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Lesson

Creating a Society in Which Everyone Can Thrive

Use this lesson to help your students explore the impact of racism in the UK and what can be done to challenge it. 

Published:

This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

Lesson

Language

English — UK

Grade

6–12

Duration

Two 50-min class periods
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement

Overview

About This Lesson

This lesson is designed to help students develop their critical thinking skills, empathy and civic agency. It provides space for students to further explore the impacts of racism in the present day: how it affects both how people are treated and how society is structured.

In Part I of this lesson, students reflect on social inequality and consider the factors, social institutions and social categories that contribute to such inequality, before exploring how systemic racism can impact school policies and the treatment of people of colour in the criminal justice system. In Part II of this lesson, students learn about some impacts of, and responses to, racism in society, focusing on the act of ‘taking the knee’.

These topics may be difficult for some students to discuss, especially if they have been directly impacted by them. It is, therefore, essential to create a safe and reflective classroom by using contracting or completing the first lesson in this series: Preparing to Discuss Race in the Classroom, if you have not already done so. When discussing sensitive topics, it is vital to communicate to students that they do not need to share information about themselves and their experiences which they do not feel comfortable sharing: they should always have a choice about what they do or do not divulge.

  • How does the social category of race impact how people are treated?
  • How have people taken a stand against racism?
  • How might we challenge all types of racism in the UK so that everyone can thrive?

Students explore how the social category of race can impact how people are treated and what can be done to challenge all types of racism.

This lesson is designed to fit into two 50-minute class period and includes:

  • 6 activities
  • 1 video 
  • 1 handout
  • 3 teaching strategies
  • 1 classroom-ready PowerPoint

It is important that students understand that racism is not just acts of abuse that are done with an intent to harm individuals; it also exists structurally, feeding into the way in which institutions are organised, dictating the laws that are created and how they are enforced, and underpinning a social hierarchy that privileges whiteness. This systemic form of racism impacts the opportunities available to ethnic minorities in the UK and the way that they are treated, hindering their political advancement, accumulation of wealth and social status. 

Such racism has deep roots – it is both caused by and causes racist beliefs, reinforcing a narrative of racial difference that has existed for centuries, and which depicts Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups as ‘inferior’ to white people. While there are laws in place that are meant to prevent discrimination against people on account of their skin colour, many of the power structures and institutions around today have been in place for generations, and thus existed when racial discrimination was considered ‘acceptable’, and whiteness was explicitly put on a pedestal. This can mean that the barriers faced by people of colour are harder to see and challenge as they are built in to the way institutions are organised.

Systemic racism, therefore, operates even in the face of good intentions: it is not about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people, but about how systems of oppression work when they go unchallenged and are supported by policy.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before you teach this lesson, please review the following guidance to tailor this lesson to your students’ contexts.

Create a classroom contract before teaching this lesson and/or complete the first lesson in this series: Preparing to Discuss Race in the Classroom.

This lesson uses the Four Corners teaching strategy to discuss social inequality. Before class begins, familiarise yourself with the strategy and set up the room in advance. To prepare your classroom space, create four signs – Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree and Strongly Disagree – and hang them in different corners of the room. Consider printing the signs on coloured paper or card and, if your school has a machine, laminating them so you can reuse them for further Four Corners and Barometer discussions.

Creating a Society in Which Everyone Can Thrive

This PowerPoint for Lesson 4 of the Discussing Race and Racism in the Classroom mini-unit comes complete with student-facing slides and teaching notes, and is ready to use in the classroom.

Each lesson in this mini-unit includes PowerPoint student-facing slides. The PowerPoint slides are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson. The PowerPoint slides include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plans

Part I Activities

  • Explain to students that they will be engaging in a discussion about social equality and inequality, thinking about how society, its institutions and social categories can have an impact on the opportunities available to people. In order to prepare for the discussion, they will have some time to think about social equality by completing an anticipation guide.
  • Give students the handout Equality vs Inequality: Anticipation Guide and ask them to complete it on their own.
  • Before engaging in a Four Corners debate that uses statements from the anticipation guide, take a minute to review the classroom contract and reiterate the importance of respecting the opinions and voices of others. You might also address ways for students to disagree constructively with each other, encouraging them to speak using ‘I’ language rather than the more accusatory ‘you’.
  • Explain the Four Corners teaching strategy to students and then project and read aloud the following statements one at a time. So everyone has a chance to speak, consider having students quickly share ideas with others in their corners each round before opening the discussion to the class. Remind students that they can switch corners if they hear evidence that compels them to do so.
    • Everyone in the UK who wants to succeed can.
    • The needs of UK society are more important than the needs of individuals or groups within it.
    • Everyone has exactly the same opportunities in life regardless of who they are or where they come from.
    • Societal institutions, such as the government, the education system and the judicial system, serve everyone in the UK equally.
    • Social categories, such as class, gender, race and age, influence how people treat each other.
  • Debrief the activity with the class by facilitating a whole-group discussion based on the following questions:

    • On which statements was there the most agreement/disagreement in the class?
    • What does the activity suggest about the challenges that exist in creating an equal and fair society?
    • What impact do societal institutions, such as the government, the education system and the judicial system, have on people’s opportunities and experiences?
    • What impact do social categories, such as class, gender, race and age, have on people’s opportunities and experiences?
  • Explain to students that, in the UK, the Equality Act 2010 (which replaced the Race Relation Acts of 1965, 1968 and 1976, as well as other anti-discrimination acts) makes it illegal for people to be discriminated against on account of their skin colour. However, despite the existence of this Act, the social category of race still impacts the opportunities and experiences of people of colour. Often this occurs due to something called systemic racism – this is not individual acts of racism, but rather a form of racism that exists because of how society is structured. Many of the power structures and institutions around today have been in place for generations, and thus existed when racial discrimination was considered ‘acceptable’, and whiteness was explicitly held on a pedestal. They have therefore been shaped by this history and continue to privilege whiteness. This can mean that the barriers faced by people of colour can be both hard to see and hard to challenge as they are built in to the way institutions are organised.

    It is worth noting that whiteness is not just about skin colour. It refers to how white people, their customs, beliefs and culture, operate as the standard to which all other groups (and their customs, beliefs and cultures) are compared: white traditions and white racial identity are presented as what is ‘normal’. 1

  • Then, share the following information on systemic racism:

    • Black school students are more likely to be excluded from school due to their hair not meeting the school uniform policy, which often fails to account for different hair types. Critics of such policies, according to a report by the Runnymede Trust, argue they ‘are shaped by racialised value judgements on what is “neat”, “tidy” and “acceptable” – and this discriminates against black students’. 2
    • School anti-racism policies that exclude students for the use of the N-word can harm Black students if they do not leave space to consider the context in which the word is used. The Runnymede Trust found that the interests of Black students were not considered when punishment for using the N-word failed to distinguish the differences between a white student using the word and a Black student, essentially ignoring Black empowerment and self-determination. 3
    • In some parts of England, school exclusion rates for Black Caribbean students are up to six times higher than those of their white peers. 4  This is concerning in and of itself as young Black people are losing out on education, but it becomes all the more concerning when you learn that, according to a 2012 report by the Ministry of Justice, the majority of people who end up in the prison system have been excluded from school. 5
    • Black people are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police than their white counterparts: recent figures from the Racial Disparity Unit showed that between April 2019 and March 2020 in England and Wales, there were 6 stop and searches for every 1,000 White people, compared with 54 for every 1,000 Black people. 6  During this period, then, Black people were nine times more likely to be stopped and searched.
  • After they have read the information, invite students to respond to the following questions in pairs or groups:

    1. How can school policies be seen to privilege whiteness?
      • What impact can this have on people of colour?
    2. The school-to-prison pipeline is a phrase used to highlight the relationship between the increased likelihood of someone being processed through the criminal justice system if they have been excluded from school.
      • Why might being excluded from school increase someone’s likelihood of ending up in prison?
      • How might the school-to-prison pipeline further foster racial inequality?
      • How might it increase racial discrimination?
    3. What can these statistics teach us about the role that societal institutions, such as the government, the education system and the judicial system, play in shaping people’s life experiences?
      • What can they teach us about systemic racism?
    4. How is systemic racism different from acts of racial prejudice?
    5. Has the content shared changed any of your initial responses in the Equality vs Inequality: Anticipation Guide?
  • Then, lead a class discussion, inviting students to share their responses.
  • Ask students to journal in response to the following questions:

    • What have you found surprising, interesting and/or troubling about what you have learnt in today’s lesson?
    • What makes you say that?
  • If there is time, invite students to share their thoughts with the rest of the class.

Part II Activities

  • Explain to students that they will be exploring what people have done to stand up against racism and ask them to journal in response to the following questions:

    • In what ways have people protested against racial inequality?
    • How effective have these campaigns been?
  • Then, invite students to share their thoughts with the rest of the class.
  • Next, explain to students that people have been campaigning to challenge all types of racism in the UK in a range of ways. Some organisations have focused their efforts on schools – The Black Curriculum, for example, is a social enterprise that campaigns for Black British history to be taught in schools – whilst others have focused their efforts on putting pressure on the government: for example, the Runnymede Trust, a charity and independent race equality think tank, conducts research and analysis on race inequality in the UK to start debate and policy engagement.

    But it is not just organisations campaigning: anti-racist campaigners have been speaking out against racial injustice for decades, and since the murder of George Floyd in the US in May 2020, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets and/or taken the knee to protest against racial inequality, prejudice and discrimination.

  • Inform students that they will be thinking further about the act of taking the knee, focusing on UK football. Then, share the following information with them:

    The act of taking the knee against racial discrimination was first initiated by the American football player Colin Kaepernick in 2016. Kaepernick refused to stand to the American national anthem before a match, stating: ‘I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.’ In America, as well as in the UK, there is vast racial inequality, and people of colour are harmed by the historical discrimination built into societal institutions.

    The act of taking the knee was not widely supported at the time in the US as it was deemed unpatriotic: the National Football League (NFL) national anthem policy was amended to prohibit players from kneeling, 1  and Kaepernick’s protest cost him his career. 2  However, the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 changed the public perception of taking the knee. After Floyd’s murder, American football players began to kneel during the national anthem to protest against police brutality, with support from the NFL, 3  and the act soon spread around the world, with sports stars, politicians and the general public taking the knee to stand against racial discrimination.

    In the summer of 2020, major Premier League clubs in the UK began matches by kneeling to both call for justice for George Floyd and to stand against racism in all forms. 4  The England football team continued the commitment to this anti-racist act, opting to kneel before every match in the Euros in the summer of 2021. 5

    The reception of the England football team kneeling was mixed, with some fans booing the players, and some public figures – including politicians – criticising the team’s decision to kneel: the Home Secretary Priti Patel dismissed the act as ‘gesture politics’ and stated that fans could boo the players if they so wished. 6  Despite this opposition, the England team continued to take the knee before matches in a stand against racial prejudice and to call for racial equality.

    When the England team lost the Euro 2020 final against Italy in a penalty shoot-out, the racial prejudice that exists in the UK was brought to the fore: Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho were all racially abused for having missed their penalties. The abuse of the players received national condemnation and highlighted the need to continue fighting against racial discrimination. As a consequence of this, at the start of the 2021–22 football season, the Premier League announced that players would continue to take the knee before matches. 7

  • Discuss the following questions with students:

    You might choose to do a Barometer Activity for the first question, asking students to vote with their feet on a scale between Strongly Agree and Strongly Disagree.

    1. Should kneeling during the national anthem be considered unpatriotic? Explain your answer.
    2. Why do you think people would choose to kneel as a form of protest?
    3. How might footballers taking the knee in a stand against racial inequality and prejudice impact those who see it?
    4. The England football manager, Gareth Southgate, wrote an open letter before Euro 2020, referencing the act of taking the knee. He stated:

      ‘I have a responsibility to the wider community to use my voice, and so do the players.

      It’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.’ 8

      • Why do Gareth Southgate and the England football team have power?
      • What does Southgate suggest that they can do with their power?
      • Do you believe football players have a duty to ‘interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice’? Explain your answer.
    5. What did the racist backlash against Rashford, Saka and Sancho suggest about racism in the UK?
  • Next, play the video the Premier League made to explain why players take the knee:

    Why Premier League players take the knee

    It might be useful to show students the questions and then play the video again before discussing them.

    1. The video is narrated by former footballer Rio Ferdinand. In the video, he identifies different manifestations of racism.

      • He states that racism is ‘societal’. What do you think he means by this?
      • He then states racism is ‘racial prejudice’. What do you think he means by this?
      • How are these types of racism different?
    2. Ferdinand later states that taking the knee is about ‘recognising reality and demanding change’.

      • How might taking the knee be seen as ‘recognising reality’?
      • How might it be seen as a demand for change?
    3. According to Ferdinand, in what ways is taking the knee a symbol of pride?
  • Ask students to journal in response to the following questions:

    • What else do you think people in society can do to stand up against racial injustice?
    • What do you think you can do?
  • Invite students to share their thoughts to the first question with the rest of the class.

To explore the act of taking the knee in further depth with your students, please see our Teaching Idea: Understanding #Takeaknee and Athlete Activism: How Are Athletes Protesting Racial Injustice?

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Materials and Downloads

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Resources from Other Organizations

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