By Luke Tyson (’20)
This post was originally published on Luke Tyson’s blog, luketyson.com, where you can read more of his insights and observations.
I was having a conversation with an English teacher at my school the other day about how she could implement the “taboo” topic of racial bias into her curriculum. I had shared with her a book I had recently read (How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon – 10/10 recommend) that painted a fairly vivid picture of perceived racial trends and their effects in our community, and she noted that she would have loved to have had her class read it. However, the book was targeted towards a “more mature” audience, and the profanity prohibited her from doing so. Now, according to this teacher, it was not merely that one book she was forced to refrain from teaching, but rather that she had gone through several already, none of which she found suitable to teach to a group of middle school students. But the thing is, the particular teacher I’m talking about is so dedicated to her goal of teaching about race and its role in modern society that if she can’t find the materials she needs to provide appropriate curriculum to her students, I don’t have much hope for all the other teachers out there wanting to address this topic in their classes.
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that literature and other materials about race and inequity are targeted towards people of older ages (e.g. college students), which makes it extremely difficult for schools and teachers to address the topic. Society seems to view this type of injustice as “just too political” to teach to us kids, which makes curriculum and reading on racial bias targeted towards youth scarce.
Yet there are evident effects of this ridiculous judgement that race is not appropriate for students to be learning about in class: in my school career, never has a book with a modern race-based theme been taught in a classroom.
However, if my generation is going to be raised to knock down the racial divisions that have stood in our society for centuries, and to combat racial inequity, we need to be starting from a young age, in schools. Here are three key reasons that education and school conversations about race are necessary:
- Race Is Relevant – Whether we like it or not, race is one of the first things individuals notice about a person. Regardless of the fact that it is most definitely not a choice, assumptions are still made every day about people because of the color of their skin. Schools can try to ignore it, but the truth is that this practice occurs in education settings just as often as anywhere else. Turning a blind eye to the issue will only exasperate the problem.
- Taboo Starts In Schools – If schools are going to continue to avoid talking about race because of its controversiality, not only is it going to show students that race is not something to be discussed in school, but also in life. For the habits developed at school are often ones that people carry on throughout their lives, and having a taboo attitude towards race-based issues is counteractive to addressing the problem. The only way we are going to be able to tackle this issue is through having an open conversation about this sensitive topic, and that conversation starts in education settings.
- Another Type Of Education – School is the place youth, like myself, go to be prepared for life. However, the preparation process cannot merely be in one facet. The fact is that I am going to learn just as much (if not more) by having meaningful conversations about racial bias in school as I will by learning about parabolic curves in math and atomic energy levels in science. If a school’s job is to truly prepare their students for life, relevant, important topics like racial bias are just as important as English and history.
Youth are not truly being educated when highly sensitive topics (which are some of the most relevant topics) like racial bias and inequity are being ignored. I am thankful that teachers like the one at my school are willing to try to teach lessons about race, but in order to assure that teachers are able to address this topic in their lessons, we have to make educational resources and materials addressing the topic suitable for youth more available. Really, in our culture, it doesn’t matter how old you are for race to be relevant. Society embeds racial slights and stereotypes into us from a young age, so we need to begin to combat them from a young age as well.
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