I discovered that for some classes, talking about equity issues and implied messages was easier said than done for one, big reason. The students had no problem sharing that most of the models were female, tall, and thin. When I asked what was the colour of their skin, or if a student mentioned that most of the models were white, several students would gasp as if someone said a "bad word".
"You can't say that! That's racist!", many students told me.
I found myself giving the same explanation to almost every class - it is not racist to talk about the colour of someone's skin. In fact, if we don't allow ourselves to bring it up in conversation, then how can we deal with it when truly racist things (like being unfair to someone because they are black or Asian/Chinese) happen?
Many of the students were still uncomfortable. On the short question and answer sheet I used to check for understanding, I asked "Who is often a model?". Students had the list we created together to refer to for ideas and spelling, yet lots of students were more likely to write the word "attractive" than "white".
There was a class that didn't seem as hesitant to discuss race, gender, or even sexual orientation. I suspect that a lot of this comfort and awareness has to do with their teacher. Siobhan Alexander is the Grade 5 teacher and the staff lead for Student Council. She has a real passion for social justice and does not shy away from controversial or uncomfortable topics. For instance, she and her class have spent a lot of time examining the horrors of the Canadian residential school system, and Siobhan encourages her class to find their voices and become passionate about issues that impact our global community. In fact, one of those special events I alluded to at the beginning of my post was our "We Walk for Water" Student Council fund raiser. The members of the Student Council visited each class to make a presentation explaining about the water crisis in Haiti. They sold rafiki bracelets made by Kenyan women to support their entrepreneurship as well as the Haiti water initiative. On Friday, each class was given a ten pound jug of water (which is just a quarter of the weight that Haitian women carry) and students took turns carrying it around on a neighbourhood walk. Students gained some empathy about others' situations as they mirrored a small portion of the daily duties of Haitian women collecting water.
|Mrs. Alexander addresses the student body prior to our walk|