Protests are as American as . . . well, America. And, sadly, so is racism. Resources for teaching about both
“. . . it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
Let’s be clear.
I really have no idea what I’m talking about. As a middle aged white guy born and raised in Western Kansas, who taught 8th graders in a suburban school district and higher ed at a small liberal arts college, I’m probably the last person who might have some answers to the issues of racial injustice and systemic racism in the United States.
But I do know that I need to take responsibility for trying to figure it out. How to start? By acknowledging the privileges I enjoy because of who and what I am.
I’ve never enslaved others or transported kidnapped Africans to North America or passed Jim Crow legislation or attacked civil rights workers. But I can acknowledge that the world I live in was built by people who did, as part of a system specifically designed to benefit me and others like me. Uncomfortable as it is to admit, some of my actions in this world have directly or indirectly contributed to further divisions. And I need to continue learning how best to work alongside others to correct the flaws in that system.
As a history teacher, it’s easy for me to think of America in the abstract. But we need to recognize and admit that there has always been two Americas. The abstract one – the one we aspire to, a place of equality and freedom and idealism and democracy. You know, the America we teach our kids.
And then there’s that other America, the actual one we all live in. For many of us – especially those of us living and teaching in small, rural, mostly white communities – life can seem like the one we teach. So it’s easy to forget how big and diverse and ugly and difficult the real America is for many around the country – and if we’re honest, how difficult it is for some in the small, rural, mostly white communities as well. The disconnect between those two realities has always existed but events this spring have made that disconnect more obvious for many of us.
There is no amount of professional learning or diversity training or special speakers that will eliminate the need for white educators like me to do the intensely personal work required to build our own racial literacy and to understand that what we say and do is rooted in white privilege – to becoming an anti-racist rather than merely non-racist.
I can’t assume that someone else is going to do this work for me.
I know people. I can be quiet and listen.
I’ve got great local bookstores and access to virtually every public library in the country. I can read.
I’ve got the interwebs to connect with individuals and groups across the country. I can experience multiple perspectives and ideas.
On a recent Good Morning Football talk show episode discussing the recent protests and the response from the NFL, former player and current pundit Nate Burleson said:
This isn’t just about protesting. We all need to take advantage of the little moments and challenge ourselves to start sowing seeds.
My personal challenge? Learn enough to start sowing seeds. And then ask other educators and their students to do the same.
That means listening to a variety of people. Reading a variety of books. Experiencing a variety of voices. And be willing to share what I uncover with you.
I’ve been creating a list of things I want to spend time with. Maybe it will be useful for you. If it is, mess with what you can right now. Squirrel away the rest for later. And feel free to add whatever is working for you and your kids.
What I’ve read. What I’m reading. What I’m gonna read.
Before you dig in, follow the advice of my son and read through this NPR article that encourages us to “decolonize” our bookshelves. He pointed out that looking at our bookshelves with a critical eye is a great reminder for us to examine our other bubbles, including what we listen to and watch.
I’m starting with these:
- Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald
- How to Be an Anti-Racist and Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
- The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
I’ll move on to these:
- White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzl
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad
- Just Mercy: A Story of Justice & Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Need a few books for the littles? Try these and these
And I get that starting off by asking ourselves and others to read a book can seem overwhelming.
“Really? Read a whole book?”
First . . . put that discomfort in perspective – maybe reading a book isn’t really that difficult. Comfort indicates complacency. We need to be willing to lean into not just the discomfort of actually reading a book, but the discomfort that comes from what the content is telling us.
But it might be a hurdle for someone else, so feel free to recommend more easily digestible media:
- Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh
- The Racial Wealth Gap by Vox and Netflix
- Seeing White podcast by Scene on Radio
- Jose Vilson is the math teacher I should have had in school and never did. Read him for the pedagogy. Stay for his insight on a wide variety of topics. Then buy his book.
- The Root was launched by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and is one of the leading African American news outlets. Get a flavor of their reporting with A Letter Not from a Birmingham Jail
- What ‘White Folks Who Teach in the Hood’ Get Wrong about Education interview with Dr. Chris Emdin
- How to Talk to Your Family About Racism. Be ready to insert the words “colleagues” or “students” or “school board” in place of Family
- Don’t Say Nothing from Teaching Tolerance
- If you need a movie, there are movies
No one lesson or unit design is going to fix everything
But we’re sowing seeds, right? So it’s okay to start small with stuff from the list below. Browse through some of these and be willing to adapt them for your kids and your content.
- The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture knows how necessary it is to talk about race, no matter how hard. Their Talking About Race section provides tools and guidance to empower your journey and inspire conversation.
- Teaching Ideas and Resources to Help Students Make Sense of the George Floyd Protests, a massive set of material from the New York Times and other news organizations.
- I love PBS LearningMedia. And I especially love this four page Google Doc packed with great lessons on protests.
- EdWeek put together 15 Classroom Resources for Discussing Racism, Policing, and Protest.
- We need to be intentional about integrating art and music. So be sure to explore Art That Confronts and Challenges Racism: Start Here.
- Teaching Tolerance has so much. So start with Let’s Talk About Race, 34 pages that provide questions, guidance, and great suggestions for learning more yourself but also how to support a productive learning space.
- Understanding “Protest” from the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History project
- DC Area Educators for Social Justice has a ton of resources for both elementary and secondary teachers.
- A Guideline for Teaching about Controversial Topics from Morningside Center.
- The Anti-Defamation League has multiple articles and resources: Teaching about Racism, Violence, Inequity and the Criminal Justice System, When Perception and Reality Collide: Implicit Bias and Race, and 10 Ways Youth Can Engage in Activism
- Need some specifics about what it can look like when addressing racism in the classroom? Browse this post titled 100 Race-Conscious Things You Can Say to Your Child to Advance Racial Justice. Yes, it’s for parents but a lot of transfer here.
The NCSS C3 Framework and Inquiry Arc encourage our students to take informed action. Now’s a good time for us to do that. Find out more about what that might look like using some resources from Refinery29.
Simply reading a few books, listening to a couple of podcasts, delivering a lesson, and even taking informed action won’t provide an immediate resolution to racial injustice and systemic racism. But they just might be the seeds leading us a little closer to the America we all teach about.
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Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Speaking and Consulting page.