Thoughts by Kris
Yep, that's what is happening here
As I sat down with my son the week before he was the star of the week, I was struck with a profound statement by him. See we were trying to fill out an "all about me" poster that will be shared with the class during his special week. They often ask things like what is your favorite food, tell me about your family, and offers the student to sketch a self portrait. We were sitting just chatting about his life and the things he likes when he suddenly looked up at me and said, "Dad, there isn't a crayon to match my skin".
Now my son is white, he is just tans very easily and has some olive undertones but we could not find a match for his skin. He sat there and pulled out crayon after crayon from our giant bin and compared it to his arm skin. After a quick check he would put them back. After doing his for a while he just declared that there was not a crayon to match his skin.
In our shoes, this is not a big deal but what if my son wasn't white? What if the color of his skin did not match a crayon, or a colored pencil, or a marker? What if our ethnicity was not represented in mainstream consumerism?
This is reality for far too many students. We ask them to share about themselves but limit their ability to do just that. We provide them a task with a ceiling on how they see themselves and skew the lens of how they see their self portrait.
This limitation is not strictly to "all about me" posters. Think about any task where you ask students to create something where they would need to represent themselves.
-Write a step by step book about something you built
-Draw how you connect with this book
-Draw your family tree
-Share a family story
-Share how you would look in this novel
The more that we ask students to create these misrepresentations of themselves, the more we are chipping away at their very identity. They are losing the value of who they are and how they see themselves. Although this is accidental, it is real and it happens everyday in our schools.
Luckily there is a solution. Crayola released a multicultural color pack a while ago that is your answer. This pack will allow you to provide students the opportunity to create an accurate representation of themselves regardless of the task. You are bound to still have a student who chooses to represent themselves in a different color, but you are not putting a ceiling on their choices.
We did manage to finish our poster that night with some creative colored pencil work. Please be the teacher who has these in your classroom. Please open the options to ensure that no student looses their identity because of the crayons you provide them.
Education today needs to change. The last months have been a challenge for so many and has certainly pushed me to do more! We as educators are one of the few groups that can actually change systemic racism. We have the wonderful privilege to interact with students day in and day out. We get to teach them the difference between right and wrong. We have the ability to change the conversation that should be taking place in schools.
In this post, I share 5 things that educators should look out for and some simple steps on how to prevent issues in the future. I will not sit here and tell you that I am an expert and that these ideas will fix the world but I do know that sitting on my hands and doing nothing is the wrong choice.
1. Suppressing Messages
Let's speak the truth. There are very few, if any curriculum companies that publish 100% historically inclusive content. There is always a lens put on how they are published, and the audience they are catered for. For example, how many educators have taught about the 13th amendment and how it was designed to reinstate slavery in a legal way? This is one of countless examples of how important messages in learning can suppress voices. Without allowing students to discuss and wrestle with the actual systemic issue, this these messages will never be heard.
What can you do? - Do your best to identify these and to have honest discussions with your students. As always, make sure that these messages are age appropriate but ignoring these pit falls only reciprocates the issues of racism that we see today.
2. Hypersensitivity or Spotlighting
As the conversations change in your classroom and more and more discussions circle around issues, it is important to not become hypersensitive. This can happen accidentally and is often done without ill intent. For example, if you were discussing the trail of tears, you should not rely on the voice of Native American students in the room to speak for their race and be the few voices defending their history. You should not put the weight of an event on the shoulders of any one student or race.
What can you do? - Ensure that the conversations never make a specific student or race uncomfortable with defending or questioning during a discussion. The goal of any conversation is to understand why things happened and learn from the impact that it had and not to belittle a race or a student.
3. Curriculum Faults
As mentioned above, there are few companies that publish 100% historically inclusive content. As you dive into some published work, you can even find some examples of racial preference. Glancing through history books, you may see language that generalizes the conversation. It leaves out key details or combines the content in ways that can swing the users thinking. There are also countless examples of how this content misses information when you just glance through the images. Some examples are very blatant and are opening backing a system of racism in schools, while some examples are simply leaving out important historical facts.
What can you do? - Identify pit falls and host open conversations. This is a very generalized thought, but please do not use personal teacher created content. The large publishing companies have some of these faults in them, but personal teacher created content will have more. There are less regulations on how and why content is chosen and designed which could result in worse discrepancies.
4. Conceptual Thinking
This is one of the hardest things to identify, especially if you are a teacher in an affluent school district. The background knowledge that your students come into your classroom with is directly connected with the socioeconomic status that they were raised in. The vocabulary that they hear and the values that are instilled create the gateway for learning. If the content that student are learning does not connect to their background knowledge, the students cannot access this and hit a roadblock.
What can you do? - Embed multiple vocabulary structures in your classroom. Rather that assuming that students know the term, teach it systematically allowing you to educate those who have never come across it before and extending those who already know it. Bridge the gap while pushing those who need it.
5. Meshed Privilege
This is the most straight forward of my recommendations. It is basically a call to action asking that we keep the fire burning. It is summer right now and it is a time to take a break. But it is not a time to forget. The systems of racism are clear and present in our schools today. We can choose to do nothing and continue what is happening, or we can use the power that we have and teach our students to think and act differently. This will create a ripple effect that can end the systemic racism what we see today.
I will close with what I said in the opening. I will not sit here and tell you that I am an expert and that these ideas will fix the world but I do know that sitting on my hands and doing nothing is the wrong choice.