Tag Archives: Racism

Middle School, and a missing part of history

20 Oct

Guys, I love teaching in middle school so much.

Yesterday, my Dyad partner and I team-taught a 45 minute lesson in 7th grade humanities.

The students read and thoughtfully discussed four articles about the use of Native American imagery in sports mascots, as an introduction to their Native American Culture unit, which includes reading Sherman Alexie’s amazing young adult book, Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (if you haven’t read it, I highly suggest it. Alexie is a local author, who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He writes mostly about life as a Native American in the modern world – his writing is amazingly powerful.)
Our lesson, which was suggested by our co-teacher, was thrown together at the last minute – on Wednesday she realized that our class was a day ahead of schedule, so asked us if we wanted to teach on Thursday. Considering we had about 12 hours to plan, I think our lesson went extremely well.

The articles we had the students read were a mix of local pieces about a recent recommendation by the Washington State Board of Education for schools to do away with Native American Mascots, opinion pieces about the use of Native American Mascots, and a piece from 2005 about the NCAA’s ban on “hostile or offensive” mascots and nicknames. If you’re interested, you can check them out:

Native American Mascots Challenged in Washington

Lose the Indian Mascots

NCAA American Indian Mascot Ban

Time to Rethink Native American Imagery
The discussion went really well – these 7th graders had some really great things to say. However, one student made a comment that surprised me: “When we think of racism, we think of slavery and how horrible that was – but nothing bad like that really happened to Native Americans so we don’t automatically think of racism being against them.”

I had to have him clarify his statement because I was confused – by 7th grade, students haven’t learned about The Trail Of Tears? About forcing Native children to attend boarding school to erase their “Indian-ness?” About the Indian Removal Act? Apparently not – and come to think of it, I’m not sure I knew about those things by 7th grade, either. The history of the systematic destruction of the native peoples of North America is missing from our education system. Why? Because we are embarrassed? Because it makes us look bad? Because it opposes the view of early America as a vast open wilderness, waiting for Americans to make it what it is today?

I was struck with the horrible thought that our lesson, though well planned and interesting, was actually irrelevant because these students were lacking the background to understand all the issues. If that is the case, where do we start? When do we start? How do we start?

Public School Integration, 21st Century Style

30 Sep

Although parts of it make me cringe (“I feel like at this age, they don’t really see color,”) this is a fascinating little article from NPR about white, upper-class parents in Birmingham, Alabama, sending their children to public schools, which are 95% black, and 90% free- and reduced-lunch.

New Wave Of School Integration In Birmingham, Ala.

Although the article focuses mainly on the gentrification and racial issues, there are a few points that relate directly to things we’ve talked about in class. For one, the above quote about how kids “don’t see color.” Adults seem to have this strange idea that children are color blind. They see color, but many of them just haven’t lived enough to know they are supposed to care about it. It is we (adults, society, history) who put meaning behind the color of a person’s skin.

The article also mentions the difference between teaching styles of inner-city school vs. the methods “favored by many middle-class parents.” To me, this is NPR’s way of noting the difference between black teachers and white teachers. There is a difference. There is nothing wrong with noting that this difference exists. Reading Vivian Paley’s White Teacher, and Lisa Delpit’s review of the book in Rethinking Our Classrooms, I find it interesting to note that we talk a lot about white teachers working with black students, but not the opposite. Lisa Delpit notes that “When teachers are teaching children who are different from themselves, they must call upon parents in a collaborative fashion if they are to learn who their students really are.” (Rethinking Our Classrooms, Vol 1, p 160) This goes both ways. I hope that the teachers at this school in Birmingham are comfortable collaborating with the parents of their new students. Only then will these students truly receive the full power of a multicultural education, as discussed in the article.

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:



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