Lesson Plan: Neutrality on racism has no place in the classroom

By: Bianca Anderson

Like most young teachers I entered the classroom bright-eyed, passionate and determined to find ways to make life better for black and brown children living below poverty, believing education the answer to all problems. I soon faced the harsh reality that no matter how much I taught my students, how well they could read, write and code-switch, the effects of racism lingered.

My heart and mind raced to my students last week after two black men were brutally murdered at the hands, and guns, of police officers. According to The Counted 144 black men have been killed by police officers in 2016. Not even 24 hours after the murder of one of those men, Philando Castile, chaos ensued at a rally in my hometown of Dallas. Five police officers were murdered at the hands of a gunman. We live in a society that reeks of racism, domestic terrorism and police brutality, and although it is easy to become numb to the trauma of gun violence. Just look at the RNC convention this week for several examples. As educators must choose to become a catalyst for change. Bishop Desmond Tutu said it best: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Don’t believe the myth that children do not see race. Children do, in fact, see race. When we do not create culturally responsive classrooms, we actually perpetuate systems of inequality.

We can no longer remain neutral. It is time for us to take a stand against racism. Here are a few tips that will help any educator become an anti-racism activist. And because I am a teacher, I have created an acronym to help us all remember to STAND.

Share your truth

As educators, we must take time to understand our own racial identity because racism is a system that affects us all. We must acknowledge the messages of superiority and inferiority we have internalized and begin to dismantle them by discovering our truths, and ourselves even when it is uncomfortable. The identity iceberg is a useful tool we can use to better understand ourselves and uncover implicit bias we might have.

Talk about race and racism

Don’t believe the myth that children do not see race. Children do, in fact, see race, and even more shocking young children have a strong understanding of racial bias that does not have to be explicitly taught. When we do not create culturally responsive classrooms, we actually perpetuate systems of inequality.

Advocate and affirm

Whiteness is normalized within our schools. When children of color do not see themselves in our curriculum they begin to feel marginalized. Or as Monique Morris asserts in her book Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, “If schools are teaching curricula that have erased the presence of black females from the heroic narrative of American exceptionalism, are they not implicitly constructing a narrative of exclusion?” Consider the revelation that McGraw-Hill Education geography textbook used in many Texas public schools, “referred to Africans brought to American plantations as “workers,” rather than slaves.” For our schools to become inclusive communities, we must address our curricula and ensure lessons are honest and foster belonging for all children.

No silence

Once we become aware of places within our school communities that do not serve children of color equitably or foster a sense of belonging for them, we must use our collective voice. A great example of this comes from law professor Patricia Leary, after receiving a letter from students who were upset with her for wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt. She engaged in a thought-provoking and enlightening discussion about privilege and power and took those students to school. Remaining silent is no longer an option. We live and operate in a system of racism and issues of race are sure to come into our classrooms whether we are aware of them or not.

Disrupt systems

Teachers need to be informed about school policies and gain a seat at the discussion-making table. Policies and practices that are inequitable can be challenged and changed. For example, research by Education Weekly shows that some school districts have adapted policies that ensure racially and economically diverse schools. As educators, it is our job to ensure our classrooms are not only diverse, but equitable and inclusive as well.

Some of my fellow educators might say we should not discuss race and racism in the classroom. They might assert that doing so pushes our own ideologies or political beliefs on our children, but it’s really about compassion and empathy. I would ask for us to recall moments in our history when teachers have been on the front lines pioneering social change, from women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement and quest for LGBTQ equality. Teachers have always been agents of change. We mold minds, transform thinking and cultivate creativity.

As former teacher Jesse Williams said when he received the BET Humanitarian award, “now, this award — this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country, the activists, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.”

Bianca Anderson teaches at Greenhill School in Dallas where she is a Public Voices participant.