Teachers: Making Space to Talk about Race by Marissa McGee

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

“My students are too young.”

“It’s not my place, parents probably prefer to talk about this at home.”

“We don’t have time; it’s not in the scope and sequence.”

Perhaps you’ve heard these arguments for not talking about race and racism in the classroom. Perhaps you’ve uttered some of these things yourself. With the recent events that are impacting the Black community, a lot of people are talking about race and racism right now. Many are wondering how to talk about it. As a teacher, race is something that isn’t specifically outlined in our lesson plans, but it’s everywhere. Conversations about race and racism can be daunting, but I’m here to say, your students aren’t too young, we can collaborate with parents, and race should be in the scope and sequence.

Studies show that children start to notice differences at a very young age. Not only do they notice differences, but we all know that kids are super curious. Students are truly like sponges. We should capitalize on the opportunities to help them soak up all that they can in a learning environment that is both safe and brave. Plus, teachers have an opportunity to help students go from sponges that soak up information, to sparks that can use that information to ignite change.  

As educators, we can engage in two-way communication with families about our plans to discuss race. Ask caregivers what they’ve already discussed. Share questions that students have posed. Then, share your plans to address those questions. Be prepared to hear that some parents might not want their children to participate in these discussions. 

Finally, it might not be in the scope and sequence for the year, but it should be. When we don’t talk about race, or talk about it occasionally, what are we communicating to our students? We should talk about race outside of a month or a holiday. Zaretta Hammond refers to the practice of talking about race and culture only around holidays as a tourist curriculum. Our students’ racial identities don’t cease to exist outside of a holiday or a month. Plus, a tourist curriculum is often celebratory in nature. While it is important to celebrate and acknowledge all of the contributions by people of color, we must also discuss the oppression that people of color in this country have experienced. 

When we don’t talk about race, are we actively helping students build their identities? Does our silence help students become anti-racist co-conspirators? If you answered “No” to those questions, then you might agree that we should talk about race and racism in class. Now, how do we talk about it? I have three words for you: just do it. 

Just start reading.

Just start listening.