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.

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