Allie’s Reflections (Loudness in the Library Year Three, Part 4)
I’ve learned a lot from three years of teaching Loudness in the Library. Here are some of my oft-recurring thoughts.
- Conversations about present-day inequities and injustices are all complicated, but some subjects are more difficult to talk about than others.
Our conversations about sexism flow beautifully. Kids look at images of covers, and observations about gender and sexism pour out of them, sometimes so fast I can’t record all of the wonderful things they say.
By contrast, conversations about race consistently feature silence, at least initially. Kids struggle to find language to express their ideas. They preface their thoughts with “I really hope I won’t offend anyone.” They start to say something, then shake their heads and say “nevermind.” This doesn’t happen with 6th-graders as often as it does in adult conversations about race–but there is more silence than occurs in race-related conversations I’ve had with 1st-graders.
Eventually, a brave soul–usually a kid of color–gets it going. And once it gets going, it’s great. But there are often one, two, or three kids who say nothing, deciding that it is safer to stay quiet.
As a white teacher, I find that leading race-related conversations is both more invigorating and more draining than leading conversations on any other topic. Three years in, I still find myself tossing and turning the night before these lessons–partly from eager anticipation, partly from nervous anxiety. I worry that I will burden kids of color with the task of educating white children, or that I myself will unwittingly commit microaggressions against children of color. I worry that rather than engendering a sense of responsibility in white kids, leaving them energized and active, I will merely make them feel shame and guilt, which are paralyzing.
The fact that race-related conversations are so very fraught is a huge part of the problem. We must be able to communicate in order to solve problems that exist at interpersonal, institutional, and societal levels. If kids in 6th grade already have the inclination to stay silent in conversations on race, how much stronger will that inclination be in adults? And if we can’t talk about race and racism, how will things ever get better?
Having said all that, I’ve also concluded that…
- …6th grade is a great age for kids to have race-related conversations.
Of course, parents and teachers should start talking about race with toddlers, but I have a special fondness for holding these conversations with 11- and 12-year-olds. 6th-graders can think abstractly and love to grapple with big ideas (such as problems that exist on societal levels), but they haven’t developed as many of the cautionary filters that prevent adults from having honest and productive conversations. I’ve been amazed at how quickly and smoothly these kids identify their own prejudices, name them, and resolve to do better. In that respect, they are role models for me.
- Every school should have a qualified Diversity Director who takes her (enormous) job seriously.
As I’ve stated above, conversations about prejudices, injustices, and inequities that exist today are hard to navigate. Teachers need training, practice, and professional guidance in these areas. I am so lucky, and so grateful, to work with Anshu Wahi, Bank Street’s Director of Diversity and Community, on this and other projects.
That’s all for this year, folks! Thanks for reading, and be sure to tune in again next summer. I, for one, cannot WAIT to do Loudness with this year’s incoming 6th-graders, and to see where the kids take it, how they grow, what they learn, and how they teach me.
-Allie Jane Bruce
(This is me.)
Check out our discussions from Year 1 of this curriculum here.