"Donald Trump had different opportunities"

Reflections on Youth Led Inquiry into Race and Racism (Part 3)

(You can read Reflections 1 and 2 here)

I've been struggling as our class has moved through our unit on race and racism. I've wanted to let the kids lead this inquiry as much as possible. But yesterday I decided that my co-teacher and I needed to step in if we wanted them to fully grasp the ideas they're studying.

After the kids generated questions, we helped them to refine these questions so that they were more "googleable." Before setting them loose on the internet, we also taught them how to determine reliable sources. It wasn't a perfect lesson, but essentially we taught them to look out for .org and .edu domains, to look beyond Page 1 of Google results, and to be wary of for-profit pages. We also taught them to be mindful of bias.

Finally we worked as a class to curate a list of reliable sources, some of which are even designated for kids. But after two days of the scholars working in teams to answer their questions, it was clear that much of the sites just aren't accessible enough.

So today we took a step back. My co-teacher and I used one of the videos, "The myth of race, debunked in 3 minutes" from Vox.com that the kids had already found in their research (It happens to also be a video used by Border Crossers in their Talking About Race training).
Source: Vox.com
We watched the video all the way through first, and asked the kids what they learned. Already they got the main idea: Race isn't real. It's made up. BUT, it has real consequences. We talked about this a bit more, and settled on an example. Donald Trump has had different opportunities and had different consequences than Barack Obama, because he's white and Barack Obama's Black.

At this point, I already felt like we had reached an important milestone. But the goal of our informational unit is for kids to back up ideas with facts, details, definitions, and examples, so we watched the video a second time. This time we paused at certain points to check for understanding and to clarify.

After about 20 - 30 minutes of discussion overall, we had pulled out some more important ideas, such as:
  • Frederich Blumenbach made up 5 racial categories in 1776
  • At this same time, white people used Black/white categories to give white people power
  • They did this at the same time Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal"
This was a very teacher directed conversation. It was not inquiry in the sense that we've been trying for the past few days. However, I feel like it was fully worth it, because we reached a better understanding of race that the kids couldn't really get from watching the video on their own.

I think sometimes as a progressive minded educator, I feel guilty about this type of teaching. I feel like it's considered bad teaching. But I have to wonder if I've either misconstrued inquiry and progressive teaching or if I just disagree with it for certain purposes. At the end of the day, as an adult and a teacher, I still feel like I have important knowledge and skills that I can pass on to my students, and sometimes I think this needs to be done more directly.

With a shared understanding of race, the kids are moving on to some texts I've gathered from Newsela. I'm excited to see what understandings they come to (independently and with help)!


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