Are Racial Issues Discussed in the Nation’s Predominantly White Classrooms?

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.”

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  1. Based on my interactions with parents and school children, I do not support the notion that the current “racism” and “race talk” controversies ought to be taught to public school children in K-8th grades, whether the students are predominantly white, black, red, yellow or brown. I now believe that what is really being called for is the racialist falsification of history and extreme politicization of civics. We Americans of all races and color should be intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that significant intentional falsification of history and politicization of civics infected the writings of both the 1619 and 1776 projects. The current proponents of critical race theory, conservative race theory, confederate race theory, and otherwise crazy race theory are all guilty of this. So, we adults (activist crusaders, teachers, and parents) should leave our young public-school children out of it. Let us, the adults, first come to terms with current contentious issues of race with the aim of establishing a better nation of diverse citizens. To begin, I recommend Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy’s latest book, “Say It Loud!; On Race, Law, History, and Culture,” for the adults only at the present time.
    ~~Willie Abrams, a retired attorney living in Silver Spring, Maryland.

    • As I being an inner city dweller, devoted substitute, newly widow and see how all of these racist systems interconnect and blame us for information defunded and withheld.

      I am the mom of brilliant, driven, talented, gifted and highly skilled children who are denied equal access, opportunity and inclusion to “supposedly” higher quality education in 2021?

  2. Hey Willie,

    I am very pleased that you’re retired from the practicing law with your narrowly tailored and negatively skewed world view. Your feebleminded comment is indicative of years of miseducation along a smattering of White fragility. You’re the type of person who accepted the normative White American or even European historical narratives even if it’s incomplete and inaccurate for decades. Now suddenly, Black conscious Academics are literally challenging and even debunking those centuries old myths and lies and people of your ilk are upset. Really! Give me a break.

    The facts remain Willie, those days of the 18th 19th, 20th, and 21st century White ontological expansiveness is being challenged by Black academics and now White America is crying foul. Really.

    • HBCU Watch,
      I wish you had directly addressed my comment and I wish JBHE had provided a link or citation to the particular study that is the subject of the article to which my comment was addressed.

      I regret that you (a person or persons known as “HBCU Watch” of all names) chose to respond to my comment in a manner bordering on the abusiveness that have led JBHE and other newsletters not to “publish telephone numbers or email addresses of individuals in this space.” To gain a fuller understanding of my concerns, may I suggest that you read “Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America,” a recently published book by Prof. John McWhorter. As one HBCU graduate to another, I hope asking you to read scholars with whom you might think you strongly disagree is not too much to ask.

      In your future writings, please consider dropping the “White fragility” language. My life’s experiences have taught me that on the other side of the “White fragility” coin is “Black fragility.” I think Prof. McWhorter makes this clear. I’ve read all of the writers cited by McWhorter and, in my opinion, McWhorter and law professor Randall Kennedy present the stronger cases.

      In closing, I reiterate my original comment that we adults ought to leave the school children out of the ongoing messy Race Talks about racism, white fragility, black fragility, white privilege, black privilege, etc. I read scholars with whom I disagree. I encourage you to do the same.

      Please have a great 2021 Holiday Season.

      ~~ Willie Abrams, a retired attorney living in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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