sydney Chaffee, Raquel Rios, Rinard Pugh and Dr. Kimberly N. Parker.

The responses from these educators make for an enlightening read about the edgy but necessary discussions we all need to have about race and identity. Below is an excerpt from the interview with Marian Dingle:

The new question of the week is:

What are the biggest mistakes teachers make when approaching race and racism issues in the classroom and what should they do instead?

Marian Dingle begins her twentieth year teaching elementary students, currently teaching fourth and fifth graders in Atlanta, GA. Passionate about mathematics, she has served on her district's mathematics advisory board, and is a board member of Twitter Math Camp. She is a current Heinemann Fellow conducting action research in mathematics. Follow her at @DingleTeach:

Being Colorblind

Although most people of color grow up discussing race freely, most others who are not people of color were brought up to not notice race at all. For some, the mere utterance of Black, Latinx, White, etc. must inherently mean they are racist. If we teach students to notice patterns, nuance, connections, then it is counterintuitive for them not to notice race.

Referring to the student in the "red shirt, blue cap, and brown belt" seems a tedious description for a student who is clearly the only Chinese-American student in the room, for example. The erasure of the word that names a race equates to the erasure of an important part of a person's identity. That stance implies that race is something of which not to be proud. Instead, we should talk to our students about our racial identities, and allow them to talk about theirs. We can not begin to talk about race if we are uncomfortable naming it.

Not Working on Self

Many educators assume that the creation a trusting classroom environment is enough for discussing race. However, educators who do not address their own implicit bias and level of privilege can leave students silenced and harmed, and can negate the very trusting environment they seek to create. For example, educators may believe that certain groups of students need "saving" from their environments. This is a deficit mindset, which limits the trajectory of what students can achieve. Please remember that the educator is not the savior hero. Instead, view all students by their assets, not their deficits.

Also, survey your relationships with your students. Ask yourself:

  • Am I closer to some than others?

  • Is there a racial pattern?

These questions may seem scary to answer, but are crucial to getting at personal bias. Once we are aware of our own patterns, we can begin to change them, increasing the chance that our students will trust us.

Practicing With Students First Instead of Adults

Once educators address their bias and privilege, they may make the mistake on immediately beginning these conversations with their students. The truth is, unless we are willing to have these conversations with other adults in our lives, these attempts at difficult conversations will not ring true. Experimenting with children when we are not courageous enough to do so in our own lives is irresponsible, and again, can cause harm with students. This is hard, and mistakes will be made. The good news is, once we do begin to confront discussing race with other adults, with those from our own racial groups and those who are not, we will get better at doing so.

Not Using Diverse Instructional Materials Or Curriculum

As much as educators may think they have strong relationships with their students, nothing communicates that as clearly as having representational materials in the classroom. Do our classroom libraries include authors of color or protagonists of color? Do all students see themselves on the classroom walls? It has been said time and time again: representation matters. Show students that they are all valued in the instructional space.

Assuming That Only Students Of Color Need To Discuss Race

Topics of race and racism affect all students and adults. Assuming that only students of color need to discuss it is patronizing and just untrue. Race is an important topic that all of us should be discussing. That dialogue is key for moving forward.

Culled from Education Week Teacher