Teaching racism

You have probably heard the story of 14 year old Ahmed who made a clock, took it into school and was handcuffed by the police for having a hoax bomb. First, I feel for the kid. It must have been a terrifying experience, especially in the context of America’s record of police racism and violence. In this post I want to consider the other students at that school.

Children learn from the adults around them. So it is vitally important that adults who work with kids, and especially teachers are always mindful of what they are demonstrating by their behaviour.

Every child of colour in that school and beyond was shown that they cannot rely on their teachers to treat them with respect or even to keep them safe* (being handed over to the police is not being kept safe). They were taught that even teachers who should know them as individuals will react to children of colour as threats. If you can’t rely on your teacher to treat you with dignity what does that do to your sense of self?

And the white kids? The white kids were given a lesson in racial profiling. And just in case the lesson was too subtle the school sent a letter home. “this is a good time to remind your child how important it is to immediately report any suspicious items and/or suspicious behavior” i.e. “parents please remind your kids to keep practising racial profiling”. No apology. Disgusting.

So where do we go from here? We have to teach our children deliberate lessons about racism. Not just as part of history, but as something that is happening today. We have to teach empathy so that our kids learn to relate to others as human beings not stereotypes. We have to acknowledge that this is sometimes difficult. It requires effort and a commitment to keep learning.

Our kids are learning about racism. We need to make sure they learn the right lessons.

* Before you shout that the teacher was keeping all the kids safe by dealing with a potential bomb please remember that this was only ever a potential hoax bomb. The class was not evacuated. The students were never in danger.

How much help is too much?

How much help should you give your child with their homework? Coursework? CV writing? Is the answer different when paying a professional tutor for help?

Ensuring your child has time and space set aside each week to focus on their homework is clearly not too much. It’s what good parents (try to) do. And if your child struggles with their homework then it’s natural to help them look up the relevant facts, give encouragement and show them strategies to break the problem down or relate it to things they understand. That’s what tutors do.

At the other extreme, writing your child’s coursework (or paying for someone else to write it) is too much help. It’s not fair and it doesn’t help your child learn. But what about spell checking their coursework? Reviewing coursework? Paying someone else to review coursework? Where is the line? Please post your thoughts in the comments.

Back to school

This week it’s the start of a new school year and time to remember the good things about school.

Seeing your friends again. Perhaps seeing favourite teachers again. Meeting new friends. Fresh air each morning and afternoon. New topics to discover and learn about. After school clubs. A break from parents. A break for parents. New books.

Enough talk of back to school blues. Yes it’s autumn now and I miss the long summer days, but there are some really good things about school. Enjoy them!

Learning empathy part 2; for kids

Previously I spoke about empathy (link here) and how it can be learned. This post will discuss how that can apply to children.

All parents want their children to grow up to be kind, successful and have good relationships with other people. Therefore we should be teaching our children empathy. How do you do that?

First, remember that children copy adults. If they are surrounded by empathetic adults they are likely to pick up empathy. Model the behaviours you’d like to see in your kids so that they are surrounded by them every day. Think hard about the other adults that your children spend time around. Do they show the kinds of behaviours that you’d like your children to pick up?

Always treat your child with empathy, by accepting their emotions (even difficult or ‘negative’ emotions). Remember that they can’t change their emotions, and if they are tired, angry, sad etc. the emotions are real and not being generated to annoy or control you. Even if they are upset about something that seems unimportant to you, to them it is important. Eventually you can help them learn that they can control how they behave when they feel difficult emotions. We’ll talk more about that in a future post.

Help your child to name their emotions. Having a name for something makes it less confusing and is calming. It is also a way for your to acknowledge your child’s emotion and a first step towards your child learning to recognise the emotions that others are feeling.