Should we Teach Race and Gender in the Classroom? – Kaylene Stevens, Boston University

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Racism and Gender issues are in the news and there is a hot debate whether all the nuances should be discussed

Who is Kaylene Stevens?

Dr. Stevens is the program director for social studies education at Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development and current lecturer in the department of teaching of learning. She teaches historical literacy, research methods, and elementary and secondary social studies methods. Prior to her work at Boston University, she was a high school teacher at Framingham High School for 14 years and Department Chair for the Social Studies Department for 4 years. She has several publications on gender equitable and race conscious teaching in the social studies classroom. Her work has been featured in The Journal of Social Studies Research and Theory & Research in Social Education.

Why are Racism and Gender Issues So Taboo to Discuss in the Classroom?

Racism and gender issues can be taboo to discuss in the classroom for several reasons, including:

  1. Fear of causing discomfort: Discussions of racism and gender issues can bring up uncomfortable feelings and memories for some students. Teachers may be hesitant to broach these topics for fear of making students feel upset or angry.
  2. Lack of knowledge or training: Teachers may not feel equipped to lead discussions about racism and gender issues. They may not have received training on how to address these topics in a classroom setting, or they may not have a deep understanding of the issues themselves.
  3. Concerns about controversy: Teachers may worry that discussing racism and gender issues will be controversial and may upset parents, administrators, or other stakeholders. This can lead them to avoid the topics altogether.
  4. Time constraints: Teachers may feel like they do not have enough time to properly address these complex topics in the classroom. They may worry that they will not be able to cover the necessary material while also allowing time for discussion and reflection.

It is important to note that discussions of racism and gender issues are essential for creating a more inclusive and equitable society. Teachers can work to overcome the taboos surrounding these topics by creating safe spaces for discussion, providing accurate information and resources, and promoting empathy and understanding among students. Teachers should also seek out training and professional development opportunities to help them feel more comfortable and confident leading these discussions in the classroom.

What are the Negative Consequences of Not Talking about Race and Gender in the Classroom?

Not talking about race and gender in the classroom can have several negative consequences, including:

  1. Reinforcing stereotypes and biases: When race and gender are not discussed in the classroom, students may develop incomplete or inaccurate views of these topics based on the limited information they have access to. This can reinforce harmful stereotypes and biases that perpetuate inequality and discrimination.
  2. Fostering ignorance and apathy: Without discussions about race and gender, students may lack the knowledge and understanding necessary to recognize and address issues of inequality and discrimination. This can lead to a sense of apathy or disengagement when it comes to social justice issues.
  3. Creating discomfort and disengagement: When students from marginalized communities do not see themselves or their experiences represented in the classroom, they may feel uncomfortable or disengaged from the learning process. This can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection from the academic community.
  4. Missing opportunities for learning and growth: Discussions of race and gender can provide valuable opportunities for learning and growth. When these topics are not addressed in the classroom, students miss out on important opportunities to build empathy, develop critical thinking skills, and gain a deeper understanding of the world around them.

Overall, not talking about race and gender in the classroom can perpetuate inequality, reinforce biases, and limit students’ ability to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to be active and engaged members of a diverse society.

Why are Counter-Narratives on Race So Important to be Taught to Students?

Counter narratives on race are important to be taught to students because they challenge dominant narratives that have historically reinforced racism and perpetuated inequality. These narratives offer a different perspective on historical events, social issues, and cultural experiences, and can provide a more nuanced and accurate understanding of the complexities of race.

Here are a few reasons why counter narratives on race are so important:

  1. They promote critical thinking: Counter narratives on race encourage students to question assumptions and challenge established perspectives. By exposing students to different points of view, teachers can foster critical thinking skills that will serve students well in all aspects of their lives.
  2. They challenge stereotypes and biases: Counter narratives on race can challenge the stereotypes and biases that students may have internalized from mainstream media and cultural messages. This can help students develop a more nuanced understanding of different racial groups and foster empathy and understanding.
  3. They empower marginalized communities: Counter narratives on race can help empower marginalized communities by giving voice to their experiences and highlighting their contributions to society. This can help counter the erasure of marginalized groups from mainstream narratives and help foster a sense of pride and belonging among students from these communities.
  4. They promote social justice: Counter narratives on race can help promote social justice by exposing students to the ways in which racism and other forms of oppression have been used to maintain power and privilege. By understanding the ways in which these systems work, students can become more effective advocates for social change.

Overall, counter narratives on race are an important tool for promoting critical thinking, challenging stereotypes, empowering marginalized communities, and promoting social justice in the classroom and beyond.

What are the Impacts of Talking about Race and Gender in the Classroom?

Some research shows: “…race- and gender conscious teachers appear to have a positive impact on their students. Bolgatz (2005) revealed that when two teachers made race a major theme in one U.S. history course, their students used the classroom as a space to discuss racial inequity.”

talking about race and gender openly in classrooms can lead to positive impacts for students in several ways:

  1. Promotes greater understanding and empathy: Open discussions about race and gender can help students develop a deeper understanding of different perspectives and experiences. This can foster empathy and compassion for others, and help break down stereotypes and biases.
  2. Creates a more inclusive classroom environment: When teachers openly discuss race and gender, they create a more inclusive classroom environment where all students feel valued and seen. This can help students from marginalized communities feel more connected to the academic community and can foster a greater sense of belonging.
  3. Encourages critical thinking: Discussions about race and gender encourage students to think critically about social issues and historical events. This can help students develop critical thinking skills that will serve them well in all aspects of their lives.
  4. Prepares students for a diverse society: Open discussions about race and gender can prepare students for a diverse society by giving them the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate a complex and ever-changing world. This can help students become more effective communicators, collaborators, and leaders.