Discussing Race and Racism in the Classroom | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
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Discussing Race and Racism in the Classroom

This unit is designed to help teachers in the UK have conversations about race with their students in a safe, sensitive, and constructive way.




Three or more 50-min class periods


English — UK


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About This Unit

This unit is designed to help teachers have conversations with their students about race in a safe, sensitive and constructive way. Use these lessons to help your students reflect on race and racism – their history and present day impact – and help them consider what needs to be done to create a society in which everyone, regardless of their perceived race, is able to thrive.

Use this unit to help students grapple with the concept of race and how it came to exist, address racism and its impact, and explore their role in shaping a society in which everyone can thrive. The lessons will guide students through these fundamental questions: 

  1. How do we discuss race in a brave and constructive way?
  2. How can learning about the concept of race and the impact of racism help us challenge racism? 
  3. How do we address and understand the impact of racist and dehumanising language?
  4. How can we ensure that everyone in our society is able to thrive?

This unit supports a one week exploration of Discussing Race and Racism in the Classroom. It includes:

  • 4 lessons
  • 1 assessment
  • Videos, readings, and handouts that correspond with activities
  • Student materials

The recent – and ongoing – protests against racial injustice, sparked by the murder of George Floyd in the United States in May 2020, have fuelled a national reckoning aimed at confronting racism in the UK and the difficult colonial history that sowed its seeds. Of the many forces that have shaped the present, racial oppression is one of the most significant – the country’s involvement in the slave trade and colonisation of countries around the globe helped it amass immense wealth and create many of the buildings and institutions that still exist today. 1

However, these troubling sides to the UK’s history, and their relationship to modern Britain and the racist structures that persist today, have often been left unaddressed. But, what the recent protests have shown is that there is a public desire to honestly address this history and confront the racism which it spawned. To be able to confront racism, however, we need to discuss race.

Race is one of the concepts that societies have created to sort and categorise their members – it emerged in the 1600s and 17oos as a means of justifying colonialism, the enslavement of human beings and societal divisions that placed white people above the rest. The concept of race gave rise to racism – discrimination against people on account of their perceived race – which continues to have an impact on how people are treated, and their ability to access opportunities, in the present day. Though race is a social construction, racism is real. 

Race can be a difficult topic to discuss in the classroom; its challenging nature can mean that teachers shy away from broaching this important issue and from exploring the effects that race and racism have on young people and wider society. This is problematic as students need to be able to discuss race, their experiences and their perceptions, if they are to challenge racism in the world around them. 

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

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

Note: We recommend that you complete the first lesson in this series before teaching the others, as it lays the foundation for the construction of a safe and supportive learning environment.

If you do not have time to teach all of the lessons, we have outlined approaches that you can take below. However, we do recommend that, if possible, you teach all the lessons in the designated order.

Discussing sensitive issues with your students can be challenging and requires first building a foundation of trust and shared norms with your class. We recommend you use our guide Fostering Civil Discourse: How Do We Talk About Issues that Matter? to help you prepare your class to engage meaningfully with this topic.

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Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

Most teachers are willing to tackle the difficult topics, but we need the tools.
— Gabriela Calderon-Espinal, Bay Shore, NY