Creating the Space to Talk About Race

Racial Justice is Education Justice

Our education system is intended to uphold equal opportunity, but too often it also entrenches racial disparities by its design. We are engaging educators, students and allies to foster real dialogue around issues of racial justice in education, to examine policies and practices in our school systems and our communities, and to mobilize and take action for education justice.

NEA activists launch series of video “primers” for anti-racist white educators

Luke Michener and Terry Jess are both white, male educators who teach at Bellevue High School in Washington state. They feel they have little to add to conversations about race with students and colleagues of color that those students and colleagues don’t already know themselves, based upon their own experiences in the classroom, and, more broadly, living in the United States.

On the other hand, Terry and Luke feel they do have a lot to offer other white educators who are committed to racial equity in education, but may not know where to begin.

Inspired by their own experiences working with students trying to reconcile their own identities with the realities of the world around them, as well as conversations they had at the 2017 NEA Conference on Racial and Social Justice, Terry and Luke created a series of YouTube videos they hoped could provide other white educators with ideas, insights and tools to better engage in racial equity work in their own schools and communities.

Terry now has more than 80 short videos on his YouTube channel, anchored around a 10-part series co-hosted by the pair titled “Primer for anti-racist white educators.” Read the full blog post about their video project.

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Terry & Luke’s Video Primers for Anti-Racist, White Educators:

 

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Young Activist Explains Institutional Racism in Under 2 Minutes

Marley Dias already knew that racism and other built-in barriers were “keeping kids like me from reaching our full potential.” Tackling racism, she says, begins with a conversation. In a national video on institutional racism, Dias looks to educators across the country and asks:

“Do you care enough to look closer, to talk to each other. To your students, to your communities?… To change the dialogue?”

 

 

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Two Children, Two Zip codes, Two Outcomes. Time for Change.

A student’s chances for success should not depend on living in the right zip code, winning a charter lottery, or affording private school. Every child deserves access to a system of publicly funded, equitable and democratically controlled public schools. When we short-change some students, we short-change our nation as a whole.

 

 

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Black Lives Matter at School

The goal of Black Lives Matter at School is to spark an ongoing movement of critical reflection and honest conversation in school communities for people of all ages to engage with issues of racial justice.

At universities and K-12 schools around the country — from a majority white high school outside of Seattle, to a majority African-American school district in Philadelphia — students and educators are fostering intentional conversations about racism and its impact on classrooms, and standing up for racial equity in education.

View our main Black Lives Matter at School page and our Black Lives Matter at School Resources page.

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Muslim American educators driving change in the classroom, across the country

Nagla Bedir and Luma Hasan, both social studies teachers in New Jersey, co-founded Teaching While Muslim to help address some of the challenges and frustrations they experienced as students growing up as Muslim Americans.

Trying to articulate a complex identity when faced with peers and educators who have a limited understanding of what it means to be Muslim often left Nagla and Luma on the defensive, responding to micro-aggressive questions and bigoted accusations that would not be necessary if school curricula were fully inclusive. Now as educators, they are driving the change to address this lack of inclusion.

Bedir and Hasan took a few minutes to talk about their efforts and where they see their work headed. Read the full Q&A. 

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Additional Resources

Want to help reduce racial bias, tension and/or harassment in your school community? Check out the following resources, lesson outlines and blog posts.

 

 

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What is your truth? How do you see the issue of race play out in our country?, community and schools? What experiences have you had growing up and as an adult that have informed your view of race? Has that view shifted over time? Why? Why not?

Before we started any dialogue, it’s important to check in with ourselves and understand what experiences (both positive and negative) we are bringing to the discussion. This is our lens through which we see and understand our world. When our core truth is clear to us, only then can we evaluate our understanding and begin to ask more questions.

 

What do you value? How do your beliefs about your students, your culture and/or your faith influence what you value? What results do you want to see for our nation’s students and our public schools? How do these values influence your perspectives on race?Our values form the core of how we relate to our nation’s problems and opportunities. When we understand our own values and priorities we are better positioned to enter sensitive discussions with a set of shared beliefs.

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What is your truth? How do you see the issue of race play out in our country?, community and schools? What experiences have you had growing up and as an adult that have informed your view of race? Has that view shifted over time? Why? Why not?

Before we started any dialogue, it’s important to check in with ourselves and understand what experiences (both positive and negative) we are brining to the discussion. This our lens through which we see and understand our world. When our core truth is clear to us, only then can we evaluate our understanding and begin to ask more questions.

 

 

Lead with your values. It is easier to find common ground on values statements than on prescriptive solutions. Don’t try to persuade people that their beliefs are wrong. Instead, find a value focus that is equally dear and compelling to them. The one value that research shows as promising is “opportunity.” This allows us to discuss the policies, programs, and practices where access to opportunities are lodged. Additionally, this mutes either-or debate about whether responsibility or systems are to blame, since opportunity goes hand in hand with personal responsibility. Since this debate is off the table, the focus can be on barriers to opportunity, and the evidence can highlight how similarly situated individuals encounter very different circumstances in terms of opportunities. For example, white children with college-eligible academic performance enter colleges are higher rates than African American and Latino children with college-eligible academic performance.

 

Keep it Results Focused. Keep the conversation focused on the results people want to achieve (e.g., all children graduate from high school) rather than who’s to blame for present inequities. Of course, figuring out how to get the desired results will require a focus on what’s to blame’ that discussion can be directed to policies, programs, and practices that need to be changed.

 

Narrative before Numbers. If people see numbers that don’t fit the model they use in thinking about race, they’ll reject the numbers. For example, suppose you present statistics about disparities in juvenile detention that show that even when youth of different racial groups behave the same way, African American, Latino and Native American youth are disproportionately detained compared to their white counterparts. People wed to the dominant model of the self-making person will still attribute the explanation for those numbers to some unspecified fault of the youth of color themselves. Their dominant narrative trumped your well-researched numbers.

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Webinar: Discussing Race, Racism and Other Difficult Topics With Students

Educators play a crucial role in helping students talk openly about the historical roots and contemporary manifestations of social inequality and discrimination. Learning how to communicate about such topics as white privilege, police violence, economic inequality and mass incarceration requires practice, and facilitating difficult conversations demands courage and skill—regardless of who we are, our intentions or how long we’ve been teaching.

As part of our “Let’s Talk!” series, NEA and Teaching Tolerance have co-produced an on-demand webinar that provides guidance on how to have relevant and rigorous conversations with students about race, racism and other important topics. This resource will serve as a foundation to help build your capacity to safely broach these issues, and you’ll walk away with use-tomorrow strategies.

Register now for the webinar!

It is on-demand, so you can view it whenever is convenient for you.

Earn credit: When you complete 95 percent or more of the webinar, a certificate of completion will be available for you to download and print from within the webinar platform. Because Teaching Tolerance is not a credit-granting agency, we encourage you to check with your administration to determine if your participation will count toward continuing education requirements.

 

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Additional Resources

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Take Action

Building Power in Our Communities

Ready to get active and be the superhero our students deserve in the fight for racial, social and economic justice in public education? Then join the NEA EdJustice League!

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Resources

Talking About Race

Resources to help facilitate conversations about race, including classroom appropriate lesson plans, guides on how to have tough conversations with peers and students, and more.

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Restorative Justice

Download the NEA guide for educators: "Restorative Practices -- Fostering Healthy Relationships & Promoting Positive Discipline in Schools."

Download PDF

Student Poets Playlist

Now is a good time to listen to young people as they speak out on what they want the future to hold.

Listen to the Poets