Teaching Race in the Classroom: A Toolkit
As our nation grapples with a long history of racial injustice, our students are inundated with headlines and conversations about race and racism. As educators, it’s important for us to cultivate positive identity formation, encourage students to confront racial and ethnic injustice, and prepare them to live in a diverse world. For Social Studies educators, our work also includes incorporating the diverse perspectives of marginalized people into our curriculum not just during a specific month, but also all year round.
In July 2020, I had the opportunity to join a virtual workshop, hosted by the Ohio Department of Education and presented by Dr. Cynthia A. Tyson, Professor at the Ohio State University, which explored how to develop a “Teacher’s Toolkit” to teach about race and racism in the classroom. The first session invited attendees to learn about the social construction of race and racism in the United States, including how race provides a system of advantages and disadvantages. The second session explored the developmental considerations and a framework to teach about race. (You can watch the recordings of both sessions here and here.) Throughout the sessions, Dr. Tyson identified these steps for teaching about race:
- Define Race and Racism. Although race is an invented concept, race is real for those who are impacted by the social construct’s manifestations in action and experience.
- Identify Systemic Racism. Understand Racism is more than simple acts of individual prejudice. This means recognizing that there is a systemic belief in maintaining institutional power.
- Increase Racial Literacy. Achieving racial literacy enables people to understand that the way race is defined can change and is highly malleable based on geographic and historical considerations. Racial literacy also asks us to understand the intersections of power and race, locate and analyze racial systems, and understand the vocabularies associated with racial discourse, such as White supremacy, anti-Blackness, racialization, racial identity, and intersectionality.
- Be Anti-racist. To be anti-racist, we need to have the ability to “read, recast, and resolve” racially stressful situations. In other words, educators (and by extension our students) need to learn how to see a racial moment, do something about it, and leave with a greater understanding of its complexity.
While this may seem like a daunting task, the most important thing is that we begin the work and we build relationships with our students. Rather than jumping into deep conversations about race with our students, try beginning with low-risk activities – such as reading a book that presents different perspectives about a particular issue within your community. By shifting the reflection from individuals to communities and societies, you can begin to provide factual information and help students understand how racism works.
Below, we’ve collected some resources we found most helpful when building our toolkit to teach about race and racism in the classroom. Got a resource or activity you use to discuss these topics? Share it with us at [email protected]!
Lessons & Activities
“And Now, the News! Activity“, Ohio History Connection
In this activity, students examine newspaper clippings from the Dayton Forum, an African-American newspaper, to explore the first African-American exhibit held at a World’s Fair in the United States. They consider what role African-Americans had in creating the exhibit, what their intentions were, and what their participation at the World’s Fair can tell us about American race relations on the eve of World War II.
“Reconstructing Race: A Teacher Introduces His Students to the Slippery Concept of Race”, The Zinn Education Project, https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/reconstructing-race/
In this activity a teacher describes a series of lessons he teaches to help his students understand race as a social construct.
“Ferguson Voices Curriculum”, University of Dayton, https://udayton.edu/artssciences/ctr/hrc/moral-courage/ferguson-voices-curriculum.php
These lessons created for high school classrooms are designed for use with the digital materials produced by the Moral Courage Project. The instructional guide is available for download. It includes 7 lessons, 37 activites and is optomized for virtual classrooms.
“Race & Ethnicity Lessons & Activities”, Teaching Tolerance, https://www.tolerance.org/topics/race-ethnicity
This website provides various resources, activites, and lesson plans to help educators facilitate discussions about race and guide students through lessons on white privilege, economic inequality, mass incarceration, the complexities of identity and more.
“First Encounters With Race and Racism: Teaching Ideas for Classroom Conversations”, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/27/learning/lesson-plans/first-encounters-with-race-and-racism-teaching-ideas-for-classroom-conversations.html
This is a guest lesson from Jinnie Spiegler, the director of curriculum at the Anti-Defamation League. She has written for the NYT previously on 10 Ways to Talk to Students About Sensitive Issues in the News.
“How Should I Talk about Race in My Mostly White Classroom?” Anti-Defamation League, https://www.adl.org/education/resources/tools-and-strategies/how-should-i-talk-about-race-in-my-mostly-white-classroom
“Teaching: Talking with Students About Racism”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, https://www.chronicle.com/newsletter/teaching/2020-06-18
“Race and the Literary Canon”, Edutopia, https://www.edutopia.org/article/race-and-literary-canon
“Tools for Anti-Racist Teaching”, PBS Education, https://www.pbs.org/education/blog/tools-for-anti-racist-teaching
“Mental Health Issues Facing the Black Community”, Sunshine Behavioral Health, https://www.sunshinebehavioralhealth.com/mental-health-issues-facing-the-black-community/