Note to Teachers: News about the new coronavirus (COVID-19) has been evolving rapidly as the disease continues to spread. Stay informed about the latest information using the New York Times Coronavirus Briefing, which is updated daily, or another trusted news source. The information in this Teaching Idea was last updated March 19, 2020.
Since January, the world has been on high alert concerning the spread of the new strain of coronavirus, COVID-19. The virus, which in severe cases causes pneumonia, respiratory problems, and even death, emerged in Wuhan, China, in December and has since spread to all 50 states in the United States and to 145 countries across 6 continents 1. As more cases are reported daily, anxiety concerning the virus and our ability to contain it grows. This anxiety has been coupled with a rise in racism, xenophobia, and discrimination: in Europe and North America, many people of Asian heritage have been racially abused in public and wrongfully blamed for the spread of the virus. It’s vital to ensure that young people are aware of the facts so that they understand what COVID-19 is and do not discriminate against others in a culture of heightened fear.
Explain to students that since the start of the coronavirus outbreak people of Asian heritage have been the target of racist abuse in Europe and North America, while in Asia, Chinese people have been targeted and discriminated against. They have been called names, excluded from places, and blamed for the spread of the virus because people have judged them on their appearance and/or nationality, using the fact that the virus began in China as the basis for their discrimination. Inform your students that these instances of discrimination make it all the more important for students to understand the facts about COVID-19 and how it spreads, so that they can discuss it in an informed manner and so that they understand that the virus is not linked to one group of people.
First, ask students to discuss the following questions in pairs:
Invite students to share their ideas with the class, if desired.
Next, project the following facts on the board one at a time and read them as a class using a read aloud strategy (Note: You might choose to read some of the embedded links to enhance your own background knowledge, or share them with students who have additional questions):
Respond to any questions the students might have, then ask them to complete a S-I-T activity, using the information that they just read on coronaviruses and COVID-19.
Finally, lead a quick class discussion using the following questions:
Additional Resources: You may also choose to share one of the following resources with your students to provide additional information:
Explain to your students that they will be reading an article about incidents of racism that have occurred since the outbreak of the new coronavirus. You may wish to begin by outlining the scope of the racist abuse by reading the following paragraph:
All over the world, Chinese and Asian people have been subject to racism since the coronavirus outbreak. In Asia, there has been widespread anti-Chinese sentiment, also known as Sinophobia, while in countries across Europe, Australia, and North America, people with Asian heritage have been targeted with racist abuse and, in some cases, have even been assaulted. In Rome, Italy, a cafe placed a sign banning Chinese people from entering;3 in New York, United States, an Asian woman wearing a mask was hit and kicked on the subway;4 in Aberystwyth, Wales, a market trader of Tawainese heritage was asked to leave the Market Hall where she runs a stall;5 in the Netherlands, a university dormitory was sprayed with the phrase “Die Chinese”; in Melbourne, Australia, Asian doctors and nurses have been racially abused at the Royal Children’s Hospital by parents of patients; and all over the world, Chinese restaurants have suffered enormous economic losses as people have stopped eating in them.6 These listed examples are just a few of the racist incidents that have been reported on news sites around the world since the outbreak of COVID-19, and they all highlight how Chinese and Asian people are being targeted because of their appearance and/or nationality.
Ask students to listen to the NPR Short Wave podcast As Coronavirus Spreads, Racism And Xenophobia Are Too (13:00). Then, discuss the following questions as a class (Note: The transcript of the podcast is available on NPR’s website):
Ask students to work in pairs and design an anti-bullying poster that discourages people from reacting to the new coronavirus with racism. Inform students that it may be useful to focus both on promoting the facts concerning COVID-19, and on the impact of coronavirus-based racism on the victims. If useful, provide your students with the following poster titles:
Give the students an opportunity to share their posters in a gallery walk.
Next, ask students to respond in their journals to the following questions:
Give students the chance to share any ideas they feel comfortable sharing with a partner in a Think, Pair, Share before inviting some students, if they would like, to share what they wrote with the class.
Share with your students that racist reactions to the new coronavirus build on a long association between disease and “outsiders.” In the United States, people have a history of falsely blaming immigrants for outbreaks of disease, despite the fact that “the number of ‘diseased’ immigrants has always been infinitesimal when compared with the number of newcomers admitted to this country.”7 A recent report conducted in the United States reveals that immigrants on average actually have better health according to many key health indicators than the US-born population. Furthermore, many racist attacks target people who are perceived to be foreign, and it is impossible to tell by looking at a person where they were born or what their nationality is.
Show your students two historical cartoons that depict the false connection between disease and “outsiders.”
Analyze the images with your students. Ask them:
Then, use the Connect, Extend, Challenge framework to discuss how this history can inform students’ thinking about people’s reactions to the new coronavirus:
If you would like to give your students more information about the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, consider sharing the following resources:
To teach your students more about how coronavirus-linked racism is impacting Asians around the world, here are some useful resources:
View our resources for supporting teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic.