By teaching our students to think, care, and act, we empower them to build a peaceful future.


Welcome to Think, Care, Act, where teachers and students can find rationales and resources to infuse required curricula with peace, character, global, and multicultural concepts throughout the year.

To act in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care. Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can work effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

DIVERSITY BOOK CLUB #3: BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME


“I’m not a thing; I’m a net of interactions with the world around me, with the people who know me, who love me. It’s a more powerful way of trying to grasp reality by focusing on what interacts with what and how…. The world is complicated. It’s immensely complicated….  But if you look from the outside, you always miss something, which is the perspective from the inside…..” 
(Dr. Carlo Rovelli, physicist, On Being interview, March 16, 2017)

“It is a very personal story. It's a horror movie that is from an African American's perspective….  I think what interested me most about this movie was dealing with racism, really everything from the subtle racism that many people may not know exists on a day to day basis, or for a lot of people….” (Jordan Peele, director of Get Out, Forbes interview, October 5, 2016)

“… I argue in this book that the plunder of black communities is not a bump along the road — it is, in fact, the road itself….  Struggle is important, whether success is assured or not.” 
(Ta-Nehisi Coates, author, The Daily Show interview, July 23, 2015)


Let’s resume our virtual Diversity Book Club.  In previous and upcoming posts, I summarize books and provide classroom applications and resources for teachers interested in building welcoming and inclusive environments in their classrooms and schools.  We continue with Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel and Grau, 2015).


Summary:
At my own son’s suggestion, I read and re-read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Letter to My Son when it appeared in The Atlantic Magazine.  When my son later gave me the book, Between the World and Me (from which the article was excerpted), I was able to further delve into the book that searingly illuminates Black experience in the United States.  I commend it to teachers and to students from middle and high school onward. 

Physicist Carlo Rovelli emphasizes the importance of interaction in the universe, and the importance of understanding the perspective of others when trying to understand the complex world around us.  Ta-Nehisi Coates takes the complexity of his lived experience in the world as a human being in a Black body and shares his perspective.  It is joyful and painful, vivid and important.  Indeed, Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison advises, “This is required reading.”

Reading this father’s anguish, owning it as our responsibility, and teaching our students of all backgrounds how racism’s roots pervade United States history are moral imperatives for culturally competent and compassionate teachers. 


In the book full of personal reflection and experience, Coates writes about the connection of White on Black violence in the context of U.S. history, “At the onset of the Civil War, our stolen bodies were worth $3 billion, more than all of American industry, all American railroads, workshops, and factories combined, and the prime product rendered by our stolen bodies—cotton—was America’s primary export…. Our bodies were held in bondage by the early presidents….”   

Coates continues, “Here is what I would like for you to know: in America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”


Chapters include Coates’s recollection of walking to school, fists, head, pace, posture—all “just so.”  Just so someone would not challenge him for being offensive in a stiflingly fear-based Black community.  He remembers coming close to death as a peer slowly drew a gun out of a coat pocket to point at him.  Why?  No reason Coates could discern.

He recounts the death by police shooting in Maryland of a college acquaintance, driving his own Jeep, on his way to his fiancée’s home.  This college graduate, doctor’s son, and rising professional seemed to “have it all.”  But having Black skin that made him a mistaken identity target to (ironically) a Black off-duty police officer who killed him during a traffic stop.

 

Applications in school/classroom:
1.    Read the passages of Coates describing his caution on the streets of Baltimore, walking to school, and reacting to school.  (See pages 20-26). 
a.    “When I was your age, fully one-third of my brain was concerned with whom I was walking to school with, our precise number, the manner of our walk, the number of times I smiled, whom or what I smiled at, who offered a pound and who did not—all of which is to say that I practiced the culture of the streets, a culture concerned chiefly with securing the body….”
b.    Ask students to write about their approach to the school/classroom.   Have them note similarities and differences.
For example, I share my personal recollection with my students: “As a White high school student, I walked with my own fists, head, pace, posture—all ‘just so’—to avoid calling attention to myself as an intruder in a predominantly Black high school.”
c.    Do our students each see themselves as some kind of intruder?  Do they experience some kind of stereotype threat, as Claude Steele articulates in Whistling Vivaldi?  Finding common ground is a way to use Coates’s experience to build ties across boundaries.

2.    Research the economic history Coates explores.  The slave trade benefitted many Americans.  How could White “Christians” treat enslaved Africans so cruelly?  Follow the money. Why didn’t people of conscience stop it sooner?  Follow the money. 
a.    Among other resources, find “Key Distinctions for Understanding Race and Racism” at The Tracing Center www.tracingcenter.org developed by filmmaker Katrina Browne. Browne made the film Traces of the Trade in response to learning about her White Rhode Island family’s deep involvement in America’s trans-Atlantic slave trade.  She has uncovered the connections between her family history and her White privileges compared to families of enslaved Africans, for example. (Her yarn-web exercise demonstrating a small town and all craftspeople and gardeners supplying slave ships is useful to students).

3.    Investigate police interactions with Black motorists.  Using this NPR Code Switch article, high school and college students can research numerous links in the article to statistics, police department policies for body cameras, and court rulings.  “Some Key Facts We’ve Learned About Police Shootings Over the Past Year (April 13, 2015)” http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/04/13/399314868/some-key-facts-weve-learned-about-police-shootings-over-the-past-year
a.    Examine this quotation as a way into the lesson: "There are racial disparities in police stops — blacks are stopped twice as often as whites — but they aren't related to traffic safety offenses, in which cops exercise a little less discretion and violations are equal within groups. Where we see a difference — even after we adjust for driving time (on average, blacks drive more and longer than whites) — is in investigatory stops. In these, drivers are stopped for exceedingly minor violations — driving too slowly, malfunctioning lights, failure to signal — which are used as pretext for investigations of the driver and the vehicle….”

4.    Use my September 2015 blog to further explore these issues: “Preparing our Multicultural Selves to Teach/Reach All of our Children in the Era of Black Lives Matter” http://thinkcareact.blogspot.com/2015/09/preparing-our-multicultural-selves-to.html

5.    Have students explore their own implicit biases by visiting Project Implicit (www.implicit.harvard.edu) and taking the race (and other) Implicit Association Test [IAT], developed and explained by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald in Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. 
a.    Use the book Blindspot to help students put their (likely) racially biased test results into perspective.  Explore other ‘isms with them: gender bias, ageism, size bias, etc.
b.    See my blog on the book for more information: http://thinkcareact.blogspot.com/ 

6.    How can we build caring classroom environments in which students feel safe to tackle unsafe topics? To make our class environment a caring place for daring conversations I use the “Circles of Culture” exercise explained in my blog.  Taking time to create a caring place for daring conversations makes all the difference in the student (and teacher) experience and forges our bonds as a community of readers, writers, and upstanders, ready to build a welcoming and inclusive community in and out of school…. This is relevant teaching and learning: today and every day.
a.    (Sample questions: In which of your circles of culture do you find safety/refuge?  Why?  In which of your circles of culture do you find discomfort or lack of safety?  Why?)  Read more: http://thinkcareact.blogspot.com/2016/07/creating-caring-classroom-community_6.html

7.    Students can read The Atlantic article “Letter to My Son” as an entry to the book.  https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/tanehisi-coates-between-the-world-and-me/397619/
a.    Invite students to write their own letters to Ta-Nehesi Coates and/or his son.  What is the hope they hold for a welcoming and inclusive world?  What will they do to make their classrooms, locker rooms, cafeterias, and communities safe for people of all backgrounds?  What is the future of race relations in the US?  What is their role?

8.    Older students (high school and college) can use Jordan Peele’s social horror film to further explore issues raised by Coates. 
a.    Students can listen to Peele’s interviews on the film on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.  Read excerpts from the interview: “ ‘Get Out’ Sprang From An Effort To Master Fear, Says Director Jordan Peele” http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/03/15/520130162/get-out-sprung-from-an-effort-to-master-fear-says-director-jordan-peele  
b.    Read the Forbes interview with filmmaker Jordan Peele: “Jordan Peele Talks 'Get Out' And His Love For Horror Movies.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2016/10/05/interview-jordan-peele-discusses-get-out-and-his-love-for-the-horror-genre/#77580e9c187e

9.    Older students (high school and college) can continue to explore the economics of enslavement and the Civil War with this reference article by Roger L. Ransom, University of California, Riverside: “The Economics of the Civil War” https://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-economics-of-the-civil-war/

10. Watch Ta-Nehisi Coates’s July 2015 interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show  http://www.cc.com/video-clips/yy2dzc/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-ta-nehisi-coates

In the Daily Show interview, Coates reveals that his book, Between the World and Me, reflects his ongoing fearful conversation with his Black teenaged son.  Jon Stewart feels Coates is offering “an opening to a conversation” for the wider society, and I think teachers would be wise to participate.  In spite of daunting times, I agree with Coates, who affirms “Struggle is important, whether success is assured or not.”


Susan Gelber Cannon, March 2017

Saturday, February 25, 2017

DIVERSITY BOOK CLUB #2: BLINDSPOT: HIDDEN BIASES OF GOOD PEOPLE




“[S]tereotyping is an unfortunate by-product of the otherwise immensely useful human ability to conceive the world in terms of categories.” (Blindspot, p. 89)

“I regard awareness to be a singularly important experience because the problem lies in the lack of awareness. When good people discover their blind spots, they are inherently motivated to wish to change….” Mahzahrin Banaji (email interview in Workforce, 2014)


Let’s resume our virtual Diversity Book Club.  In previous and upcoming posts, I summarize books and provide classroom applications and resources for teachers interested in building welcoming and inclusive environments in their classrooms and schools.  We continue with Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, by Mahzahrin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald (Delacort Press, New York, 2013).


Summary:
“Implicit bias may operate outside of awareness, hidden from those who have it, but the discrimination that it produces can be clearly visible to researchers, and almost certainly also clearly visible to those who are disadvantaged by it.” (See p. 209.)  It is appropriate to start this summary with the last sentence in the book, as we see race, gender, religion, anti-immigrant, and other forms of discrimination playing out in our schools, communities, and headlines daily. 

The authors gently and cleverly build their defense of this thesis by starting Chapter 1 with optical illusions and word association tests that surprise research participants and readers alike.  They call these “mindbugs,” the illusions we cling to or memories we create because our mind does something implicitly, without conscious thought.


Moving on, they detail their development of the Implicit Association Test [IAT], including samples in the text for readers to take or directing us to their online site at Project Implicit.  (See discussion pages 42-47.)  This test uses timed word association tasks to reveal hidden biases to members of different categories: Black, White, male, female, young, old, gay, straight, etc.

Cautious researchers, Banaji and Greenwald explain their studies that confirm two important points, referring to results of 75% of those who take the IAT (no matter their background):
 
1)   “automatic White preference is pervasive in American society” (p. 47),
2)   and “automatic White preference… predicts discriminatory behavior even among research participants who earnestly… espouse egalitarian beliefs” (p. 47). 


Banaji and Greenwald further explain race IATs as well as IATs regarding overweight people, elderly people, gays, etc.   They express their (and others’) dismay that even when we espouse our wish to treat all people equally, we all harbor unconscious biases.  With an aim to help us make this knowledge powerful in our efforts to overcome automatic biases, they further explain the human tendency to categorize and create stereotypes.  They conclude: “stereotyping is an unfortunate by-product of the otherwise immensely useful human ability to conceive the world in terms of categories” (p. 89), and they recognize the potential harm of this tendency.

The authors express a direct connection to police killings of black men, asserting, “‘[G]uilt by association,’ a Black = weapons stereotype is particularly consequential when it plays out in the interaction between citizens and law enforcement” (p. 106).  We have only to look to Ferguson, Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Dallas to update the unfortunate example to which the authors refer: that of the tragic death at the hands of police of Amadou Diallo in 1999.  They reference Claude Steele’s work (Whistling Vivaldi) and also discuss how stereotyping affects women in the workplace and in higher-level math classes.

In a chapter entitled “Us and Them,” Banaji and Greenwald discuss human babies’ development of preference for the familiar—usually people with the same racial identity as themselves.   They discuss our human tendency to be able to identify individuals of our own race versus those of different backgrounds.  Finally, they discuss how easy it is for humans to form in/out groups.  They conclude the chapter with examples of where this early imprinting and in-versus-out-group mentality can lead: “[I]ntergroup discrimination is less and less likely to involve explicit acts of aggression toward the out-group and more likely to involve everyday acts of helping the in-group….  [W]e may fail to see the far more pervasive ways in which hidden biases maintain the status quo, depriving those on the bottom rungs of society of the resources available to the more privileged by birth and status….  Blindspots hide both discriminations and privileges…” (See examples and discussion pages 140-144.)
 
In a chapter entitled “Outsmarting the Machine,” the authors describe ways around these automatic biases (blindspots), including so-called “blind auditions” that led to an increase in hiring of female musicians by major orchestras.  Human minds are malleable, they remind us, as they describe promising research that hidden biases can be weakened by overt counter messages showing Blacks, women, and the elderly in positive light, for example.  Finally, they describe policy solutions: in which unconscious biases in doctors, for example, could be overridden by policies recommending standard treatment for all types of people.  (See pages 149-155.)


The appendices are crucial reading. 

In Appendix 1, the authors track Americans’ overt racism.  They provide evidence that overt racism may be less, but hidden bias remains pervasive and harmful. 

Appendix 2
is also worth studying and sharing.  In it, the authors provide seven conclusions of their research (and the overwhelming body of research of colleagues):

1.    Black disadvantage exists (in housing, hiring, healthcare, criminal justice, monetary transactions, etc.).
2.    The disadvantage experienced by black Americans is at least partly due to race discrimination (especially due to the repeated small effects of “minor” acts of discrimination, for example).
3.    Social differentiation exists. (Humans are good at and instantly do stereotype.)
4.    Attitudes have both reflective and automatic forms (and these may not agree—even in the same person’s mind).
5.    People are often unaware of disagreement between the reflective and automatic forms of their own attitudes and stereotypes. 
6.    Explicit bias is infrequent; implicit bias is pervasive.
7.    Implicit race attitudes (automatic race preferences) contribute to discrimination against Black Americans.   The authors site an overwhelming body of research evidence that “widespread acts of discrimination against Black Americans that have put them at a disadvantage in just about every economically significant domain of life.”  (See Appendix 2, pages 189-209.)


Classroom/School Applications:

1.    Have students explore their own implicit biases by visiting Project Implicit (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/education.html) and taking the race (and other) Implicit Association Test [IAT], developed and explained by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald in Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.  Use the Blindspot to help students put their (likely) racially biased test results into perspective.  Explore other ‘isms with them: gender bias, ageism, size bias, etc.

2.    Read Malcolm Gladwell’s response to taking the Race IAT for the first time, excerpted from his interview with Oprah Winfrey.  (See page 57.)  Ask your students to write their own reaction to their own IAT results.  You may wish to read Gladwell’s statements after your own students have written their responses.  Inviting students to share their responses may lead to a heartfelt bonding opportunity for your students.  However, you may want to preface the IAT and this writing with the following activity.

3.    Circles of Culture Lesson: How can we build caring classroom environments in which students feel safe to tackle unsafe topics? To make our class environment a caring place for daring conversations I use the “Circles of Culture” exercise explained in my blog.  Taking time to create a caring place for daring conversations makes all the difference in the student (and teacher) experience and forges our bonds as a community of readers, writers, and upstanders, ready to build a welcoming and inclusive community in and out of school…. This is relevant teaching and learning: today and every day. (Sample questions: In which of your circles of culture do you find safety/refuge?  Why?  In which of your circles of culture do you find discomfort or lack of safety?  Why?)  Read more: http://thinkcareact.blogspot.com/2016/07/creating-caring-classroom-community_6.html

4.    Read with students this short article from Pacific Standard Magazine in which a small study asserts that mindfulness meditation may have promise in countering the negative and pernicious effects of hidden bias.  https://psmag.com/mindfulness-short-circuits-reflexive-racial-bias-ac77baf07c34#.lk4rr8ybb
5.  Follow up with Rhonda Magee's article on her work developing ColorInsight:  http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_mindfulness_can_defeat_racial_biasUse links and sidebars to try exercises she contends may help us think more mindfully rather than acting on our reflexive racial biases.  Some are truly moving.  (“[C]onsider that the person before you has known love. Inwardly recite the phrase ‘Just like me, this person has loved, and has been loved.’ And, ‘Just like me, this person has known pain and loss.’”)


6.    Older students can explore corporate and scientific applications of bias research after reading this article from Workforce: http://www.workforce.com/2014/02/09/you-biased-no-its-your-brain/

7.    Host a school reading of Whistling Vivaldi (See my blog summary with activities: http://thinkcareact.blogspot.com ) or Blindspot.  Read excerpts of either book to your classes and discuss.

8.    Host a showing and discussion of the movie Hidden Figures at your school, or read and discuss the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians who Helped Win the Space Race: (Background story and movie trailer here) http://www.popularmechanics.com/space/rockets/a24429/hidden-figures-real-story-nasa-women-computers/
9.    Discuss the portrayal in the media of various groups: Black, White, Asian, Muslim, Jewish, male, female, transgender, young, old, gay, straight, differently abled, rich, poor, etc.  What stereotypes are promulgated?

10.    Make sure your classroom walls abound with positive images of a diverse array of human faces. 

What can we do to overcome these blindspots in our students and ourselves?

Everything we can think of.


-Susan Gelber Cannon, February 2017