I, as many teachers, have struggled with how to discuss recent race relations in America. As a black woman I have even more fear that bringing certain materials into the classroom might invoke the thought that I had an agenda. I guess I do have one to be honest. I want my students to leave my class as good human beings. Human beings that understand empathy, kindness and compassion.
This week I had the pleasure of working with my students to try and reflect on what has been happening. We just finished Anna Deavere's play Twilight Los Angeles that focuses on race relations in America during the 90s. We focused on a section of the play, the story of Latasha Harlins. I used this play to look at different sides of an issue within a community. We did not discuss our feelings about what happened in the incident, but moreover issues of identity and how we respond to conflict.
Today we read an unbiased (all my students agreed) article from the NYT on protests around the country involving the Eric Garner case. My students spoke eloquently about their beliefs involving the right to peaceful assembly. Students even pulled out their mini constitutions to see what their rights are. The article mentioned a 15 year old girl from Cambridge and how she helped organize protests at Boston's Tree Lighting. My students were in AWE at how someone so young could have their voice heard. We focused on the power of our voices, importance of identity and the importance of respecting all identities.
I was so proud of them. You could see the wheels churning. I hope that they are inspired to stand up for what they believe in someday.
Towards the end of the day, each class read the article, I had a class that asked me a lot of questions. They asked about the events and I tried to give them an unbiased view. I told them that none of us were present during the incidents and so no one really knows. I then had a student with a very concerned tone of voice ask me, " Why does this keep happening?" I told her I didn't know but that hopefully things would change with better communication and understanding. Another student asked, " Why haven't adults learned from the past?" I could not answer this question because I don't know the answer. The worst part is I am an adult and I am not sure why people are doing what they are doing.
How do I answer these questions?