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Posts tagged ‘racism’

Tip of the Week: Teaching the Holocaust, Anti-Semitism, and Making Choices

Four times a year, I get the chance to be part of the ESSDACK social studies PLC. The PLC is an offshoot of our last Teaching American History grant with the same goal – improve our history / social studies teaching knowledge and skills.

And last Wednesday, we got ton of both from Sheryl of the awesome Echoes and Reflections site. Sheryl’s on a nationwide tour, providing professional learning opportunities across the country, sharing strategies, best practices, and resources for teaching the Jewish Holocaust.

It was a powerful and emotional day, aligning perfectly with our focus this fall on teaching controversial and uncomfortable topics. (You can still access our September Google Doc with teaching resources and ideas.) Sheryl used part of the day to highlight different sections at Echoes and Reflections but much of her focus was on how best to integrate the Holocaust into our instruction.

First things first, the Echoes and Reflections site is a must see. Read more

Tip of the Week: NCSS Charlottesville response & suggested teaching resources

The Kansas state social studies standards are designed to “prepare students to be informed, thoughtful, engaged citizens as they enrich their communities, state, nation, world, and themselves.” Different benchmarks under each of the standards require that students make connections between the past and contemporary issues.

The recent Kansans Can Vision developed by the Department of Ed is pushing schools  throughout the state to focus on authentic civic engagement and integrate it across grades and content areas.

I’m sure that you have similar sorts of standards and expectations where you teach.

It’s pretty simple really. When kids are informed and thoughtful, when they understand the necessity for being civically engaged, and when they actually put into practice the ideas outlined in the founding documents, our communities and our country are a better place.

And now . . . we have the recent events in Charlottesville.

Your task as a social studies teacher has never been easy. Connecting past to present can make it harder. Conversations about race and violence harder still. It can be easy to just wait for things to blow over. But if we truly believe that what we do makes a difference, those conversations need to happen.

What can that sort of conversation look like?

The words of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are a good place to start: Read more

Raising racist kids

Wired Magizine’s GeekDad Jonathan Liu recently highlighted a new book called NutureShock: New Thinking About Children. Authored by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, NutureShock disproves many of our assumptions about how kids grow up thinking about race and race relations.

It is tempting to believe that because their generation is so diverse, today’s children grow up knowing how to get along with people of every race. But numerous studies suggest that this is more of a fantasy than a fact.

According to Liu and the research in NutureShock, here’s how to go about raising racist kids:

Step One: Don’t talk about race. Don’t point out skin color. Be “color blind.”

Step Two: Actually, that’s it. There is no Step Two.

Congratulations! Your children are well on their way to believing that <insert your ethnicity here> is better than everybody else.

What Nutureshock documents is that most white parents don’t really talk with their kids about race.

The attitude (at least of those who think racism is wrong) is generally that because we want our kids to be color-blind, we don’t point out skin color. We’ll say things like “everybody’s equal” but find it hard to be more specific than that. If our kids point out somebody who looks different, we shush them and tell them it’s rude to talk about it.

More research:

  • Only 8% of white American high-schoolers have a best friend of another race. (For students of color, it’s about 15%.)
  • The more diverse a school is, the less likely it is that kids will form cross-race friendships.
  • 75% of white parents never or almost never talk about race with their kids.
  • A child’s attitudes toward race are much harder to alter after third grade, but a lot of parents wait until then (or later) before they feel it’s “safe” to talk frankly about race.

Basically . . . silence is not golden if what we want is for kids to be tolerant and open-minded of others. So how does this apply to the classroom?

I think we’re often afraid of discussing potentially uncomfortable topics with our students because, well . . . it’s just easier not messing with it. This includes the topic of race relations.

So perhaps the best advice? Talk about differences, provide examples of positive collaboration, read authors from a variety of experiences, be honest about the past and be open to discussion.

A good place to start would be the Legacy of Brown site created several years ago as part of a Teaching American History project. You’ll find both print and web resources on race relations, lesson plans and document-based question strategies.

Because it’s too easy to ignore the important stuff.

Photo – University of Haifa

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Agreeing on the facts – why we teach history

I had the chance several years ago to listen to author and historian Sam Wineburg address the joint Kansas / Missouri Councils for the Social Studies annual conference. Sam spent some time talking about the ideas in his book Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past.

Among other things, Wineburg suggested that:

a history class should not be arguing about the facts of history – the most important argument we should be having is how do we interpret the facts. The discussions should focus on questions about meaning, not questions about facts.

His book talks about the ways that experts interpret facts and question meaning. Sam suggests that we need to train our kids to argue meaning and to think historically. Of course, his suggestion relies on the idea that facts are facts. That we don’t spend time in our classrooms “arguing about the facts” but instead what those facts mean.

But a problem begins to emerge when the facts themselves are questioned and when people twist facts, or worse, when they discount the facts completely because the facts fail to support their beliefs.

I was reminded of the problem while reading through Leonard Pitts’ weekly column this morning. A writer for the Miami Herald, Pitts starts his column with

I got an email the other day that depressed me.

Henry Johnson 1918

Pitts had written about a young African American soldier named Henry Johnson who, after singlehandedly fighting off a series of attacks by a group of German soldiers in May 1918, was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government. Of course, these facts didn’t sit well with at least one reader named Ken Thompson who wrote Pitts. Pitts quotes Thompson verbatim:

Hate to tell you that blacks were not allowed into combat intell 1947, that fact. World War II ended in 1945. So all that feel good, one black man killing two dozen Nazi, is just that, PC bull.

Never mind that black soldiers have fought in every war in US history, that Nazis didn’t exist in World War One, that Thompson can’t keep his I and II straight, and that Johnson’s exploits have been well documented in books by Lerone Bennett Jr and Rayford Logan.

A Pitt’s assistant took the time to write Thompson back and referenced a site honoring Johnson maintained by the Arlington National Cemetery. These facts also didn’t sit well with Thompson:

There is no race on headstones and they didn’t come up with the story in tell 2002.

Mmmm . . . “a history class should not be arguing about the facts of history – the most important argument we should be having is how do we interpret the facts.”

Pitts suggests that Thompson is “not just some isolated eccentric”:

To listen to talk radio, to watch TV pundits, to read a newspaper’s online message board, is to realize that increasingly, we are a people estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth. We admit no ideas that do not confirm us, hear no voices that do not echo us, sift out all information that does not validate what we wish to believe.

Some time ago, I mentioned an interesting book that supports Pitts and Wineburg. Titled True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society by Farhad Manjoo, the book documents the impact that the Web has had on our grasp on reality, facts and “truthiness.”

All of this solidifies for me the importance of high quality social studies instruction, of the need to train our kids to think and argue with facts, not feelings. Of the incredibly important place that social studies has in creating truly reflective citizens in a democracy.

It was helpful for me to go back to the American Historical Association article “Why Study History.”

When we study it reasonably well, and so acquire some usable habits of mind, as well as some basic data about the forces that affect our own lives, we emerge with relevant skills and an enhanced capacity for informed citizenship, critical thinking, and simple awareness.

Apparently Ken Thompson somehow missed those skills while in school. And as social studies and history teachers, we need to take responsibility for that. We need to do a better job of creating informed, open-minded citizens.