How should educators confront bigotry, racism and white supremacy? The incidents in Charlottesville, Va., this past weekend pushed that question from history to current events.
One teacher wondering aloud about his role is Derek Weimer. He taught James Alex Fields Jr., the man charged with murdering a woman and injuring multiple others by driving his car into a crowd of anti-racist marchers this weekend.
Weimer says he taught Fields in three classes at Cooper High School in Union, Ky. As NPR reported, he told member station WVXU reporter Bill Rinehart:
Weimer says Fields was intelligent and didn’t cause trouble. But he says the quiet boy was also deeply into Adolf Hitler and white supremacy. Weimer says he did his best to steer Fields away from those interests and thought he had succeeded in doing so. On hearing about the incident in Charlottesville, Weimer said he felt that he failed as a teacher.
For 40 years, the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves has been training teachers to confront racism and bigotry. By studying the moral decisions facing people at historical moments, from Reconstruction to Kristallnacht to the civil rights era, they hope “to empower students to work against bigotry and injustice or improper uses of power,” says Roger Brooks, president and CEO. “We sum everything up by saying people make choices and choices make history.”
Studies show that the curriculum produces academic, social and emotional gains in students. A time like this, says Brooks, is the ultimate teachable moment:
“There’s a whole lot teachers can slow down and unpack with their students rather than get completely caught up in the emotion of the moment.”
Indeed, just hours after the attack, teachers were sharing resources online, and we heard from more after reaching out in our newsletter. Here are some resources and ideas for the fast-approaching school year.
Just starting out
- More than 80 percent of public school teachers are white, while half of all students are people of color. Some teachers may never have directly talked about race or racism, particularly with younger children. Brooks suggests they start by making an “identity chart”. This is a way to find commonalities as well as celebrate differences.
- Diverse books: Some teachers will introduce topics of racism, civil rights and diversity, especially to younger students, through books. Here is a curated list of 50 social justice books from the nonprofit Teaching for Change. Here is a second, broken down by grade level, by The National Network of State Teachers of the Year.
- Teaching Tolerance has lesson plans for students as young as kindergarten that cover bias and social justice.
- The Graduate Student Coalition for Liberation at The University of Virginia in Charlottesville published a syllabus on Medium that includes primary and secondary historical resources on the local history of segregationism, as well as the urban renewal that displaced African-Americans in the city. There is also background on the dispute over the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee that was the focal point of the rally this past weekend.
- Facing History and Ourselves is an evidence-based social studies curriculum for middle and high school students that grounds discussions of racism and prejudice in students’ own moral dilemmas.
- American Federation for Teachers president, Randi Weingarten, shared some collections of lesson plans from AFT’s Share My Lesson platform: on racial profiling and stereotyping, on civil rights and social justice, on bullying and helping children cope with traumatic events.
Ripped from the headlines
- The Atlantic contributing writer Melinda Anderson created the hashtag #CharlottesvilleCurriculum on Twitter to serve as an ongoing list of resources to teach responsively to current events. Sources highlighted include the Equal Justice Initiative and the Citizenship and Social Justice Curriculum.
- To help make sense of the news, the Critical Media Project of the University of Southern California offers lesson plans and resources for talking about media literacy as it relates to race, ethnicity and identity.
If you have more to add, we’d love to hear from you @npr_ed on Twitter.