Are You Prepared to Talk About Race?

August 18, 2017 / by Lisa Hollenbach

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Edmund Burke

This Won’t Be Easy

Important conversations never are. But our students -- and colleagues -- learn as much from what we do (or don’t do) as what we say (or don’t say). The events that transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia are likely weighing heavy on your students’ hearts and minds, just as they are on yours. You haven’t had the opportunity to learn their names, set up a structure, or lay the foundation for learning this year, but you can still create a space for your students to begin to unpack race, face history, and grapple with the lasting legacies of the past.

Social Justice Step 1

It will be difficult and emotional and uncomfortable. This may be especially true for white teachers who are worried they don’t know what to say, don’t know how to talk about race, or that they might unintentionally offend with their naiveté.

Yet, we can’t and shouldn’t avoid conversations like these --  teachers need to talk with their students about race. As smart, caring, and thoughtful professionals, it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves, to listen more than we speak, and to work to build a culture of honesty, trust, equity, and critical thinking in our classrooms in the hope that our students will carry the same into the world.

Here are a few resources to help you learn some of the basics and a few examples to help you think about how you’ll begin:

Are You Prepared To Talk About Race?

Catherine Thompson explores several ways to prepare yourself for engaging in conversations about race in her Tchers’ Voice blog post, DO NOW: What is Whiteness?

Social Justice Step 2

  • Begin by examining your own implicit biases. Once you're aware of them and where they originate, you can begin the complex work of reducing them.
  • As Catherine suggests, “Challenge yourself to be open to the results, as biases form the foundations of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination.
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching, Multicultural Education, and Social Justice education, while related, are not interchangeable. Take some time to learn the difference.

VIDEO: Tribes: Agreements for Learning Together 

April Harter recently published a more controversial piece, which defines racism as a mental illness. Included in this post is a “Racism Scale” that can help you measure where you fall on the continuum between “overt racist” and “abolitionist.”

If you're a white educator, spend some time unpacking the concept of white privilege. Be sure you understand the meaning of privilege within the context of race and socialization because it may not mean what you think. Try this Buzzfeed quiz to familiarize yourself with examples of privilege and to measure -- somewhat unscientifically -- where you fall on the scale.

The Role of Social and Emotional Learning

Conversations about current events and personal experiences through an equity lens can be tough, so you’ll want to be sure to build your own repertoire of skills to support your students as they grapple with political, social, racial, and economic issues.

Social Justice Step 3

  • Design Thinking can be a powerful tool for teachers in the development of a more equitable classroom. And check out this Tchers’ Voice blog post for five more resources to make your class more equitable.

So... are you prepared?

You've done a lot of work so far and you've certainly laid the groundwork, but before you charge into your classroom ready to make real change, you'll want to arm yourself with some great ideas and resources for teaching about, for, and with social justice.

Topics: New Teachers, Class Culture, Equity, Social Justice, Lesson Planning, Social Studies, Resources

Lisa Hollenbach

Written by Lisa Hollenbach

Lisa Hollenbach is a former high school Social Studies teacher and Department Chair, an adjunct professor, working with pre-service social studies teachers and behavioral science students, and serves as a mentor for the Teacher Leadership program at Mt. Holyoke College. Lisa is passionate about storytelling, teacher voice and leadership, collaboration, innovative instruction, social learning, and redefining professional development. Lisa is a member of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council, several ECET2 Steering Committees, and is a Co-Founder, Director, and Writing Coach for the National Blogging Collaborative, a non-profit organization that cultivates and supports the capacity of all educators to use their unique voice to elevate the craft of teaching and learning. Lisa leads the Collaborative in engagement and social media storytelling. Connect with Lisa on Teaching Channel, on her blog, or on Twitter: @lisa_hollenbach.

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