Break The Cycle
March 10, 2005
Like you, I am an elementary school teacher. I teach 4 year old kids in my school's Pre-K program. Here is the problem I want your opinion on.
Every morning, we have the kids sit down in the floor in a circle so we can read to them. Each child has their own spot, so they know where to sit and there's no fighting over who sits where. I'll come back to this in a minute.
One day, while my assistant was setting up an activity and the kids were just sitting on the floor, one of the girls says to me "I have a boyfriend." So I asked her who it was while thinking that it was cute that she was sweet on some little boy. She pointed to the little boy who sits next to her and said that she likes him and he likes her back, so that makes him her boyfriend. I said "awww, that's so sweet" and didn't think anything more about it until that afternoon when the boy's mother arrived to pick him up. In the course of our short conversation, I relayed the story to her and commented on how cute it was and said something along the lines of "they grow up so fast, don't they?" and we laughed about it.
The next morning when they were asked to sit down, the boy started crying. He cried and cried and we just didn't know what was wrong with him. Well, after we got him calmed down some more and talked to him, we found out what was wrong.
You see, the little boy is white and the little girl is black. When his father found out about this sweet little case of puppy love, he hit the roof. He told this boy in no uncertain terms that he would be severely punished (as in a spanking, etc.) if he didn't stay away from "that little nigger."
I really don't know what to do about this. I moved the boy to a different spot because he was afraid to sit by the girl anymore. What else can I do? Should I talk to his parents about this? I can't see that going well. Should I tell the boy that his parents are wrong? What?
I've just never had to deal with anything like this before. Teachers (as I'm sure you know) can get in trouble for teaching kids moral values that are opposed to what the parents teach. I feel like my hands are tied here.
-Mrs. ******* [name omitted by Galen]
It is sad to say, but racism is not dead in our society. It's beaten and bleeding and in hiding most of the time, but it's still far from dead. This story of yours is a prime example of that.
First of all, your hands are NOT tied. Think about it; do you really think his parents are going to complain to the school administration that you taught their son not to be a little racist fuck like his dad? Shit no, they won't! They'll tell him, at home, that you're the one who's wrong and he'd better damn well listen to what they say, not you. That's what'll happen.
Living here in the "good 'ol south," believe me, I've had to deal with my share of this shit. It's a vicious cycle. Kids don't start out racist and racist kids come from racist parents. The fucked up parents teach this shit to their kids! There was one little girl who was in my wife's class last year (we'll call her "Jenny")... Well, one day on the playground, she comments to my wife that "there sure are a lot of niggers at this school." My wife told her not to say that and left it at that. She's not the kind of person to take a risk of pissing someone off (nothing like me, in other words). I asked my wife if she would mind if I had a talk with Jenny since I'd known her for a while (the entire previous school year before she came to my wife) and had a good raport with her. My wife said that she didn't mind at all. Well, I took this girl out in the hallway and told her very clearly, "Your parents are wrong. What they are teaching you about black people is wrong. There's no other way to say it, they are just plain wrong and y'know what, they know they're wrong. You can go home and tell them that I said this if you want, that's just fine. They're not gonna come up, cuz they know they're wrong!" I went on to say to her that she has the right to have her own opinion about things, including blacks. "If you're a racist because that's what you believe in, then you have a right to think like that, but that's not what's going on here. You're just repeating what your parents have taught you, that's all. You wanna be a racist, fine, but you be one because it's what YOU think, not because it's what your parents told you to think. Now, I'm telling you that they're wrong and they'll probably tell you that I'm wrong. Whatever you believe is up to you, but you better make up your OWN mind about it, don't just listen to what other people tell you and just believe it." Throughout the conversation, she was crying. She knew that it was wrong. Did that little talk do any good? Nope. Not from what I can tell. I made her feel guilty as hell and maybe it had an impact on her for a short time, but there's no way to compete with the constant indoctrination of racism that they receive at home. A child has to decide for themself that it's wrong; that's the only way to break the cycle. I grew up in an extremely racist family. In fact, out of my very large family, only myself and one cousin are not racists. We both had the presence of mind from a very young age to think for ourselves and decide that our parents were wrong.
But, I'm straying off the topic. What you can do in class is to put the little boy right back where he was, but not before talking to him about it and telling him that his parents are wrong and that there's nothing wrong with black people and there's nothing wrong with him having a crush on this little black girl. Explain to him that his parents are just plain wrong, that they're not always right. Hopefully, with this concept being enforced every day in class, it will open his mind up and he'll be able to do as I and my cousin did. We can only hope that he'll be able to look at your way and his parents' way and see for himself that your way is right and his parents' way is wrong. That will break the cycle!
And hey, if you wanna go a step further, send a letter home to his parents informing them that racism will not be tolerated in your classroom under any circumstances.
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