Discussing issues of race, from my experience as a teacher, has always been a touchy subject since my classes have predominantly been Caucasian with very few minority students. Yet despite this, I had made it an objective of mine to address such issues—especially if these students were to enter the greater world and interact with people in a less-homogenous environment. Like many of the discussions I have lead concerning such issues, I tried to use literature as kind of an introduction to the issue. While I try to keep my classroom open to discussion, I always found that I ended up having to play the role of “Devil’s Advocate” depending on the predominant perspective of the class—I have had to play both sides of the race topic. The hardest part of this had to have been working against the misconceptions my students had about race, given that many of them had little interaction with people of different racial and cultural backgrounds and most of their views were based on what they saw in the media. Even those minority students I did have felt uncomfortable having to be the lone voice for their race…most of whom by the time they reached high school had assimilated into the dominant culture to the point where any distinct racial qualities had been suppressed.
As educators, especially in high school, it is our responsibility to prepare our students for the greater world…and for those of us who are teaching in highly homogeneous communities that does mean addressing issues of race/gender/sexuality/ability. English class always seems to be the class where these issues are addressed the most…with the social sciences usually playing them off from a historic/sociological/psychological perspective. When teachers allow students to write about these issues, or read about them through the texts presented in class, they are exposed to new ideas that they may not have experienced before. Now I will admit it could be construed as disingenuous for a Caucasian-appearing teacher (like myself) teaching the Harlem Renaissance to a class of students as white as the driven snow, and I will also admit that I have had my share of dealing with overtly racist attitudes in my classroom similar to the ones described by Logan—but these discussions need to happen.
The world is getting smaller and more inter-connected than ever before, and students need to realize that they need to be aware of what the rest of the world is like. Yet I feel that even when schools make a note to address such issues, they tend to be shallow at best unless there is an active effort on the part of the faculty…or at the least a representation of ANY minority group in the faculty or student body. Sadly, when there are cases like these, it just shows the worst of human nature. They do not want to acknowledge that there are people who are different from themselves in such minor ways as their skin color, and that makes them afraid. Throw in a minority teacher and you have parents creating a fecal tornado because their students may learn something they are sheltering them against. It’s the second decade of the 2000s, we need to get past this already.