Educators need to teach about racism.

Educators need to teach about racism. It’s impact on America’s past and present is undeniable, and there needs to be a counter-narrative provided to the “all lives matter” deflection coming from places of power and privilege. Clearly all lives don’t really matter to them, or our domestic and foreign policies would look much different.

But what can we do? We face a couple hurdles:

  1. Teaching truthfully or speaking truthfully about ways America has fallen and presently falls short of it’s professed ideals can get you labeled an America-hater, as opposed to a true citizen who understands civic responsibility and action.
  2. Curriculum was scrubbed of much beyond college and career ready goals in the most recent wave of attacks on public education (a.k.a. “education reform”). This resulted in a disproportionate amount of effort going into ELA and Math-the primary areas targeted for testing and accountability.

“Accountability” in this paradigm means find a way to blame schools and teachers for problems our social and economic policies create.

Existing political and economic establishments continue to suppress human potential.

The establishment deflects from our social and moral obligations. It does this to draw focus instead towards easily measured and exploited data that will validate, serve and preserve the establishment and its agenda. That’s why “education reform” is such a joke: it’s defined and driven by an establishment that resists needed reform itself and seeks only to perpetuate itself. It’s hard to teach about racism when the message from that establishment is:

What do you mean corruption, growing inequity, police brutality and racism? Look how bad your school’s test scores are!

So why should we be educating learners on the topic of racism?

What good is “college and career ready” if a students aren’t reality-ready and society-ready? Currently, citizens’ rights, civic engagement, and cloudy definitions of patriotism are in-our-faces realities. Many people want to remove monuments to racist history, while other people defend those monuments as American history, or “heritage”. But a heritage made up of what qualities and beliefs?

Protestors are in the streets demanding verification of the fact that Black Lives Matter, because time and time again it has appeared that those lives do not matter, are taken for granted, or are simply taken with impunity. To address this, educators need to be prepared to teach about racism. From the beginning, educators in America need to be honest with learners: racism was baked into our society from day one.

Honest examination of this history does not mean you “hate America”, it means you genuinely want to understand America as you move forward as an informed citizen.

How can we educate learners on the topic of racism?

That is a bit heavy for primary and elementary students, but we can certainly start young with how people should treat each other, and move towards a look at how our nation has or has not risen to that ideal. Think about it in terms of starting with simple classroom rules that should apply to the world outside of school as well. Pretty much the type of rules you would and should introduce at the beginning of the school year anyway.

Robert Fulghum is a great place to start, I think. In his All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten Fulghum lists essential understandings regarding “how to live, what to do, and how to be.” Very basic, intuitive things, but at the same time things that are forgotten when doing the right thing is inconvenient or uncomfortable.

For example, the first things on Fulghum’s list are:

Share everything,

Play fair

Don’t hit people

I try to keep my own rules short, simple and accessible-you know, kid friendly stuff. Fulghum keeps it warm and fuzzy, and teachers should at first too. Hold off on Don’t shoot little kids on the playground and Don’t choke people to death on street-corners until at least second or third grade.

Make the link between these things we intuitively know are right, and what we should be able to honestly admit is wrong later on.

Instead of planting any ideas, I like to let students lead this thought process and discuss. Try this exercise in early elementary school thought-you could apply it to any grade because it is more appropriate to further develop as students get older:

You are the captain of an alien spaceship sent out from your home planet to explore the farthest reaches of space. When you land on Earth, you want to record your observations about the strange new place and the creatures and beings living there. Describe:

The human beings encountered in the explorer’s log.

Knowledge or gifts you want to share with the human beings. What do you tell them?

Things you hope human beings can share with you- what do you want to find out from them?

The more endearing responses will probably come from the youngest students. That is where the more pro-social behaviors are reinforced. The Do unto others… code. Older students might have become more jaded or started to develop some world-view or political identity, but don’t be surprised if they are still overwhelmingly in the peace and kindness zone.

Regardless, this is a good opportunity to extend thought. Ask “How should you behave when traveling and meeting new people, especially when arriving where they live?” The discussion might even include some personal experience stories.

Where it can get interesting is when you shift to American history, the mythos supporting “discovery”, and relationships between races.

After having had the chance to discuss alien space-explorer “log entries”, and What should YOU do if vacationing to a new country, ask students:

1) What do you know about Christopher Columbus?

and

2) What do you think his observations were after arriving on land?

This is another share back and discuss opportunity. Groups are great for this because some know more than others, and some can articulate thoughts better than others. Older students may have already been primed for heavier discussions centering on European conquest, but younger ones are likely more familiar with the myth of Columbus’s “discovery” of the “new world”. Brave Christopher Columbus ventured out across the ocean, discovered a new world, and America is great.

Primary age students might truly think Columbus thought and intended good things-as a responsible traveler and visitor should. After discussing some student thoughts regarding what Columbus’s observations might have been, let students know that we actually know what he thought. He kept a log, he wrote letters…We have a pretty solid recorded history of what he did.

Share with students Columbus’s initial impressions of the place, and of the people who lived where he made landfall.

In a 1493 letter to one of his patrons, Lord Raphael Sanchez, Columbus wrote:

“…mountains of very great size and beauty, vast plains, groves, and very fruitful fields, admirably adapted for tillage, pasture, and habitation. The convenience and excellence of the harbors in this island, and the abundance of the rivers, so indispensable to the health of man, surpass anything that would be believed by one who had not seen it.”

Of the people, Columbus says:

“…they are very simple and honest, and exceedingly liberal with all they have; none of them refusing anything he may possess when he is asked for it, but on the contrary inviting us to ask them. They exhibit great love towards all others in preference to themselves: they also give objects of great value for trifles, and content themselves with very little or nothing in return.”

How do these words make Columbus sound? What does he think of this place and the people? Admiration, awe, maybe what sounds like fondness for these generous kind people? This might match some of the student thoughts regarding what might have been going on in Columbus’s mind.

The kicker:

Then you tell them that his communications and log entries also included

“But, should Your Majesties command it, all the inhabitants could be taken away to Castile [in Spain], or made slaves on the island. With fifty men we could… make them do whatever we want.”

Or when you let them know that Columbus and his brother were not brave heroes, but cruel rulers and thieves that brutalized and decimated the population and left what would become Haiti devastated. Aura Bogado, in this 2015 article wrote:

“Haiti remains the poorest country in the all of the Americas; the European Union region remains one of the wealthiest in the world. This isn’t because of some innate curse on Haiti. It’s because its peoples, their labor, their lands, and their resources have long been embezzled without reparation.”

This is what Columbus did. He didn’t discover, he pillaged.

When we teach about racism, we don’t want to share the gruesome details with our youngest students. They should simply understand how racism has hurt people throughout our nation’s history, how a race believing itself superior will tend to be inhumane towards other races.

Also: They should be able to see who has and does benefit from the implementation of racist policies and practices. For the elementary youngsters, a gentler and somewhat diluted version is more appropriate.

Even better, another reflection question:

What if space travelers arrived on Earth, looked down on us and treated us with disrespect? Enslaved us, stole our children and separated families? Forced us to work for them and were cruel to us if we failed to please them?

What would us human beings do if that happens? Would we protest in the streets? Should we?

Building Brainpower 1: Hide-n-Seek, Dad’s Way

Learning can seem like magic when you observe it.

Starting with “peekaboo”, then moving to on-the-spot games like cover-uncover the binky (or some favorite little toy) with the spit-cloth, you are making magic happen. You are laying the foundation for a mind. Object permanence, the notion that even if I can no longer see it, I know that it exists. That quickly grows into I know it exists, and that it is somewhere where I can’t see it right now, so I COULD go find it. That’s where I’m heading with this: hide-n-seek.

First is the drive to explore, find things, get things, get into things…To recall where those things are kept and go there to get them! Who hasn’t found their child, new to and excited by the mobility of crawling, in the lower cabinets? Or in the laundry basket pulling out folded clothes; in the kitty litter pan pulling out…

Yeah, those kiddie cabinet locks are a pain, but you need them because kids are smart. And that’s just baseline smart with little effort or intent on behalf of the parent. The little rats basically come wired for trouble.

This is why intent and effort at this early stage have incredible returns on investment later on.

You really need to guide the development that itty-biddy humans are pre-wired for, because they’ll figure stuff out, alright. A responsible adult can move them in the direction of the right stuff to be figured out. While “responsible adult” might not apply to me in the traditional sense, I still attacked parenting with a mission in mind. I wanted my daughters to be super-sharp and out-of-the-box thinkers. Unafraid, self-assured, confident… And I know that type of person and mind is built. Beginning this building right out of the gate maximizes success.

At the same time baby-mind is developing that concept of object permanence with things, it is beginning to grasp the same concept with people. For example: Mommy or Daddy aren’t in the room, I can’t see or hear them, but if I call or cry they’ll come because they’re somewhere. They exist nearby and if I need something, they can help.

Once that understanding becomes locked in, baby starts to sleep in later, maybe start waking up giggling or babbling instead of crying for comfort because they know that comfort isn’t far away when they need it. They start to self-soothe and then even self-entertain. Baby thinks “Those important nurturing others that tend to me are somewhere nearby, so I can take a few minutes to swat away at that mobile, or shake and interrogate this Teddy here and try to make him answer a few questions.”

Okay, maybe not exactly that, but you get the picture.

The simpler object permanence concept starts to connect to the people and things in the environment and there is now an awareness of places beyond the immediate space-empowering planning to pursue some need or curiosity. Behavior is starting to become goal oriented and reaching out for other places and discoveries as mobility and curiosity increase.

Hide-n-seek is a powerful tool at this time because it exploits both the desire to interact and the growing desire to explore. Parents and guardians are vital in the development of mind and mindset, and you might as well have fun while you’re doing it.

The learning that goes on is perpetual, and it accumulates…

…threading, spreading, reaching, winding and weaving-making connections between things already known and the new things discovered- a nucleus of self and security shoots feelers out to establish other smaller conceptual “home-bases” (for parents, home, rooms, toy box, favorite foods…) that also shoot out to connect to related concepts. A connection might be made between the unusual sound of Mommy calling from some room where her voice resonates, and the room that makes it happen. That connection is made as Baby gets carried to it for a bath. The resonant sound is now attached to that bath place and Baby can hear in-person how it sounds, maybe shouting to hear their voice do it.

And, oh! The little yellow squeak ducky is there in its spot. Then it’s there again, and the next time, and again, every time it’s bath time. Pretty soon the mind has grasped where to go to find and get Ducky- It’s Loudvoice-Bathplace. When Baby becomes More-mobile Baby, he/she just might escape your sight, especially when you hit the walking/climbing stage. They’ll be on the way up the stairs to get Ducky on their own because they’ve pretty much mapped home in their memory.

They have become an adept seeker, and are now ready.

Stretching the mind of an adept seeker-child.

Seeking starts in the arms of one parent while the other hides. Looking in closets, under the beds, behind the shower curtain, with an occasional sneaky giggle from under the blankets as a “clue”. Baby starts to get that Daddy, Mommy (Brother, Sister…) are somewhere, but hiding on purpose, and the fun is discovering where.

Now while you are strengthening a mind and making connections, be warned that you are also inviting future trouble. Your consistent guidance on the how/where/when/why it’s appropriate to go off seeking is crucial. Trust me, the last thing you need is to be invited to the neighbors’ for dinner and have it be your toddler looking through Mister’s sock drawer. Curious is good, precocious and lacking discipline- not good.

So with the child at this stage, mobile, and knowing the home, I am going to switch from “child/baby” and just use a name. I am going to tell you how I did this with Chloe, the oldest of my three daughters.

We had followed all the required steps. The formalities had been observed.

For Chloe, finding me had become no challenge-other than how fast could she. Our house was quite tiny. But speed is a measure for concepts that are almost reflexive that get done pretty much the same way every time. Before calcification settles in you’ve got to throw in a curve and keep that hide-n-seek nucleus loose and capable of sending out new thread-connection to some novel concepts.

So I didn’t just hide, I used dishonesty and diversions.

It was probably by the tenth time of doing the same-old same-old that I changed it up a bit. Sitting in a chair covered by a big blanket was just too easy. Hiding behind the curtains that hung to just a few inches off the floor was too easy. Dad was either the lump in his chair or the feet sticking out from under the bottom of the curtains.

So I mixed it up.

Since we had already added the “Are you ready?” yell, and the “Not yet,” or “Come find me!” response, it was easy to buy the time to play a little trick and get myself hidden. Chloe was a good counter and could get to 20 and beyond with no problem.

This time my response was “Not yet, count again!”

I was busy, you see, constructing a “Dad-lump” under some blankets on the chair. Something bigger and poofy-er for the midsection, a couple throw-pillows maybe; a knit winter cap stuffed with some socks for the head, something to fill out that lap/leg space under the bottom of the blanket. Then, for the pièce de résistance: a baseball cap perched jauntily on top and a couple boots poking out on the floor down below.

There was no way a sane person, even a child, would think that lump was me.

But they’d think it just might be!

Chloe came down the stairs and ran to the Dad-lump to tear away the hiding blankets, only to be surprised by the stuffing. And then the giggle from behind the curtain where a different pair of Dad’s shoes could be seen. Sure, it only added about five seconds to the time it took her to find me, but keeping her from finding me was the last thing I cared about. I was dropping a new, little, pliable concept-nucleus. One for subterfuge and how to do it right.

I could have stopped with the lumpy stuff covered with blankets. But the hat perched on top and the boots down below added a twist. Visible cues that Daddy is being tricky, but this is just silly. He’s not really wearing that hat or those shoes-he’s making a crazy-looking pretend Daddy! What now happens is independent creation and invention start to branch out.

Chloe would occasionally make a fake Chloe, with a hat, maybe a pair of mittens…which I had to discover loudly and with cartoon villain frustration. She also started to adopt some of my “misdirection” techniques:

“I’m under the blanket.” (When I’m really behind the curtain)

“I’m in the closet.” (When I’m really under the blanket)

“I’m behind the curtain.” (When I’m really in the closet)

She would hear where I was calling from and go directly to that spot, at which time I would protest loudly “No, not here, I’m in (that other place)!

Deception, invention, creation…

Scenarios, strategies and possibilities. A world of pretend is opened up through this kind of play. With it comes the understanding that by using the creative mind-more things become possible. I am not advocating destructive dishonesty, but an ability to conceptualize and describe possible realities, stories that haven’t been told, ways to use the materials and supplies around to make cool things happen. I don’t want you to think I had fun lying to my children. At least not yet.

Because next comes the Lying to Children as a Brain-Builder!