The other day I had a discussion with a teacher friend about bringing up race in the classroom. If you cannot tell, I am not Black; and therefore I do not know what it is like being Black. I have never been the receiver of racist actions. Thus, to speak on race and racial issues within the classroom can be a tad awkward. Like my fellow friend from above, I am white and what does a white man truly know about race?
With that being said, do I believe race should be discussed in the classroom? Absolutely! We tell our children, and society as a whole, that to be silent is to be complacent. If you disagree, then I would challenge you to review just about every major form of entertainment in our culture that deals with a hero overcoming an obstacle. At some point within the narrative, that hero is faced with a dilemma where, had they just spoken up, would probably never had occurred. To steal from my daughter’s current obsession, if Elsa in Frozen had just told Anna that she had special powers, then together they could have found a way to calm the storm before it turned into a frozen disaster. Thus, the lesson here is to turn to those close to you and speak up before something sinister occurs. Another example would be bullying. We tell our students that if they see an episode of bullying, then need to report it or else they could be allowing future incidents of bullying. We use these stories as lessons for our children to speak up in order to prevail.
With this cultural norm in place, it is my belief that we as teachers have an obligation to discuss current events within the classroom. However, notice that I said “discuss” and not “indoctrinate”, because there is a major difference. We have an obligation to present both sides of an argument and then lead our students through discussion where they determine for themselves their own ideas based on the information provided by unbiased sources. To indoctrinate them would be providing them with one-sided material and then leading them to view the world through one narrow viewpoint. The former is what leads us to a successful and stronger republic; the latter is what creates a totalitarian state.
Now what does this have to do with race and its place within the classroom? To me it has everything to do with it. See if we as teachers refuse to discuss race, or even the current Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, then all a student sees is a world that the media wants them to see. To them the BLM is composed of rioters and looters who destroy businesses because some Black person was shot. But that is not what it is. Instead, the BLM is an organization that promotes the idea “all men are created equal” and deserve such rights as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. In the eyes of the Black community, that last part, a pursuit of happiness, has not been fully given to them and as such, they are doing what every American group has done in our 244 year history: protest.
Now does this mean I am condoning and supporting everything the BLM movement stands for? No not exactly. I am not a huge supporter of bringing down every statue because of a stain on that person’s history—note to readers I am not including Confederate statues here, that is a completely different argument. Nor do I believe we need to write off all of our founding fathers because they were slave owners. I am also not a supporter of defunding the police, reforming perhaps but defunding them is not something I can totally support. Again, these are topics that we can discuss with our students and allow them to decide for themselves.
If we as teachers refuse to grant our students access to real world events, then we are being complacent. If we refuse to provide them with source material from vetted sources, then we are acknowledging the fact that they may find it for themselves in a non-educational setting; thus potentially damaging their own thoughts because they are finding these things in the wrong places. If we choose to be silent and fearful of what may be brought up in the discussion, then we are allowing for complacency, which in regards to race, can lead us to what was seen in Carter County over the July 4 weekend. This is not what we want nor is it what our students deserve.
Teachers are the epicenter of producing a future in which all lives matter, but in order for that future to flourish, we need to acknowledge society’s shortcomings and present factual content to our students. We need to work with our parents and the community as a whole to bring accurate information into the classroom. We need to foster growth, intellectual discussions, and challenge certain groups’ actions and choices. If we remain silent, then we are being complacent, leading our youth towards a potentially dangerous future where the silence will be booming.
***The opinions stated within my columns are my own and are not reflective of any business or organization I am associated with.***