Things I’ve learned while teaching black children…


Couple of interesting blog posts got me thinking…

Blogging Prejudice: Aren’t We Past This Yet? « Lorelle on WordPress

First, Lorelle On WordPress asks why we still express prejudice even while doing something as “new” as blogging. Since prejudice still exists in society, it’s no surprise to me that it would crop up in online communities too. One of the most interesting things about being white and teaching black students is what you can learn about how whites see blacks.

I allude to this in my comment on Lorelle’s blog. That evening, I had just returned from a field trip with our sixth grade class to a local water park. The trip went like a dream. The kids were great, there were no problems (and given the difficulties in getting this trip going, that was a blessing). As we were about to leave, a staff member asked to speak with one of our students, and young black girl I’ll call G. Another girl, who was white, was making a complaint that while they were in the wave pool, G had run her float ring into her neck on purpose, and was “threatening”. G said she did run into the girl on accident (it’s a wave pool, and my experience was that you get tossed around alot). She said, “Oh, my bad”, and the girl began following her around as they left to another area. The teacher of the other girl was insistent that her student wouldn’t lie, “because she has all outstandings on her behavior marks,” (implying that G did not have those same marks). Since we were leaving at that point, we told them, that’s nice, we’re leaving. What if this was just a really bad miscommunication based in prejudice? Maybe G did say, “My bad,” and the other girl heard sarcasm, and assumed it was deliberate, not understanding G’s tone and choice of words were not flippant because she assumed the worst about a black girl?

This is not the first time I’ve had a “field trip” experience like this. I recall a field trip up to the State Capitol with my first class of fourth graders from Oakland. When we walked up to the docent I could literally see on her face the look of dismay at a class full of black children. They were behaving just fine, but she began barking orders at them about where to go and what to do. It was a really scary lesson in sociology.

When you look at the Lorelle posts, there is an interesting comment after mine which I’m thinking is referring to my oblique comment on my field trip experiences. He shows his prejudice and assumptions in his comment (if he is referring to my comment) by making a comments about “dressing like thugs”. I wonder what “thugs” wear to a water park (besides tats)? G seemed to be modestly dressed in a tankini, but maybe that’s the latest in thug girl wear, but this isn’t about what she was dressed in, but this gentleman’s assumptions about her appearance, no?

Next blog link was from Dangerously Irrelevant, which had a link to Project Implicit, an activity that will show you if you have a preference for blacks or whites. I prefer white faces, better not tell dh (click for the punchline). I think about this a lot when it comes to discipline issues. I don’t want to be one of those teachers who insists they treat all kids the same (I don’t — but I do want to treat them all fairly) and can never examine the decisions I make, so I like things like this that make me pause and think.

Okay last post to reflect on comes from Doug Noon at Borderland. He posts about teaching about justice in the classroom, and how this is under attack from folks who consider it “frivolous” (“they need to learn to write, not complain” –maybe they could learn to write their complaints?) Here is my anecdote on this…Back when I first met my husband at San Francisco State, he related this story to me. He was an older student (26 when we met), slowly working his way through school while working. He had grown up in the 60s the foster child of much older parents (his dad had lied about his age at 16, and went off to fight in WWI–no, I didn’t leave off an “i”). His parents had grown up in the segregated South of East Texas, and shared some of that experience. Terry ran into a young white man (younger than him) from suburban San Diego. The subject of Rosa Parks had come up, and the young man couldn’t understand what the conflict was. Terry explained that she didn’t want to sit on the back of the bus. The young gentleman from San Diego didn’t understand, sit on the back of the bus? What did that mean? Terry then explained about Black Codes and Jim Crow laws. The young man didn’t believe they existed, why would people put up with that, it couldn’t happen! You could say that this story does not have anything to say about teaching a justice curriculum, the gentleman had made an error of fact, BUT…he is also not willing to conceive that a situation like segregation could even have existed. This shows poor critical thinking, because he can’t conceive that such conditions could exist. Without social justice education, students will have difficulty in seeing other points of view, and seeing others as they are, instead of how they are perceived through a prejudiced lens.

9 Comments to

“Things I’ve learned while teaching black children…”

  1. June 15th, 2007 at 9:19 am      Reply Rick Says:

    Social justice should be an integral part of teaching kids across the curriculum…not something we do as an aside. And yes, I’ve experienced this same phenomenon with Hispanic kids as well. Our kids are generally well behaved, if not a little rough around the edges. There are a few places in town where they can’t get a break.

  2. June 15th, 2007 at 11:45 am      Reply Lorelle Says:

    Ouch. You make a good point on the last example. Should we teach our children that prejudice is wrong, but to be aware of it, or totally stick to one or the other – it’s totally wrong and should be beaten down where found or tolerated because “that’s just how humans are”?

    Very good points you make and I’m glad I was a part of the thinking process. Thank you!

  3. June 17th, 2007 at 10:55 am      Reply alicemercer Says:

    Thank you for the comments!

    Rick – It must be kind of heart breaking knowing that about your town.

    Lorelle – Thanks for stopping by. In response, I think you need to understand it’s there, but be comfortable enough to examine your own actions, and be willing to analyze them, and not always come up with the answer you’d like to hear, but what you need to hear. You don’t have to do this all the time, but you shouldn’t avoid it. The three hardest words in the English language are, “I was wrong.”

  4. June 17th, 2007 at 12:46 pm      Reply Kobus van Wyk Says:

    Wow, the more I read your blog, the more I realise how similar our situations are. Your wave pool experience is typical of what one could expect in a multi-cultural society. In South Africa we have been grappling with these issues for a long time; I have come to realise that many of the issues that are termed “racial” have very little to do with skin colour as such; rather, they are cultural issues. In some groups, public exuberance is culturally acceptable, while other groups prefers a more constrained public face; physical contact is natural to some, while others have a larger personal bubble; and so on. A proper understanding of the culture of others, coupled with a respect for it (we don’t have to adopt it!) goes a long way in surviving in mixed society. In spite of all of this, prejudice is so deep rooted in the hearts of many, that it will take a lot of hard work to get rid of it! Keep up the good work in building bridges.

  5. June 17th, 2007 at 3:07 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

    Now That’s what I like to see, the questions (Lorelle), the perspectives (Rick and Kobus). These are some great connections being made.

  6. June 17th, 2007 at 3:08 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

    Oh, before I forget, I’m going to add a bit in to the original post. Durff pointed out that it wasn’t clear why I wasn’t telling my husband I “flunked” the test on Project Implicit. You need to click on the link from “dh” to get the joke.

  7. June 17th, 2007 at 3:25 pm      Reply Doug Noon Says:

    Your observation that a person has to know *something* from either direct experience or learning about someone else’s before they can form a concept of “social justice” is a good (maybe the best) reason to keep talking about it. One of the commentors on my post said that objections to justice-oriented topics may be based on a belief that there are no injustices. At first I thought that was an absurd possibility, but the more I read and think about this I see that it may, in fact, be the case.

    I enjoyed your field trip tales, which make me think that there must be some universal truths about exposing kids to new cultural experiences.

  8. June 17th, 2007 at 11:42 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

    Doug – Thanks for the comment. I liked your bit on new cultural experiences, but who learned the most on that field trip, G–who was probably wrongly accused of committing a wrong, or the other girl? Did anyone learn a good lesson–cause I don’t think G’s accuser learned anything, just confirmed her prejudices. I think maybe G learned that there were some white authority figures (the teachers at our school) who would hear her side of the story.

  9. June 18th, 2007 at 9:05 am      Reply Doug Noon Says:

    Prejudices are mostly unconscious, I think, based on categories we’ve created to help us make sense of the world, and to avoid danger. It’s hard for us to confront those when they expose something we don’t want to see, because we have to reorder our thinking about not only the world, but about ourselves.

    In the heat of the moment, dealing with a crowd of kids, it often happens that we have to “move along” and don’t have time to deal with every injustice – which is something that bothers me about crowd management and teaching. Sometimes I have a follow-up discussion in private with the kid who may have been wronged, because I do want to find out what they think happened, what they learned, as you put it.


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