Lessons on Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression in the Classroom
Every year in February, Eagle Hill School honors Black History Month by celebrating and learning about Black American culture. The historic events of this past year, particularly for Black Americans, shined a spotlight on addressing matters of racial justice, the fair treatment of people of all races, and a collective reckoning on current events not only in February but throughout the school year.
As Black History Month kicked off, we asked members of our faculty to reflect on the work they have been doing this school year with students as they engaged in dialogue about racism and oppression in the world.
The following are some of the remarkable projects and focuses on anti-racism and anti-oppression achieved in the classroom.
In Their Own Words
My Social Construction of Identity course is currently learning about housing inequality in America as an expression of systemic racism; we have gone over the history of redlined districts as well as the Fair Housing Act of 1968 in conjunction with the effects of COVID-19 on people of color and low-income families. The kids have been learning to approach issues of racial prejudice and systemic oppression through an intersectional lens, keeping in mind that social context compounds to either greater privilege or increased discrimination.
Currently, the class is reading about Ta-Nehisi Coates's 2019 address to the House Judiciary subcommittee regarding H.R 40. We listened to Coates’s introduction, and we will be discussing essential vocabulary alongside the reading. Following this, we read a piece from the ACLU about H.R 40 as well as an excerpt from Coates's 2014 article for The Atlantic, "The Case for Reparations."
—Mr. Ben Parson
For my Short Stories class this year, we read Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues," during which we had discussions about the racism and violence that the character's parents faced and how adults tried to shield their children from the discrimination that lay just outside their doors. We also explored how the horrific history of racism is cyclical in nature, haunts these family’s generation after generation, and how each member feels the weight of the pain and suffering of their ancestors' past. We read other stories such as Julia Alvarez's "Names/Nombres" and Amy Tan's "Rules of the Game" which featured the experiences and racial discrimination of recent immigrants to the United States, as well as the difficulty younger character's faced when torn between two cultures. For this class, we also read a story that used the "n-word" and discussed why it was important to acknowledge the use of the word in a story, as opposed to erasing it; why our classroom's rules were that it should not be said aloud, even in an academic context; and what its use in the story teaches us about the characters that say it or the setting in which it is said.
—Mr. Marshall Robinson
During our annual African American read-in, we had several students and faculty read materials not typically presented. For example, Ms. Ashley Green read an excerpt from Mae Jemison (the first Black woman to head into space). Aimee N. ’23 read from Peggy Shepard’s work related to her not-for-profit WE ACT for Environmental Justice. Mr. Ian Kelly read from a blogpost by NK Jemisin (science fiction and fantasy writer). Dr. Becky Miller read from psychology papers written by Dr. Clark about the doll test regarding racial identity, and Yoni B. ‘24 read some of the work of Neil deGrasse Tyson. In addition to these selections, students and faculty also read from several fiction and poetry writers throughout the day.
—Ms. Kat Thompson
I am constantly working to make the music room a safe space, a purposefully anti-racist space, to provide every Eagle Hill student with the most creative, productive, and relevant music education. Anti-racist work begins with our own learning so I continue to learn from my colleagues of color, find music and composers who represent all people, use resources like Be an Anti-Racist, and read about ways to build anti-racist music classroom. Anti-racist work begins in the music room at Eagle Hill with Chorale learning about and singing spirituals and songs from the Justice Choir Songbook, like “Hold On” and “Lead with Love.” Anti-racist work begins in Jam Band where we spend time facing our own biases and expectations of others to more effectively collaborate and learn the music of great musicians of every race. Anti-racist work begins with Social Construction of Identity class, where we learn about hard history through the stories of people of all races, genders, creeds, and ages, face our own biases in reflective journals and conversations and find ways to make active change and combat prejudices through community service and art. Anti-racist work begins in Music in Social Justice class, where we learn about how the power of music can be harnessed not only to bring people together but also to help people understand the human experience of those different from them. Anti-racist work begins in Music Appreciation where we actively study and get to know world music from the perspectives of those who make it, and that pop music is as popular in Ghana as it is in Korea. Purposeful anti-racism must be found in the music room, along with every room on campus, as our community continues to navigate and make progressive strides through a world of constant change.
—Ms. Isabella Gentleman
In my African American Literature class, we have been reading The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and framing a lot of our discussions around colorism, its history, and its impact on contemporary society. While the text is the main focus and we have covered elements of symbolism and other related concepts, we have also studied societal examples of the issues represented by that symbolism. Some historical discussion points have included Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s doll experiment, the history of blackface and minstrel shows, racist imagery in advertising, negative stereotypes perpetuated by film and media, and how these concepts are still applicable today. Students have made connections between the text, background information, related concepts, and contemporary attitudes towards race through discussions in class, writing assignments, research, and reading.
—Mrs. Kim Bonica
My Writing Current Events classes are reading Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel American Born Chinese. We’ve been discussing stereotypes, racism, and microaggressions. We started the unit by reading some nonfiction texts about the origins of racism and journaling about our identities, as well as reading some poetry from POC authors. We are still reading Yang’s novel and the students are currently crafting their own graphic novels about an experience that has shaped who they are. My Modern Novel class just finished Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and we analyzed the story as an allegory for anti-Semitism in Europe post-WWI.
—Ms. Carolyn Mshooshian