Black History: Semi-Update & Tentative Plan for Tomorrow

I plan on sharing a full update on what I’m doing with my primary kids for Black History month another time. Today’s post will focus on my current plan to create a safe place for kids to create, especially for BIPOC kids. There were a couple problems that came up last week so I want to bring up the problem and try to plan a better way to respond.

PROBLEM #1: Insensitive comments are made about the content. I can’t tell if it’s ignorance, teenage angst, privelege or true hatred for someone who looks different from you.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: I’m going to start the class off reminding them of the classroom contract we began at the beginning of the year regarding the way we treat each other. I’ll try to gently handle comments that are made out of naivety but squash inappropriate jokes or comments. If that doesn’t work, I’ll douse the angsty ones with a healthy amount of peer pressure by making them aware of the number of people they are affecting in class with their insensitive comments. It worked really well last week because they realized how their responses and behaviours affected people they knew and cared about.

PROBLEM #2: In some of the classes, I only have a handful of black kids and when we talk about the tensions racism brings, I know they feel it. It puts them in a vulnerable situation and in the spotlight that they never asked to be in.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: I’m trying to figure out if I’m going to say this in front of class or if I’ll ask the BIPOC kids to meet me in the hall. On the one hand, I want to talk to them privately so they aren’t put more on the spot than they already are but perhaps they prefer to talk about it with everyone so they don’t feel alone. I don’t know. I’ll have to see how things are tommorrow and get a feel for the room. Anyway, if we talk privately, I’ll ask them how they are doing since last week and how they are feeling in class as we move through black history and conversations on racism. They may not feel comfortable enough to talk about it with me which is fair. I’ll tell them I won’t ask them to contribute information or personal experience unless they want to. But I’m going to continue with this subject even though it’s uncomfortable and I’ll unpack more of the reasons why as we study the unit more. Lastly, I’m still unlearning privelege, and there are times when I have blindspots. Still, the content is important. If I say something insensitive, they are welcome to address it with me if they want to. They don’t have to be my racism thermometer but if they feel offended by something I say, I want them to let me know so I can correct it.

PROBLEM #3: The white kids get these shifty eyes whenever we talk about black people. Every time they say, “black people” or talk about issues affecting black people, they have to look at a black person.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: I’m just going to tell the white kids to stop staring at black people. The black kids in our class know they are black. You don’t need to stare at them to tell them. You’re creeping me out and I’m not even black. Please stop staring.

I’ll try to say it gentler but like seriously, stop staring.

PROBLEM #4: One of the kids is completely obsessed with slavery and cotton fields. Many of the kids think that black history begins and ends in slavery. Slavery is a significant moment but it’s only a part of black history. Not all of it.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: I found this powerpoint on Teachers Pay Teachers that discusses Black History and even talks about black history in SK. It’s far more empowering than the units I bought earlier… so I’m going to start there tomorrow. I did it for my grade 4’s and 5’s today and they absorbed a lot. I don’t think one of them talked the whole time. They were into it and that made my day. Hopefully, I can tame the unruly middle year kids with it.

PROBLEM #5: The journal prompts are too complicated. I kept getting them mixed up and confusing the kids further.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: I’m going to simplify them, focus on technique and see how the kids express themselves POST learning activities (rather than beforehand). Pack them full of knowledge first and see what falls out in the journal activity after.

PROBLEM #6: Any time I’ve done an art journal with middle year kids, I’ve had to report something to the principal. One year, I was going to the principal almost every week to let him know I had another student who was suicidal. Art is helpful in many ways to prevent problems before they happen… This year, I’m seeing some kids navigate where they stand on social issues. Most of them understand that racism is harmful but there are a couple who are bordering the edge of inappropriate and harmful. I can’t tell if they are trying to work out the issue or if they are playing out violence in their mind and indulging in it.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: I’m going to keep an eye on it. If I need to flag it, I will and talk to the principal about it. We’ll figure out the next steps then.

Tomorrow I’m going to start with the slideshow about black history in Canada and discuss. I want to introduce them to Oscar Peterson with another video but they might be antsy by then. So we’ll play a couple Theatre of the Oppressed drama exercises to get them thinking about power and how it plays out in our class. They’ll sit down to art journal after. They can either choose to respond to the exercises in their own way or I’ll have them draw a class floor plan where power would be equal. They only rule is they can’t use words; only images or pictures. If time, I’ll throw in some more drama games to boost the morale a bit.

The outcomes I plan to hit are CP 6.5, CP 6.11, CP 6.12, CP 7.6, CP 7.10, CP 8.4, CP 8.6 (kind of. Scaffolding into CP8.6 would be a better way to look at it), and CP 8.11.

If that fails, my plan B is to introduce them to Jane Elliot and we’ll watch a documentary about her work on white privelege. Should be good breeding ground for conversation.

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