Saturday, June 19, 2010

All The Colors We Are

The well-oiled machinery of social injustice and smoldering hegemony underpin our everyday lives in America whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. It is so subtle that we have willingly accepted it, mainly without question, as simply the way of things.

Those in power keep the power through the well-established order of things. The mentality of 'this is the way we have always done things' coupled with the overwhelming prospect of how would we change the rules even if we wanted to keeps us chugging along in the status quo.

This is evident in our school systems as well. The best education is doled out to those children whose parents have experienced success while those from less wealthy or privileged backgrounds are not afforded equal opportunities.

One component of stratification is based on skin color. Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote in South Pacific that hatred and prejudice towards those who look/act differently from us must be "carefully taught" and I agree.

And yet, children notice that they look different from one another. I have had conversations with other teachers about this and we have debated how to approach it; openly discuss it or ignore it. One view is to let children be children, but more and more we find that it seems we are doing the students a disservice if we sweep their noticings and questions under the rug.

They sometimes say hurtful things to one another because they don't realize the power of their words. These innocent statements have sometimes caused worry for a child and their parents.

Therefore we thought it best to at least touch upon the fact that we have many shades of skin color in our classroom and to celebrate those differences.

We began in art class with each student creating a self portrait (see above). We also read two books, All The Colors We Are by Katie Kissinger and Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney.

Together these books provide an explanation as to how we get our skin color (family ancestry, amount of melanin, exposure to the sun) and celebrate the differences.

A suggested extension activity is to have each student try to match their skin color by mixing paint and then naming it (pancake syrup, mocha, etc.). With the help of Margaret, our art teacher, we gave it a go. (Margaret's tip: When creating skin tones, which is a challenge, it is best to start by making orange and then adding either black or white as necessary.)

Each child made three swatches - one for themselves and one for each person to their left and right - and these were tied together to make a beautiful "Colors of Us" quilt.

For more about how children view skin color click here.


Lorenzo said...

A beautiful post, Gary. So much to consider here for teaching youngsters (and the not so young) both in and out of the classroom.

willow said...

Excellent post. Your kindness is always evident in your posts, Bary.

Ruth said...

I love this. Great idea to have them name their skin color. As I am eating garlic humus at the moment, I am struck by how that is the color of my skin! And so I shall be garlic humus (as opposed to the red pepper humus to its right on the plate, and the roasted pepper humus, a little darker, on its left.

I'm glad Lorenzo sent me over.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

so enjoyed this post!

was terrific seeing you! thanks for hanging around town after school and meetings to meet up. was a lot of fun!


Gary said...

Thanks Lorenzo. There is quite a bit to learn and discuss on this topic. I am lucky that I have a fellow teacher, Mike, who is well versed in social justice issues. He ignites a passion in his students and opens their eyes (and mine) to taking action on important issues.

And thank you Willow. I appreciate your comment.

Ruth, how wonderful of you to 'stop by' and add to this discussion. I like that you were able to make an immediate connection with the naming. I actually had a very hard time naming my own skin color. I never did come up with anything. My co-teacher thought of one for me which was the inside of a conch shell. Hmmm...again my social justice guru told me it is not unusual for white folk to have difficulty with it because being from a position of power we don't need to name it. Interesting. Not sure if that is the reason I had trouble (I just thought there was nothing really interesting about my skin color) but it does open up a discussion.

I am glad Lorenzo sent you over. I checked out your blogs today as well. I do love Paris!

Kimy - It was great to see you too darling. I had such a good time and the conversation could have gone on all night. Thanks for letting me know you were in town. Looking forward to your next visit. xo

Ruth said...

Thanks, Gary. I'm off to read what you commented at my blogs. But I just wanted to add that I looked at my skin and was flummoxed about a name for it . . . then lucky me, there was the humus. It's interesting what your guru had to say about white power. It makes complete sense.

Barbara said...

Such a kind and thoughtful way to approach something that can be so divisive. Kindergarten is a good time to start a lifetime of lessons in acceptance of differences. The "quilt" was a perfect way to show the richness of all the colors coming together.

Gary said...

Barbara you are so right. These issues can be very divisive and there is always a heated discussion when the topic of race and power comes up in my college courses. Maybe if we openly discuss it from an early age people would be more comfortable (respectful and able to listen to one another instead of only tring to make a point) having the discussion. It can be touchy. Especially as I am considered part of the power/repression dynamic.

Pauline said...

Marvelous! I love the colors we are quilt and will have a talk with our art teacher come fall

willow said...

I just popped back in and noticed a typo in my comment. Hee...I know you are Gary....but you knew that!

Gary said...

Pauline - There are more activities in the back of the book. Even if the ideas themselves don't ignite interest they may spur others that do.

Willow - I did indeed.


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