Monday, November 10, 2008

Stereotype 101

Last week, Bill and I attended a lecture by Joe Feagin as part of the Bush School's Diversity Lecture Series.  The title of the lecture was "Things My Teacher Didn't Tell Me."  Feagin has a doctorate in sociology and specializes in racism and sexism issues, so my guess was the "things" would have to do with minorities in history.

Feagin reviewed familiar major events and heroes of American History, but additionally he also related the left out information about the writing of the constitution, George Washington and the moral climate during which he owned slaves, and Abe Lincoln's opinions about slaves and steps towards signing the Emancipation Proclamation.  Now I know, from studying women's history, that many large and important details are missing from mainstream history. But I was stunned at the huge swaths of information omitted, maybe even covered up when it comes to Blacks in American History.

During the Q&A period, one of Feagin's answers to the various "what can we do about this?" questions included having schools teach Stereotype 101 and Racism 101 every year - he thought doing a 6 week unit was not too long.  I've looked long and hard for young elementry age appropriate materials that cover essentially these two subjects. Usually I find one of two types of resources: the cultural tourism manual (naan bread on Monday, tacos on Tuesday, Pad Thai on Wednesday, cornbread on Thursday....) or some broad recommendations to talk daily with children about race and racism.  Suddenly, I found myself in the room with an expert who seemed to be alluding to a structured and meaningful curriculum.

After the long book signing line dissipated,  I introduced myself to Feagin as a homeschooling mom of a mixed race family (to which he gave and enthusiastic "GREAT."  Ah.  I love that.). When I explained that I can and want to do the two units he suggested but that I'm struggling for material, he promptly gave me several resources and his email address to contact him if I have further questions.

He sent me first to Marc Aronson's book Race, also the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance magazine.  Progress! I need to take a closer look at the Aronson book, but it promises to be a whole slavery/racism/history text in one, though targeted at an adult audience. Teach Tolerance is mostly a collection of suggestions, which lacks the purpose and organization I crave.  So, while neither of these are concise unit studies on Race and Stereotyping, I'm getting closer. 

Most useful, though, was hearing Feagin talk and realizing I could shift focus from teaching multiculturalism (which I could never bring myself to accept as the solution to America's problems) to directly teaching about the issues that are at the root of our country's racism problems. Give the whole story of history, and address the ideas of stereotyping and racism and their impact explicitly instead of tip-toeing around them with an "I'm okay, you're okay, it's okay to be different" message.

I'm still back to the drawing board on creating a plan, but suddenly activities and lessons I come across fit into a larger structure. I've started with stereotyping as I see this as the foundation for the bias that creates racism.  Currently, I'm printing out ideas and searching for books.  Next stop, the local children's librarian for stories to spice up our discussions.  Once I have an outline with some details, I might even ask Feagin for feedback.

My remaining big question about teaching Stereotyping 101 has to do with the audience.  Do I stick with just my 2 kids or do I open it up to our homeschool community in hopes of educating my children's (mostly white) peers along the way? I'm new to the anti-racism ideas, I'm a little afraid of the mistakes I might make.

Any ideas?


Jenni said...

I want to be a part of this, for what it's worth.

s t a c y said...

Hi Sara,
We would love to be a part of this.

This line of yours particularly struck me: "I could shift focus from teaching multiculturalism (which I could never bring myself to accept as the solution to America's problems) to directly teaching about the issues that are at the root of our country's racism problems."

You articulated something that has always bothered me. Thank you!

Carrie said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head, so to speak. One of the most powerful anti-racism courses I took was a training course at my old job. It confronted stereotypes head on and had me digging deep into my soul for my own experiences and the reasons behind them. I'll try and get some contact information for the program. It is for adults but it made a lasting impression with me. I'd like to hear more about how you're progressing with this as well.

Tera said...

We would certainly love to be a part of a community that shares anti-bias education, so I would encourage you to share it with our fellow homeschoolers!

Sara said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. I feel so loved!

The library is holding a slew of books for me, so I'll keep you informed.