I’m honored to participate in the 22 Days of Anti-Racism Resources for Teachers started by Texas teacher Chrissy Beltran from El Paso, Texas. This series of blog posts is in response to the murder of 22 innocent people in El Paso on August 3rd. Tragically, the violence carried out that day was a planned act of racism, explicitly targeting Latinos.
As educators, the anti-racism fight has many facets. It is the struggle against prejudice, discrimination, and bias. All those roads lead to injustice. Injustice can take many forms, including violence and murder. But one thing is for sure. Justice is something we must continuously fight for. We can not let our guard down!
We have to teach our children to stand up and fight for their rights. This is because rights can be taken or limited at any time. Just look at what happened to AMERICAN citizens of Japanese descent during WWII: internment! Also, discriminatory Jim Crow laws targeting African Americans and other minorities remained in effect until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Above all, the long history of racism in America is the reason we need anti-racist education.
What is Racism?
It’s important to define terms so that when we speak to our students and our children about racism, we speak with authority and knowledge. Let’s look more closely at the following terms:
- Racism – the belief that some people are inferior or superior based solely on genetics.
- bias – a set of beliefs or attitudes that guides your thinking
- prejudice – the pre-judging of someone based on stereotypes
- stereotype – a positive or negative generalization applied to all members of a group
- discrimination – unequal treatment of a group based on bias, prejudice or stereotypes
Here is a video by iheed.org. that explains some of these terms.
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Science has debunked the claims by racists that one group of people is genetically inferior or superior to another. It’s up to teachers and parents to teach children how to identify and stop bias, prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination.
By the way, there aren’t “good people on both sides.” The Racists, White-Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, Neo-Confederates are a cancer on our country. For that reason, these are NOT good people. But good people with good intentions can be biased, prejudiced, believe in stereotypes and discriminate without meaning to. So, let’s start with stereotypes.
Stereotypes? How Real Are They?
Very! One day, after picking up my kids from school, I was listening to them have a conversation in the back seat. At the time, one was a freshman in high school, and the other was in 5th grade. The fifth-grader was telling how it was a bad day in class because substitute had no control. He asked permission to get next door to do his work because it was so loud. The freshman, who also had attended his brother’s school in 6th grade, asked: Oh, you mean the Asian class?
I could not believe my ears. I did not interrupt the conversation as I was curious as to why he had said that. The classroom next door was the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) designated class. Half of the GATE class was composed of Asian students. So consequently, the students at the school referred to it as “the Asian class.” Therefore, the comment made by my son.
Is it harmful? Yes! Because the other students see all Asian students as smart. But they also see the non-Asians as NOT smart enough. The Asian students see themselves as elevated or even ridiculed for being smart. I believe this is something the district has to address because it just reinforces the stereotype of Asians.
Bursting Stereotypes is Part of Anti-Racism Teaching
Could this have been avoided? Yes! Explaining to students THAT ANY student can qualify to be in the GATE program. It is based on effort, test scores, and ability and not ethnicity! And yes, later I did explain to my children that thinking this way is called stereotyping. It is harmful to everyone.
Here’s a video from Teaching Tolerance that explains why stereotypes are harmful.
Here is an excellent resource by Education World on how to “burst those stereotypes.” It is appropriate for grades 2 – 12.
The first step in breaking stereotypes is to acknowledge the stereotype. The next step is to ask if that generalization applies TO ALL the members of that group. Finally, students need to know that stereotyping is harmful because it leads to biases, prejudice and eventually, discrimination.
Fighting for Your Rights Against Racism!
Once students understand the terms of racism, bias, prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination, I want to make it relevant to their own lives. One of my favorite books to use for this lesson is Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh. Here’s a video of the author explaining his inspiration for the book.
It is the story of Sylvia Mendez and her family’s fight for school desegregation in the 1940s in California. This happened seven years before the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling ending segregation in schools nationwide. Here’s another video that explains about this important event in California’s history.
African Americans were not the only ones targeted with racism and Jim Crow type laws.
You can read more about how I used this book and similar books HERE to teach students about the fight for civil rights and justice.
Into the Book
Call me old school (I did start teaching in 1986!), but I like to use the Into, Through, and Beyond lesson plan framework when working with literature. Here’s a link to find out more about how to use this strategy.
To get INTO the literature, I will bring out the vocabulary posters again with the key vocabulary: racism, bias, prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. Then, I would show this video in which Sylvia Mendez explains about the experience she went through.
Imagine watching and hearing the actual person who lived through history! It is especially powerful when the person is still living while continuing the fight! Afterward, I would ask the students what personality traits they would associate with Sylvia (brave, courageous, dedicated, etc.). Another important question to ask is what motivation drove the Mendez Family to sue the school district? (To provide all children with the same educational opportunities).
Through the Book
Moving THROUGH the book, I want the students to identify incidents of racism, bias, prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination as I read the story aloud. There are many examples of these throughout the story. For that reason, I use think-pair-share for all students to engage in discourse before we discuss it in whole group. We would also chart these examples under headings for each word.
Of course, students will also make lots of connections to self, world, and other texts which enrich the discussion.
Then another aspect to chart is the character traits of the main characters. First, print a copy of a photo of the person or just draw an outline of a person on chart paper. When appropriate in the story, ask students how a certain action or words by a character is an example of a particular character trait. Then, list the trait on the photo or outline.
Beyond the Book
Finally, to move BEYOND the book, I like to present these What-If scenarios for students:
What if …
- Sylvia’s parents had NOT decided to file a lawsuit?
- The families had lost the lawsuit?
- Even after winning the lawsuit, Sylvia decided to go back to the “Mexican” school?
These are important questions. They work perfectly with understanding cause and effect. Put the hypothetical questions into a cause and effect graphic organizer to help students see without the bold and courageous moves by the Mendez Family, their lives might be very different today.
As a side note here, Thurgood Marshall filed an amicus brief in the Mendez lawsuit. That brief was the blueprint that helped win the Brown vs. Board of Education lawsuit, which put an end to school segregation nationwide.
Other ideas for integrating the Common Core State Standards for Language Arts include
- making a character traits portrait of the characters to examine their character traits and motivation
- Using a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast the story with other similar stories (see next section)
- discussing the points of view of the different characters in the story
- writing a letter to Sylvia Mendez thanking her for her contributions to justice for all
Raising Anti-Racist Kids
Raising anti-racist kids starts with teaching the history of racism in this country. It’s vitally important to teach about the near genocide of the Indigenous Nations of the Americas, the enslavement of Africans, the Internment of Japanese Americans, the exploitation of immigrants and the denial of rights to women. Technically, we do not associate the Suffragette Movement with racism. But many of these brave women involved in this struggle were women of color (Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman for example).
The next part is to teach kids HOW to change laws, change the way we do things and even change people’s minds. There are many wonderful examples of children’s literature that teach children to rise to the challenge and fight for their rights.
For example, there are two other stories I like to pair with Separate is Never Equal. Those are The Story of Ruby Bridges and The Youngest Marcher. These books serve as excellent examples of how to stand up for your rights and fight the injustice with concrete examples of courage and action.
More importantly, they show young students of color standing up for their civil rights. Also, students will be able to make connections between the three stories as well as to their own lives.
Know Your Rights, Call out Racism
I teach my students the first step to fighting for your rights is to understand your rights as outlined in the US Constitution. Take up the fight when your rights are being violated! Use peaceful means to change laws or to enact laws to end discrimination. Not fighting for your rights is giving up on your rights.
It’s also important to talk about racism. This video has some excellent suggestions on how parents and teachers can talk to kids about race and racism.
Here’s a recent study by Harvard University with ideas about HOW to talk to children about race and ethnicity.
Pointing out bias in books, movies, art, etc., is one way to start a dialogue about racism. As children get older and more sophisticated in their thinking, they can start examining the concepts of institutionalized racism and white privilege. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of white privilege, check out the book White Like Me, Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise.
Finally, this post is just one of 22 blogs featuring the anti-racism resources for teachers. You can find the many more ideas of how to talk about race and racism if the links here on this Google Docs Calendar.
In Memory of Gloria Irma Marquez
This post is dedicated to Gloria Irma Marquez, who was a mother of four and a grandmother of four. She was one of the 22 victims of the El Paso shooting. She was described as a strong, loving, caring and beautiful woman. Tragically, Gloria was targeted by the gunman because she was of Mexican heritage.
Don’t Go Yet!
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