Becoming an anti-prejudice teacher

5 Apr

First post. First day of the third week of the quarter. I’m sitting here on the couch, reading about Race and Respect Among Young Children (Tenorio, Rethinking Our Classrooms Vol 1), and wishing I had this book as a resource during the past few years I worked at the elementary level. I worked with students of all different colors and backgrounds – honestly, most of the kids I worked with were so used to the diversity that I rarely saw an issue, but when one arose, I never quite knew how to react. Also, now I’m wondering if there were issues there that I simply didn’t see, believing children to be “colorblind.”

Two of the most memorable moments involving race and children in my memory were not, as Tenorio describes, a lighter-skinned student making a negative comment about a darker-skinned classmate.

The first event served as a reminder that students, even young ones, are acutely aware of skin color, whether or not they have any negative or positive connotation. A first-grade teacher announcing to her class that a new student would be starting the next day. A student (a native Spanish speaker, with light-brown skin himself) immediately asked “Is he brown?” In my understanding of the event, the student was excited at the prospect of having another “brown” classmate to play with, and possibly speak the same language with.

The second event reinforced the idea that children come to school with an idea of race, and the knowledge that bias exists. During a difficult conversation with his teacher, and African-American student informed her “You’re white! I’m black! I don’t have to listen to you!” This idea is brought up again in the Delpit reading (Rethinking Our Schools VOlume 1, page 159), where the author mentions Paley’s encounter with a students telling here “I don’t have to listen to no white lady,” and in the Howard reading (page 120), where the author states “it is not uncommon for students of color to have deep-seated mistrust or suspicion of teachers who come from racially privileged groups.” Students do not come to school with blank slates. Between family, society, and popular culture (including the estimated 5,000 hours of TV that a child has watched by age 5!), they have an idea of how they think world works. Whether or not we enforce those ideas, or help mold and change them, is up to us as educators.

I think that many of Tenorio’s ideas about teaching and dealing with racial prejudice in the classroom can be applied to any sort of prejudice. She mentions briefly that one year she had students using the word “fag” as a put-down. I believe that educators have a duty to make a school a safe place for all students, and we need to focus on not just racism but also sexism, homophobia, bigotry, and all other forms of hate. Our classrooms should be full of love, learning, and respect.

**

I found some more resources online about anti-prejudice in schools and communities. Here are some cool links to check out:

http://www.adl.org/prejudice/prejudice_pledge.html

http://www.antiprejudice.org/apc-content.aspx?page=about%20us

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3 Responses to “Becoming an anti-prejudice teacher”

  1. allisonhintz April 9, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    Rosie it is so exciting to read your ideas, filled with passion and shaped by readings, in this first blog post! Also cool that you added links!
    Allison

  2. Damaly Wingert April 14, 2012 at 7:09 am #

    I too don’t know how to react when a racial issue comes up. I can reflect all I want on my own experiences with race as a child, but I also know that everyone experiences race and prejudices a little differently. I suppose that the most important thing is to make race a topic that is open to discussion with the children. I think you’ll really enjoy reading this weeks chapter by Gutstein. He really brings racial issues to the forefront of a seemingly unrelated subject, math. I think he illustrates well that looking at the world through colorblind eyes can cause us to miss some racial issues that aren’t explicit, as well as issues of income and gender. Thanks for those links. I will definitely check them out.

  3. ponderinged April 17, 2012 at 10:06 pm #

    I like the comments you post about real situations that you encountered with children, as experiences like these will happen many times over a teaching career. I believe grace under pressure at moments like these is always good in a teaching environment. As you noted, sometimes children will observe each other with curiosity and a need to know why someone is different, at other times it may be out of a sense of joy that someone else is like them and sometimes it will will be the worst from a view of bias or negativity that as an educator we will have to address. I’m not sure that there is a perfect way to address each situation, but I wish I did.

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