Teacher reading a book to young students.

If you’re new to my blog, then you might not know that I was a teacher for nearly a decade. Recently, I was asked to share my thoughts on how teachers can talk about race and racism in the classroom. Here’s a quick preview:

“My students are too young.”

“It’s not my place, parents probably prefer to talk about this at home.”

“We don’t have time; it’s not in the scope and sequence.”

Perhaps you’ve heard these arguments for not talking about race and racism in the classroom. Perhaps you’ve uttered some of these things yourself. With the recent events that are impacting the Black community, a lot of people are talking about race and racism right now. Many are wondering how to talk about it. As a teacher, race is something that isn’t specifically outlined in our lesson plans, but it’s everywhere. Conversations about race and racism can be daunting, but I’m here to say, your students aren’t too young, we can collaborate with parents, and race should be in the scope and sequence.

Studies show that children start to notice differences at a very young age. Not only do they notice differences, but we all know that kids are super curious. Students are truly like sponges. We should capitalize on the opportunities to help them soak up all that they can in a learning environment that is both safe and brave. Plus, teachers have an opportunity to help students go from sponges that soak up information, to sparks that can use that information to ignite change.  

As educators, we can engage in two-way communication with families about our plans to discuss race. Ask caregivers what they’ve already discussed. Share questions that students have posed. Then, share your plans to address those questions. Be prepared to hear that some parents might not want their children to participate in these discussions. 

Finally, it might not be in the scope and sequence for the year, but it should be. When we don’t talk about race, or talk about it occasionally, what are we communicating to our students? We should talk about race outside of a month or a holiday. Zaretta Hammond refers to the practice of talking about race and culture only around holidays as a tourist curriculum. Our students’ racial identities don’t cease to exist outside of a holiday or a month. Plus, a tourist curriculum is often celebratory in nature. While it is important to celebrate and acknowledge all of the contributions by people of color, we must also discuss the oppression that people of color in this country have experienced. 

When we don’t talk about race, are we actively helping students build their identities? Does our silence help students become anti-racist co-conspirators? If you answered “No” to those questions, then you might agree that we should talk about race and racism in class. Now, how do we talk about it? I have three words for you: just do it. 

Just start reading.

Just start listening. 

Just start responding. 

Head over to KidNuz to read the rest of the post.

It is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.

26 thoughts on “Making Space to Talk About Race”

  1. Hello – I am a 6th grade teacher & race is something that gets talked about at school. There are times that kids can’t talk to their parents; that’s were teaches step in.

    I’ve always been available to my students to talk about anything & it’s my job to education them on important topics in the world. This is IMPORTANT.

    Great Post!

  2. Thanks for entering the conversation and bringing a teacher’s perspective on this topic. I have a 5 year old and 7 year old and I’m one of the people who doesn’t really know how to talk to them about race because from the few conversations that we’ve had along those lines it seems as if they don’t view their black friends any differently than they view themselves and I’m afraid of calling attention to this issue in the wrong way. I don’t want to inadvertently change the way they see their friends!

    1. I definitely get that dilemma. We want to make sure children maintain their innocence as long as possible. Sadly, that’s something that’s not afforded to Black children after a certain age. I like to believe that talking to children about race and racism will help them stand up for themselves and their friends when they notice unfair treatment.

  3. I think it’s important for us to talk about this at every opportunity. While we are doing our part at home, I would love it if they talked about it at school as well.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. As a Black and Puerto Rican woman here in the States I believe that race MUST be talked about so we can finally move past hating others for it.

  5. This is so important! You’re never to young to start, it’s all about find the right way to. Like a kid might not understand the complicity of systematic oppression but introduce them to books with diverse characters, take them to cultural museums, etc. There’s PLENTY of ways to have the conversation without it seeming daunting. If we start with changing the next generation early on, we could really make a difference.

    1. Yes, think about the difference we can make when we raise anti-racist children! Read books with diverse characters, teach children how to stand up for themselves and others…the possibilities are endless.

  6. We finally let our 10 year old watch the news. For so long we never watched it b/c we didn’t want him to see any of it. Slowly, we are talking to him about what’s been going on and he’s now very aware of what’s going on, but doesn’t really care.

    1. It’s so important to be aware of what’s going on around us, though it can feel overwhelming at times. Recently, I’ve been thinking about ways to teach kids to stand up for others even when they’re not directly affected.

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