This is the third in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit: www.apa.org/pi/res. This post is also featured in our recent “Back to School” blog post series.
By Chynere Best and Noelita Bowman (Doctoral Psychology Students, Howard University)
All parents have probably noticed that raising a child is not only the parent’s job. You are constantly getting input from other family members, friends and teachers. Children spend more than half their day in school so it is safe to say that the school system, and those who work in it, play a huge role in your child’s life. That means that answering tough questions on topics like race and ethnicity is a challenge that teachers will have to face.
Teachers, administrators, and other pertinent staff share the responsibility of educating our youth. In addition to teaching subjects like reading, math, and writing they also help to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students. Providing a safe environment includes being able to communicate about race effectively with students.
One way schools can address race and racial socialization is to embed its concept throughout the curriculum and beyond. For example, teachers should work to highlight the ways in which culture impacts our everyday lives. Schools should ensure their curriculum is one that promotes cultural diversity, and inclusivity for all students from different backgrounds. School personnel should ask themselves:
“What can I do to empower my students to embrace diversity? How can I create an environment that promotes an understanding that different does not mean deficit? What message(s) am I intentionally or unintentionally sending to my students about race in my classroom?”
Culture at its core is our identity! It influences our values, beliefs, and worries. When schools provide an environment that allows students to discuss differences and engage in perspective taking, they create a climate that is safe and nurturing for all to grow and learn.
In discussing RES outside of the curriculum, here are some sure ways that teachers can facilitate the conversation about RES in school.
Debating has long been known to have numerous beneficial outcomes. However, if not initiated and facilitated effectively this exercise can lead to negative outcomes to include divisiveness and entrenched positions. It is critical to have well-trained school personnel lead these types of activities, as they would be more effective in recognizing the different nuances concerning debates. Using debating as an activity in the school is intended to open student’s minds regarding RES.
Effective debates enable participants to gain a broader perspective, promote critical thinking and analysis, and teach research, organization and presentation skills as students must consider all angles of the situation or topic as they build their argument. Furthermore, it encourages teamwork and respect since students must work together to build their case, eloquently express their views and politely consider and refute their opponent’s position.
The school can carry out the debate in various ways. The typical pro versus con positions can be given to discuss topics such as the integration of racially segregated schools in the United States. Past versus present situations can also be incorporated to help students find the connection between their history lessons and present-day situations.
An example of this type of scenario would be “Would Malcolm X have won the presidential election if he ran against President Obama?” Additionally, a multigroup question can be posed. In this case students would be divided into 3-5 groups, each tasked with a different perspective on a prompt. For example, language is a powerful tool used for direct and indirect communication. However, in most schools across the United States, very few languages are taught. A multigroup debate question that addresses language in schools could be “Which, if any, foreign languages should be taught in schools?” Teachers should present a wide range of languages for the groups to consider such as Spanish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Mandarin/Cantonese, and Yoruba.”
2. Multicultural Events and Activities:
Acknowledging racial and ethnic differences can be even more fun and enlightening if we turn it into a celebration. Every culture has their own special holidays which hold varying types of significance whether religious, like the Muslim celebration of Eid Al-Fitr, traditional like the Chinese New Year or historical like Black History Month. One way to achieve this is to incorporate various cultural holidays and celebrations into the school calendar. Students can be a part of this process by suggesting celebrations native to their cultural backgrounds to be included on the calendar. Each group should not be confined to one major holiday or event such as Black History Month. All events should be supervised by a teacher or administrator to ensure that the focus is on appreciation of the specific culture being celebrated.
Sometimes addressing issues does not have to be wrapped up in a big event, project or assignment. Oftentimes the teachable moments that occur naturally are the best way to send a powerful message. Teachers should be aware of events that occur in school and society and be willing to address them openly with students. Addressing issues can be as simple as throwing out a question or topic for a student led discussion during lunch or a free period. The goal of these types of activities is to open the door for students to learn about current issues, express their opinions and have more open dialogue with their teachers and peers. Some examples of discussion topics include conversations around hair, skin color and racial stereotypes. It is important to note that someone should be appointed as a moderator for the discussion to ensure that no one person monopolizes the conversation and a level of respect is upheld as people express their views.
Ultimately, the purpose of these suggested activities is to help teachers get more actively involved in RES and to help students be more engaged as they learn about race and ethnicity. Teachers and administrators must be properly trained to carry out the above activities in order for them to be successful. This means being aware of the issues that occur in school and in society, being confident about your ability to address the issues head on and being dedicated to doing so in a way that unites, educates and builds appreciation for others among your students.
Chynere Best is a doctoral student in the Developmental Psychology Program at Howard University. She serves as the lab coordinator for the Cultural Socialization Lab (CSL), under the supervision of Dr. Debra Roberts, where the research focuses on culture as a buffer to the negative influences of toxic environments. Chynere’s specific research interests concentrate on culture and identity development in adolescents and young adults of African descent. She is originally from Trinidad and Tobago.
Noelita Bowman is pursuing a PhD in school psychology at Howard University. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Hampton University, where she was a summa cum laude graduate. Noelita has interned in several of APA’s offices including the Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs in Summer 2017. Noelita’s research and interests include exploring ways to improve the academic achievement and school readiness achievement amongst children of color. Her dissertation focuses on exploring parent and teacher attitudes on school readiness. She believes all children have the capacity to learn, it is the environment in which they function in that alters development in a positive or negative direction.
Image source: iStockPhoto.com