Friday, October 1, 2010

Talking to the Teacher about Race

You've likely had the "back to school adoption talk" with your child's teacher by now.  But have you had the race talk?  This blog post discusses both, and here's an excerpt from the race talk:
Raising the specter of race in the classroom is even dicier because not only is race a subject that most people think they know all about, but it makes a lot of folks uncomfortable. Almost all the teachers at our school are white, and though nearly 20 percent of the students are children of color, I always get the feeling that I’m one of the only parents who has ever thrown the subject of race out there with a straight-forward, yet complex, question like: “My child looks different from most of the children in the class. Have you dealt with race-related comments or teasing among students in the past?”

Every time I’ve posed that question, the teacher has simply blanched before quickly recovering to reassure me that nothing like that has happened, ever. This is the moment in the meeting when I’m certain that I’ve totally screwed things up by making the teacher feel insulted or marking myself out as a rogue officer with the PC police. In these moments, I take a deep breath and share an anecdote or two about race-related comments that my kids have endured at summer camp or in the park, right here in our lovely community. I try to reassure the teacher that I’m not expecting this kind of problem at school but that I know from experience such things are possible. If any kind of teasing or bullying happens at school, including race-related incidents, I would like to work with the teacher to address it appropriately.

Invariably, I leave these meetings feeling jangly, worried, and exposed. I may actually be a hyper-vigilant nut.
Yes, I dread these back-to-school conversations, too.  But given the racial teasing incidents my girls have experienced at school, I persist . . . .
What about you?  Have you talked to your child's teacher about race as well as adoption?


Anonymous said...

An approach that seems to work better for me than "talking about race", is talking with the teacher how they incorporate diversity into the classroom and ensure it is promoted on the playground.

This seems to achieve the outcomes of promoting tolerance, and respecting and celebrating differences, etc. from an "appreaciative" angle.

I personally like getting kids to demonstrate what we "want more of" than the penalization approach.

Anonymous said...

I have had a number of discussions along these lines with teachers at school and it has not resulted in the results you describe. It is really not a difficult discussion if you are honest, sincere, an go about it in a manner that does not push the other party into guarded posture.

Have you considered trying a less deliberately confrontational approach to the topic Malinda?

I ask because you complain about the results, yet acknowledge knowing that your style of approach does not put the other party (in this case, the teacher) at ease but rather puts them on edge.

Seriously, you write as though you go into the discussion from the beginning with some kind of chip on your shoulder about it.

Bukimom said...

Anonymous 2, I would like to point out that Malinda was posting an excerpt from someone else's blog here and inviting comments on the way that person handled the race discussion with the teacher.

malinda said...

Gee, some days I wonder why I blog! "Ego-fulfillment" was one suggestion, but "ego-bruising" might be more accurate given some comments lately!

No, I don't go into discussions with teachers about race and adoption confrontationally. I agree that that is not usually productive.

But I also don't think it's enough to ask them to promote diversity --studies show that "background diversity" doesn't do much to change attitudes about race. I think it is important to talk explicitly about race and racism.

Stinky Mouse said...

Our boys attend a public school that uses the International Baccalaureate program, and teaches Mandarin as the school's second world language, there's a pretty good number of asian families in the school so race hasn't really been an issue for us. Our biggest issues is physical differences as both boys have limb differences. Our youngest is missing his right hand, so it's pretty noticeable. He was actually being physically harassed by some of the other kindergarteners. I brought the issue up with all the parents in the class at parent night, and it's diffused itself. Still children with visible special needs have their own special form of discrimination to deal with.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering... does most of the racial teasing your children experience come from white children? I wonder this because my children have always gone to schools where, though there aren't that many asians, there are plenty of kids whose skin color is as dark or darker than theirs. One school is majority white and the other is majority hispanic/african american. I think it is more likely that my daughter may have experienced some "exclusion" due to her race, rather than teasing. That fortunately has been pretty rare (or at least they don't admit to it if I ask.. there seems to be very little curiosity about adoption among their peers... more curiosity about having no daddy, but it's not a big deal). I do think the school works pretty hard to create a positive, accepting school climate and that has made it seem mostly unnecessary to discuss race specifically with each teacher. If the teacher requests a letter describing my child (which is usual in elementary school and improbable in middle school), I usually mention something about our family structure (no daddy), adoption and heritage, saying that my child is comfortable with all that and I expect that will be reinforced at school.
Sue (aka anonymous)

LisaLew said...

My daughter moved to a new school this year, and I used the "Letter to the Teacher" (revised) from Adoptive Families Magazine. Got the idea on this blog, as usual. (Thanks, Malinda!)

I intend to follow up at the Parent-Teacher conference and in the future from an educational point of view.

Louise said...

To the second anonymous:
I read the author's statements as very "real" human reactions, and appreciate her honesty. Are you perfect? Oh? Really? Because none of the other readers of the blog are.

Very telling - "I may actually be a hyper-vigilant nut." The author is HUMAN, and conveying her own personal feelings, information and opinion for the good of all adoptive parents. We all do things for ourselves, so go ahead and call it egocentric. But, many of us have learned quite a bit on this blog. Your attacks are not productive.

Why can't you just move to another blog and attack someone else? Or, is there some reason you stay and enjoy your own negative ranting? I challenge you to come out of the closet and be productive if you plan to stay.

Anonymous said...

Malinda, are you familiar with the short story by Audre Lorde called "That summer I left childhood was white"? DD's Grade 8 class just had to read it. It might be an interesting piece to explore down the road.

Ann BF said...

Sometimes the race-based teasing doesn't seem to meet the criteria of "Bullying" we have artifically created. Even my daughters pretty good friends have teased with racial overtones -- and it took a long time to for her to recognize that it hurt enough to tell me because it was "just teasing". Advocating for your child with a teacher who as a white person may not be tuned in to this issue is not being confrontational -- its being a good parent. I do it every year. Period.