EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.
This week, reader Nelson asks:
How should the subject of racism be taught in schools?
Nelson, thank you for your challenging question. Racism has been prevalent for so many centuries and will always be with us in some shape or form. Once students are put together, racist attitudes in the classroom may be present and must be dealt with. The key here is to begin educating young children so the level of prejudice is significantly diminished as they move beyond preschool or kindergarten. Children as young as two years old are keenly aware of racial intolerance. In fact, research has found the following progression:
|Dr. Matthew Lynch|
Age 2: Children are aware of gender differences and the various names of different skin colors around them.
Ages 3–5: Children begin to define themselves and who they are by comparing themselves to those of different gender and skin color.
Ages 4 or 5: Children begin to select friends on the basis of race and begin to recognize and take on the gender roles that society has promoted.
Teaching Tolerance is an example of a program used to address prejudice and intolerance among children and teens. This program, created after a 1988 attack on an Ethiopian man by a group of teens in Portland, OR, focuses on racism as a psychological attitude and defines tolerance as “the capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others.”
The program's main goal is to ensure the availability of resources and materials that promote and teach an understanding of race and culture among white and non-white groups in schools.
One of the primary problems facing educators when it comes to teaching about racism and tolerance is the psychological impact of such teaching on students. For instance, with the knowledge of racism and the role played by whites in perpetuating it, white students often experience feelings of guilt and shame. Since these are strong and undesirable emotions, it is far easier to avoid teaching about racism, rather than deal with the feelings that accompany a topic that continues to be difficult to discuss.
The key is to help students develop a positive self-image when it comes to dealing with racism, and to promote feelings of allied relations as whites and blacks or other minorities fight racism together. This will counter the feelings of guilt that come with the realization that racism continues to exist. If you follow the advice that I have discussed in my column, you will have a classroom full of students who have learned to embrace diversity and shun racism.
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