In accordance to how I’m sure everyone in our class felt, I was quite surprised by how few women of color figures we could name. I felt awfully embarrassed and ashamed of how I don’t even realize or think about the lack of people of color in our school curriculum until it is brought to my attention. In relation to the discussion about how and when to teach students about various important people of color, I think that first, we need to teach children about the history and reality of racism. I remember when I was in high school, topics about American history always focused on boasting the amazingness of our Founding Fathers. Topics about slavery were always tiptoed around or talked about in an academic manner, which completely dismissed the severity of the history of racial segregation in the United States. Yes, we discussed how wrong slavery was and how we have progressed since then, but the inhumane treatment was never emphasized which I think is vital for students to learn about in order to realize how we need to change the way we look at skin color today. By the time students enter high school, they have already been exposed to the societal behaviors towards racism and are acting accordingly which I think is too late to salvage the misconceptions. However, in A Class Divided, the experiment showed how effective it could be to have children learn about the unjustified behaviors and attitudes about race. In 1968, Jane Elliot (who was from an all-white town in Iowa) had split her third grade class into “blue eyes” and “brown eyes.” Each group had spent time being the superior group and the inferior group, and the purpose of this experiment was to allow her students to experience what it felt like to be a minority in today’s society and how there is no justification for marginalizing people of color, or people who are different in general.
There has been debate about when to teach people about such complicated matters, but I think that there is no better time than when they are young and before they are exposed to the embedded (and unconscious?) discriminating behaviors. I am constantly reminded of how racial discrimination is a societal construct whenever I am around young children who don’t even notice differences in physical appearances. For example, I met a five year old child (who was aesthetically and racially would have been called white) refer to herself as beige. It is at this age that we have to teach children that people may look different, but that doesn’t make them any different on the inside. I think that in order to reach for equality, there needs to be a change in our school curriculum to start talking about race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. in elementary school in such a way that young students will be able to understand that people are fundamentally the same.
If you would like to check out A Class Divided, the link of the full documentary is:
It’s about an hour long, so if you don’t have time for that, here’s a 10 minute snippet of the experiment: