Monday, January 12, 2009

Carefully Taught

I couldn't be more energized by the discussion I have had with students today about racism, tolerance, and the origins of hate. It was one of those days where kids were still debating as I collected pencils, after class had ended.

After several concerned discussions with colleagues about some of the clear tension here between some of the African American students and the Hispanic students, several of us decided we needed to address the comments and behaviors directly. I have long argued for this being a part of every kid's classroom, everywhere, and so the discussion was a natural extension of the literature we read (currently 12 Angry Men), and the topics I suggest for writing.

Today's topic asked students to consider whether we have to be taught to hate, or if we come by it naturally. The evolution of their thinking over the course of the discussion was great to see. Many students initially answered that it's natural. One even wrote that there's "no choice". But when I prodded for examples, and asked follow up questions such as "Where'd those negative feelings come from?", students began listing everything from communities and schools to parents, the media and even U.S. foreign policy as ways in which kids are taught to hate. When one student mentioned Iraq as reasons why he feels the U.S. is hated by Arabs, I reminded them that Dr. King had written similar sentiments in his speech "Beyond Vietnam". King wondered how we can credibly tell kids to not solve problems by fighting when their country solves problems with bombs.

Quite rightly, I think, they also emphasized the role of envy in hatred. One student mentioned the inequalities of how students are sometimes treated in schools, a sure "hidden curriculum" if ever there was one. Another mentioned how, years ago in her kindergarten class, a classmate colored on her paper and the teacher instructed her to color on the other girl's paper, to be fair. An eye for an eye? I don't see how that's problem solving, myself. Cooperation and conflict resolution are not simply skills we absorb by day to day life. Nor are they skills teachers just intuit how to teach. It must be direct, explict and a part of every classroom.

1 comment:

Wendi said...

Cheryl, I hope you remember me, because you've been in several of my fondest memories of childhood for years and years along with another of our childhood friends, Katie Costello. I was in Facebook today and decided to do a search and searched for you hoping beyond hope that you and Katie were both connected in Facebook. When nothing conclusive turned up, I did a google search but knew that since I have no idea what your life is as an adult Cheryl Duckworth and not the 6th grader from the 80s that I knew, I'd better look at Google images. Sure enough, the first pictures was you and I knew immediately that I had to contact you. I found you through another website that then said you had a blog which led me here. Then I had a moment of pause, as old habits kicked in and I had a moment of compare-itis. You're doing amazing things, changing the world, and not doing anything of the sort. And so I felt embarrassed that maybe you'd look at my materialist life of tiara collections, jewelry making, and graduate admissions advising and think, "Wow, this is what she came to?" So I read more of your blog and thinking about the amazing things that you're doing and teaching and how you're living your life. I started to hope that my sudden self-consciousness would be for nothing because you'd be happy (I hope) to hear from an old friend and ignore the lack of world changing activities in my life. (I collect tiaras.)

But here I am and I hope that you'll at least remember me. I've been looking for you and Katie for several years, all online but not really doing a very good job of finding either of you. My Google-Fu is not very good I'm afraid.

I'd love to hear from you. My email is I have a blogger too - two in fact - where I blog about the jewelry I make and sell and where I bitch and moan and laugh and am silly about my life and the things that go on in it. (Although of late it's been more bitching and moaning than anything as grad admissions is not always the most fun, especially when you work with personality lacking computer geek/engineers.)

Anyway, hope to hear from you soon,
Wendi Decker-Miller