Race in the Classroom

In reading the article by Jane Bolgatz, “Talking Race in the Classroom”, she lists a number of ways students will deflect school discussions from talking about the subject of race. For example, students will often backpedal on their statements or use diversions such as humour and avoidance. Teachers have been known to also use deflection strategies as ways of avoiding awkward subjects in the classroom whether the issue personally affects us or whether we do not want to come off as “politically incorrect”. It is fundamentally important to talk about these difficult subjects in the classroom because if we do not talk about them, no change will be affected.

We might think that race is not such a big issue today as it once was however in the day of technology and our overall connectedness, it is even more important to be aware of such issues. A person might inadvertently write something controversial on their Facebook page and this can turn into a major racial issue. Politicians say things and instead of being heard by one person, that conversation is recorded and placed on YouTube for the world to see. It is extremely important that students are made aware of their actions and cognisant of the change that can happen by talking about issues or the consequences of staying silent.

Growing up I went to catholic school, where most students were caucasian and catholic. There was not a lot of racism that occurred in the school, or that I was witness to. I also do not remember having open discussions about racism in our classrooms. This could have been due to the fact that our teachers had a very good handle on the situation and dealt with the problems at the source. I do however realize that this is not the case in many schools and that students are often subjected to the issue of racism at school. This is where we must have discussion about such incidents.

There are a number of strategies that teachers can use to let students know that it is ok to talk about difficult subjects without either party using deflection tactics. Teachers can vary the size of the discussion and vary the pace of the discussion. These two aspects can inhibit participation in discussions and allow for students diversion tactics. Instead of discussing issues in large groups, students can discuss in smaller groups with the teacher supervising each group. Bolgatz mentions that when discussions get heated, students should be asked to pause to reflect through writing or visual arts. This can be a great strategy for pace variance as well because students with shorter attention spans will be able to work on various projects. The concentration may move to another project but the subject will stay the same.

According to the MELS Professional Competencies for teachers, competency number one is: “to act as a professional who is inheritor, critic and interpreter of knowledge or culture when teaching students.” Teachers must be able to articulate in the culture of the students and be able to mitigate a discussion of racism in the classroom and while it may cause some uncomfortability or distress, it is the teachers responsibility to ensure that they are knowledgeable about the issues at hand and how to guide a discussion. A sub-point of competency number one is that teachers will “transform the classroom into a cultural base open to a range of different viewpoints within a common space”. Students should be allowed to have an opinion on the matter of race and be allowed to share their point of view. This will allow everyone to share their feelings and allow open discussion to be generated.

I feel that it is highly important to discuss these issues with our students. They cannot be issues that are swept under the rug and ignored but rather should be brought forth. If a student is struggling with the issue of racism, it should be dealt with right away. The only way that we can address issues like this is to talk about them. In open classroom discussions, when students feel safe, all points of view can be accepted and this is where change can begin to occur.