“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, 1963.
Exactly one week away from the holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bank Street’s Council of Students hosted a discussion about how to talk about race with students in our classrooms. In the age of the Black Lives Matter movement, when the killings of black people by police are headline news much too often, and with little to no justice for the families of the slain victims of the unjust brutality, it is no question why some educators and parents may want to shield their children from these tough conversations. Yet, while it may be difficult to have discussions about race with our students, what the Council of Students and all individuals present unanimously agree, is it is profoundly important that we do.
The evening was opened with introductions from all that were present. We shared our names, affiliations, and reasons for attending. The responses connected with two popular themes: people wanting to know how to talk to students about race and voicing how essential it is to have these kind of conversations with our students. After the introductions, we were given a handout that we were asked to look over with a partner and share what stood out to us about the articles. Titled, Do’s and Don’ts of Celebrating MLK Day by Teaching Tolerance, one participant shared how the following quote from the article stood out to her: “Don’t forget that King’s message went beyond ‘Black and White,’ he also dealt with issues of gendered stereotypes, poverty, and privilege.” Another participant emphasized the article’s suggestion to not “…let teachable moments pass you by.” The danger of saying nothing, of not acknowledging the problem, is far more harmful than addressing an issue that may be uncomfortable to discuss.
The Council of Students wrapped up the evening by sharing some book resources for us to help begin and facilitate conversations about race with our students:
- When Thunder Comes Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by. J. Patrick Lewis
- Negotiating Critical Literacies with Young Children by Vivian Maria Vasquez
- The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism by Debra Van Ausdale and Joe R. Feagin
- What if All The Kids are White: Anti-bias Multicultural Education with Young Children and Families by Louise Derman-Sparks and Patricia G. Ramsey
The discussion was a great opportunity to get together to share out ideas, ask questions, and brainstorm with the Bank Street community and extended community about a topic that needs to be acknowledged and addressed with students. The Council of Students’ commitment to supporting these kind conversations and addressing the hard hitting issues was appreciated that evening and affirms their mission of making life better for the entire Bank Street community.