A new study is examining how teachers are approaching the subjects of race and inequality with their students, particularly students in kindergarten to eighth grade. Researchers studied two schools in Minnesota — one in an urban area near where George Floyd was murdered and one in a rural community. Teachers at both schools are predominantly White, as are their students. The research team surveyed the teachers at the beginning of 2021.
Teachers at the urban school, which has a student population that is nearly 60 percent White, said that it was appropriate to start talking about racism with children as young as 3 years old. The teachers at the rural school, with a student population that is more than 80 percent White, said conversations about race shouldn’t start until a child is at least 4 years old. They also found that teachers at the school in an urban setting and with a more diverse city population talked about racism with their students at least once in the past year. At the rural school, they talked about racism even less often.
“We asked about going beyond a discussion about Martin Luther King Jr., to talking about what is happening today — how these kids see racial injustice and how they deal with it,” said Virginia Huynh, professor in the College of Health and Human Development at California State University, Northridge, one of the researchers on the study. “What we saw is that the teachers in the urban school were more willing to talk about those subjects than the rural one. But even then, it was only once in the past year.”
The study is part of a bigger research project involving Dr. Huynh and her colleagues — Cari Gillen-O’Neel, a psychology professor at Macalester College in St Paul, Minnesota, and Taylor Hazelbaker, an assistant professor at The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. They are conducting a study on the issue of race and racial equity in schools in Minnesota. The researchers purposely chose Minnesota to get a sense of what people are saying and doing about racism in traditionally White communities in America.
“The reality is, racism isn’t going to go away just because you don’t want to talk about it,” Dr. Huynh explained. “If we are going to confront and deal with issues of racism and privilege, then we need to start talking about those issues at a young age.”