The recent events with Jena-6 and the beatings have sparked a conversation across the nation about racism in high schools. Many parents give their kids ‘the sex talk’ and maybe ‘the drug talk,’ but how about ‘the racism talk.’ When and how do you start to teach your kids about how to treat others and what it means to be ‘black,’ ‘Asian,’ or even ‘American.’
Many kids go through, what I like to call the ‘why/what stage.’ You know this time period, where kids ask about everything that they come into contact with: “Why is the sky blue?” “Why are my eyes brown?” “Why do I call dad, ‘dad’?” Often times, ‘why are my friends eyes like that?” or as my little cousin recently asked me while watching the Jena-6 coverage: “Why are people fighting?”
I found myself at a loss for words: why are people fighting? Teaching your kids and teens about tolerance and kindness is just as important, if not more important than talking to them about sexually transmitted infections and weed.
I would like to summarize an extremely interesting study done by Jane Elliott*, an elementary school teacher in Riceville, Iowa. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, her students were confused about racism and she designed an experiment to teach them about prejudice and tolerance.
She split her class into blue eyed and brown-eyed students and the first week told the brown-eyed students that they were superior to the blue-eyed students. She gave the brown-eyed students extra time at recess and made all blue-eyed students wear special collars to distinguish them. Shockingly, the students began to fight and segregate. The brown-eyed students taunted the blue-eyed students and all friendships dissolved instantly!
The second week she told the class that she had made a mistake and switched the groups—now brown-eyed students were superior to blue eyed students. Again the taunting, segregation and fighting. At the end of the experiment, the kids seemed transformed. The experiment tracked the students years later and PBS Frontline did a special on the class. Many of the students, even 15 years later thought of the experiment anytime they felt prejudice and immediately stopped themselves.
This was a real lesson in tolerance. Although you might not be able to repeat this experiment, it is important to talk to your teens and kids about racism and tolerance. Watch the news segments about Jena-6 together and discuss the situation. The first step to prevent racism and prejudice is by talking to your kids about it.
*Heath, Chip and Dan. “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and others Die.” Random House: New York, 2007.
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Tags: High School, Media, Politics, Racism