Authors: Mackenize Abernethy, Camisia Glasgow, and Lindsay Turchan
Inequalities embedded in the history of the United States—the legacies of colonialism, slavery, and imperialism—and the resilience of communities of color striving for liberty and equity, may gain more of a spotlight in the classroom during Black History Month.
These discussions may raise new questions for some students and a stronger desire to see more diversity represented in history. Many educators recognize the importance for all students to see themselves (and their ancestries) reflected in roles and events that have shaped our world. Educators might encourage students to discuss experiences of race on a more personal level, sharing lived experiences and their understandings of identity. As campuses and classrooms become increasingly diverse, it is often up to teachers to create opportunities for equitable inclusion. This can be unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or intimidating territory for teachers and students alike. Fortunately, many experienced researchers and educators have shared tips and tools for success.
Here we have compiled an annotated list of online sources that we hope will equip teachers to constructively engage students on topics of race, diversity, and identity, as well as create and sustain inclusive classrooms, and expand conversations about civil rights and contemporary inequalities beyond Black History Month. This list is certainly not complete, and we invite educators to share other useful resources.
Talking About Race:
What is race? What is racism? Should teachers talk about race in the classroom? Why can it be difficult to discuss? How can we productively approach complex, sensitive or controversial topics with students? The following resources, lesson plans, and activities offer suggestions for guiding thoughtful classroom conversations and helping students work towards a conceptual understanding of race and racism.
- The lesson plan Talking About Race and Racism from Teaching Tolerance asks students to rate their personal comfort level when it comes to talking about these complex topics, consider differences in the intention and the impact of words, and review inherent bias and stereotypes.
- Race and Violence Should Be a School-Wide Subject, a blog post from Edutopia, analyzes school and classroom responses to racism. The post offers a series of suggestions for how to talk about race and racism, providing numerous examples for why this is particularly relevant today.
- Helping Students Deal with Uncertainty in the Classroom, a blog post from Edutopia, discusses the difficulties, but also the benefits of encouraging students to grapple with uncertainty in the classroom. While this post does not specifically address how to talk about race, it does provide a number of arguments for pushing students to confront the uncomfortable, as race and racism often are for many students.
- Edutopia offers eight five-minute videos that explain concepts such as race, diversity, and inequality. The videos may serve as a helpful introduction into conversations about these complex ideas and others.
- My Multicultural Self, a lesson on identity as it shapes our world views, also from Teaching Tolerance, encourages students to map out the various layers of their own identities. In doing so, students reflect on how identities influence the way that people experience the world, and they discuss ways to communicate more effectively with one another.
Deconstructing Narratives of Race:
What are the origins of race and racism? What do we mean when we say that race is a social construction? Why is it important to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about race? The resources outlined below focus on contesting untrue narratives of race that some students may not have thought about critically in the past.
- What White Children Need to Know, an e-newsletter from the research and community-building cohort Be’chol Lashon, offers tactics and conversation starters for talking about race and inequality in the classroom. This resource provides insight into processes of passive racial socialization and tips for combatting it in the classroom.
- The Zinn Education Project’s lesson plan “The Color Line,” challenges students to understand race and racism as historically and socially constructed. In this lesson, students study the origins of racism in the United States. Students examine the creation of racial divisions as a strategy used by the powerful to maintain the status quo. Note: to use lessons from the Zinn Education Project, you must register to create a free account (or login via social media).
- Facing History spotlights one teacher’s effective lesson plan analyzing and discussing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” Adichie’s talk demonstrates that stories, while powerful, can also be dangerous, discussing the damage that interpreting one story as a representative of an entire group of people can do. The lesson plan engages students in important conversations about identity and stereotypes.
- The Unequal Opportunity Race, a video by the African American Policy Forum is useful for visualizing the ways in which systemic racism and privilege operate and disadvantage many. The video may help students understand how racism operates in society in ways that often go undiscussed. However, there has been controversy regarding whether it belongs in the classroom and whether it induces “white guilt.” Some teachers who have chosen to use the video as a tool with their students have faced backlash.
Creating Inclusive Classrooms:
What does it mean to create and sustain a racially inclusive classroom environment? How do teachers design racially inclusive curricula? How do teachers teach to students of different racial backgrounds, or to racially homogenous classrooms? The following resources provide some guidance for teachers looking for ways to tackle these complex and important questions in their classrooms.
- For teachers looking to choose texts that represent people of many backgrounds, Reading Diversity from Teaching Tolerance provides suggestions. For detailed, step-by-step guidance, the extended version of their guide may prove especially useful.
- Learn to Listen/Listen to Learn: Developing Deeper Conversations, a Facing History guide for facilitating classroom discussions maps out how teachers may wish to incorporate journaling, small group discussions, and class presentations to help students improve their ability to communicate and listen effectively. This approach may be particularly useful in creating a classroom culture that is both safe and productive for all students when discussing complex or sensitive topics.
- Opening up dialogues in which students are free to discuss their personal experiences and hear many perspectives, Serial Testimony is a method of facilitation that seeks to empower students by emphasizing that their personal insights are important. In addition to the facilitation method itself, this post from Teaching Tolerance discusses how approaches like Serial Testimony, created by Peggy McIntosh—author of “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” a personal essay on facing privilege—came to be and what they can offer in the classroom.
- This educator’s book review endorses Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education (2012)—the first in a series on multicultural education by Columbia Teachers’ College—as a “necessary book.” The book’s authors approach complex theoretical concepts (socialization, discrimination, oppression, privilege, etc.) in short, intuitive chapters, and aims to answer specific questions that students often ask when confronting issues of inequality. For example, two of the book’s chapter titles include, “What is oppression?” and “‘Yeah, but…’ Common Rebuttals.” Sample a free chapter for download at Teachers’ College Press.
Applying the Skills, in and out of the Classroom:
How can students apply their knowledge of concepts such as race, racism, and identity, to the world that they encounter, both in and out of the classroom, everyday? The following curriculum resources, lesson plans, and activities provide opportunities for students to apply the analytical skills that they have developed for thinking critically about race to their coursework and beyond.
- Allyship is yet another important concept for students to discuss. Teaching Tolerance’s lesson A Time to Speak: A Speech by Charles Morgan, explores the idea and role of allyship through an analysis of a speech by Charles Morgan following the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Students complete a K-W-L chart, actively listen to the speech, and engage in a discussion about their analyses.
- The Death of Michael Brown: Teaching About Ferguson, from the New York Times Learning Network, offers a collection of ideas from teachers about how to approach race, particularly in the context of the events in Ferguson, in the classroom. The article includes links to lesson plans, activities, and tools for the classroom that teachers have found useful in their classrooms. In the wake of Ferguson, educators lead by Dr. Marcia Chatelain also united to create #FergusonSyllabus on Twitter and share resources and classroom experiences in this collective Google document. In addition, Mapping Police Violence, an infographic, may spark discussion in the classroom about the relationship between race and police violence in particular with its visual representation of statistics.
- Introducing ‘The New Jim Crow’, a lesson plan with discussion-leading tips for teachers and student reading strategies from Teaching Tolerance, invites students to analyze excerpts from The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration During the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (2010). Bringing scholarship from an expert in the field into the secondary classroom in an accessible way, the lesson challenges students to draw connections between the criminal justice system and racial inequalities.
- Some students may be interested in becoming involved in the ongoing activist efforts that they have heard about in school and on social media. The Black Lives Matter website offers background on the movement as well as opportunities to engage in activism, online or in person. Exploring the website will allow students to become more informed about the ongoing activism. Other students may wish to get involved by coordinating their own event at school or in the community that calls for racial equality. Black Futures Month, a new, annual initiative by BLM (in conjunction with Huffington Post), is an online repository of the latest news, blogs, and community conversations to keep interested students and teachers up to date about continuing the conversation on racial inequalities and injustices beyond a designated month.
The Choices Approach:
- A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in New England, a curriculum unit from The Choices Program, uses readings, activities, and a simulation to help students explore the institution of slavery in New England. Students also think critically about how history, and the telling of history, affects people today. Teachers may also wish to consider constructing a short listening exercise with the 4 minute radio segment “All Americans Share a Complex Racial Past” from NPR, which also engages issues relating at the history of slavery in New England.
- Another curriculum unit from The Choices Program, Colonization and Independence in Africa, invites students to think critically about colonial and decolonial efforts in Africa. The readings, activities, and simulation challenge students to consider the perspectives of Africans–particularly Algerians, Congolese, Ghanaians and Kenyans – and the ways in which they responded to European colonialism.
- Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, a curriculum unit from The Choices Program, explores the history of the civil rights movement at the local level as well as the national level. Students complete readings, activities, and a simulation that equip them to think more complexly about how people from different backgrounds experienced and understood the civil rights movement.
- In the online lesson Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement from The Choices Program, students hear and analyze stories from former civil rights activists about what motivated them to join the movement.
- In this free lesson from The Choices Program’s Teaching with the News series, Fifty Years after the March on Washington: Students in the Civil Rights Movement, students read and analyze stories and letters written by activists who partook in the events of the Freedom Summer.
This post is part of a series that will address different aspects of teaching Black History as American History in secondary-level classrooms.