Discussing Race and Racism in the Classroom

This mini-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.

For more resources on race and racism:

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. 

Use this mini-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?

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.

This mini-unit contains the following lessons:

Note: All of the lessons in this mini-unit contain student-facing PowerPoint slides.

  1. Preparing to Discuss Race in the Classroom 

    Use this lesson to help create a classroom environment in which students can discuss the potentially challenging topic of race in brave and constructive ways. The activities in the lesson and the use of contracting are ideal preparation before introducing content that explores race, as they encourage students to be reflective, empathic and considerate communicators. 

  2. Introducing the Concept of Race 

    Use this lesson to help your students understand more about the origins of race as a socially constructed concept and racism as a force that shapes society. The activities support students to reflect on the meaning of race, the meaning of racism and the impact of racism so that they can better understand how to challenge racial discrimination; it is useful preparation before having indepth discussions on racism and its consequences. We recommend that you complete the first lesson in this series before teaching this one.

  3. Addressing Racist and Dehumanising Language 

    Use this lesson when your students are engaging with a text that contains racist and dehumanising language. The activities enable students to explore the complexities of such language, think critically about its impact, and understand how such language will be approached in class when it is encountered (we advise against speaking any racist and dehumanising terms out loud).

    Note: It is important to teach at least the first lesson in this mini-unit before teaching this one, as it lays the foundation for the construction of a safe and supportive learning environment.

  4. 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. The activities enable students to understand how racism plays out in society – including how it can be institutionalised – and encourage them to reflect on the role that they can play in creating a society in which everyone, regardless of their perceived race, is able to thrive.

    Note: We recommend that you complete the first and second lessons in this mini-unit before teaching this one.

    Assessment 

    This suggested assessment provides an opportunity for students to build on what they have learnt in the mini-unit and discuss ways in which they can stand up against racism in the present day. Students participate in a People’s Assembly and consider the question:

    How might we challenge all types of racism in the UK so that everyone can thrive?

    A People’s Assembly is a powerful and democratic tool that allows people to share ideas and generate solutions in an inclusive and structured way that ensures all voices are heard and valued equally.

 

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