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?

Alternate Transcript

Here is a link to the actual transcript location the satirical edit below is based on. I am all for direct, plain talk as well as emotionally loaded hyperbole when needed-but this president is like no one I ever thought would end up elevated to the highest office in the land. Even if I have little respect for the smooth, likable talk the former president gave to our face (while doing horrendous things behind our backs)…it is far better than the petulant, oversensitive man-baby talk we are being subjected to.

So again, the “transcript” below, in the words of Kellyanne Conway , might be called an “alternative transcript”.


Well this is Black History Month, or that’s what I heard. I had to make sure it wasn’t more of that fake news you know, because it’s out there. But this is our little breakfast, our little get-together.

Hi Lynn, how are you?

Just a few notes.

During this month, we honor the tremendous history of African-Americans throughout our country and going back in time because that’s what history does you know, throughout the world, if you really think about it, right? And their story is one of unimaginable sacrifice, hard work, and faith in America. I’ve gotten a real glimpse—during the campaign, I’d go places with Ben to do some stuff and I went to some places I wasn’t so familiar with. Those are some incredible people, let me tell you. Fabulous.

And I want to thank Ben Carson, who’s black by the way, and he’s gonna be heading up HUD. That’s a big job. There’s lots of poor people that need to live somewhere in those inner city black neighborhoods. They need housing, I’m told, and I know stuff about building things but that’s a job that’s not only housing, but it’s mind and spirit. Right, Ben? And you understand, nobody’s gonna be better than Ben.

Last month, we celebrated the life of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who was also black and I have read things about him. He’s an incredible example and is unique in American history. You read all about him a week ago when somebody said I took the statue out of my office. It turned out that that was fake news.

Fake news.

The statue is cherished, it’s one of the favorite things in the—and we have some good ones. We have famous white guys too, and you might have heard them, guys like Lincoln, and we have Jefferson, a guy I heard just loved his slaves and might have had some children with one of them-a beautiful woman the history stuff I’ve seen says so. Sally something, I think.

And we have Dr. Martin Luther King. But they said the statue, the bust of Martin Luther King, was taken out of the office, and it was never even touched. So I think it was a disgrace, but that’s the way the press is. Very unfortunate.

I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn stuff about Reverend King and what he means to the blacks and so many other things. Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed. That railroad lady…Harriet Tubman I think, and that one that rode the bus- Rosa Parks, and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today. Big impact. I’m proud to honor this heritage and will be honoring it more and more. When you see how I honor it you won’t believe it. There will be so much honor.

The folks at the table in almost all cases have been great friends and supporters. Darrell—I met Darrell when he was defending me on television. I like people who don’t say bad things about me, and there are some very bad things out there. Not true. Wrong. And the people that were on the other side of the argument didn’t have a chance, right?

And Paris has done an amazing job in a very hostile CNN community. He’s all by himself. You’ll have seven people, and Paris. And I’ll take Paris over the seven. But I don’t watch CNN, so I don’t get to see you as much as I used to. I don’t like watching fake news. But Fox has treated me very nice. Wherever Fox is, thank you. Tremendous coverage and lots of the real news stuff. Beautiful women, too, am I right? Of course I’m right. Yeah the women there are beautiful.

We’re gonna need better schools and we need them soon. We need more jobs, we need better wages, a lot better wages. We’re gonna work very hard on the inner city. Ben is gonna be doing that, big league.He knows about black stuff and that’s why I brought him on. The schools and the jobs and that stuff-that’s one of the big things that you’re gonna be looking at.

We need safer communities and we’re going to do that with law enforcement. Our police are fabulous and we’re gonna make it safe. We’re gonna make it much better than it is right now. Right now it’s terrible, and I saw you talking about it the other night, Paris, on something else that was really—you did a fantastic job the other night on a very unrelated show.

I’m ready to do my part, and I will say this: We’re gonna work together. This is a great group, this is a group that’s been so special to me. You really helped me a lot. If you remember I wasn’t going to do well with the African-American community, and after they heard me speaking and talking about the inner city and saying lots of other black kinds of things, we ended up getting—and I won’t go into details—but we ended up getting substantially more than other candidates who had run in the past years. And now we’re gonna take that to new levels. I want to thank my television star over here—Omarosa’s actually a very nice person, nobody knows that. I don’t want to destroy her reputation but she’s a very good person, and she’s been helpful right from the beginning of the campaign, and I appreciate it. I really do.

Very special.