Monday, February 7, 2011

Primary Colors

Every year in the weeks between Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Black History Month, teachers produce lesson plans and activities on the subject of race and racism. It’s an important topic, and one that is hopefully addressed throughout the school year as needed, rather than relegated to a six-week period each year. Still, the subject of race can present a challenge to many teachers, especially in a racially diverse classroom where misunderstandings can easily bloom.

Classrooms in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and other countries have become increasingly diverse, with students of different races, ethnicities, religions, and abilities comprising a typical classroom. Studies have shown that children notice racial differences from a very young age, but do not ascribe any particular sentiment to one race or another. Research also reveals that while most young children prefer their own race over another’s purely due to familiarity, they do not formulate negative opinions about other races. They note the physical differences, perhaps ask about them, and move on to something else. Racism rears its ugly head later in life, as a purely learned behavior.

In discussing racism in the classroom, teachers should note the difference between prejudice and racism, which are often used synonymously. Racism is a form of prejudice where one ascribes negative attributes to another person or group based purely on racial characteristics. Prejudice is a preconceived, negative opinion about something, usually untested by actual experience. I am, for example, prejudiced against tripe. I’ve never eaten it, and so therefore have no direct experience of it, yet I just know that I don’t like it.

Discussing racism with students requires thoughtful sensitivity and an awareness of the differences between the students, as well as their interactions with each other. Different ethnicities and gender can present additional challenges when discussing race in the classroom, and cultural differences can sometimes prompt seemingly prejudicial actions that can be mistaken for racism. To avoid the discussion of racism with students, however, may unintentionally suggest that it’s a topic that is too difficult or “wrong,” and best ignored. Diversity should be celebrated – a concept sometimes easier said than done, but essential to the fabric of strong schools and communities.

My picks this week focus on different aspects of racism, from a lesson on discrimination based on appearance for younger students to a high school lesson on the legal implications of racism in the U.S. I’ll also be featuring many more resources on racism on The Gateway’s Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week, so please be sure to check in.

Anti-Racism Activity: The Sneetches
Subjects: Language Arts, Social studies
Grade: 1-5
In this early grades activity, students learn about unfair practices in a simulation exercise and then create plans to stand up against discrimination. This activity is a produce of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The project offers free educational materials aimed at reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations and supporting equitable school experiences in the U.S.

We All Have a Race: Addressing Race and Racism
Subjects: Social studies, English
Grade: 4-10
This lesson plan helps students to understand the concept of race better, to distinguish between prejudice and racism, and to learn ways to stand up against racism and to act as allies with students of different races. This is a basic beginning unit to consider race and racism with respect and discovery. This lesson was produced by RaceBridges for Schools, a project that provides tools and resources for teachers and students to motivate them to build stronger and more inclusive communities.

Racism: Law and Attitude
Subjects: US history, US government
Grade: 9-12
In this lesson, students will learn the difference between de facto and de jure discrimination in the United States, and understand the challenges in creating and enforcing laws that make certain racist actions and speech illegal. This lesson is a product of Discovery Education, which provides educational digital resources with the goal of connecting classrooms and families to a world of learning.

~Joann's Picks - 1/27/2011~

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