A Message to the Community
October 30, 2020
Dear Students and Families,
In addition to the tremendous challenges presented by the COVID-19 virus, there is no question that our country’s highly charged political climate can significantly impact our students, our schools, and the educational process. The upcoming election and the complex issues related to social and racial injustice can be very confusing and polarizing, and naturally, students bring their questions into the classroom.
We take our responsibility and legal obligation to educate students about the history of the United States and the importance of civic engagement to our democracy very seriously. Our educational system is designed not to tell students what to think about issues but rather how to gather and examine information, think critically, engage respectfully with their peers, and draw informed conclusions in a safe environment. Our educators are trained professionals who know they have a legal and ethical responsibility to ensure that diverse viewpoints do not create division or disruption that would be harmful to students or staff. However, to ignore diverse perspectives or withhold factual information is equally harmful.
This year, particularly with so many community members feeling the anxiety and strain of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must be more vigilant than ever about creating a school culture rooted in empathy and support rather than conflict and opposition. We have received several inquiries from families concerned that their student is being “indoctrinated” in one or another particular political belief system during the past few weeks. Please know that our teachers or other staff members do not advocate for political candidates or issues in class. When responding to student questions or engaging students in a discussion about politics, it is to create an accurate and constructive forum for students to explore and discuss issues. Our teachers are skilled educators, and we support their efforts to create a safe space for students and mediate diverse viewpoints with sensitivity.
With Election Day less than one week away, the stakes are high, and many of us are deeply passionate about the issues at hand. In a community comprised of people with different viewpoints, we will undoubtedly encounter neighbors and colleagues whose opinions may differ from ours. As an educational community, our responsibility is to maintain safe, and civil learning environments focused on students’ academic growth and social-emotional well-being.
If you have questions or concerns about these matters, please feel free to contact me. I am genuinely grateful to the members of this community for demonstrating kindness, compassion, and decency during these incredibly challenging times.
Erin Obey, Superintendent of Schools
Michael Tropeano David Boyle Susie Scholl Suzanne Scroggins James Agnew
School Committee Chair Vice-Chair Secretary
*Resources below have been collected through district school psychologists, social workers, and adjustment counselors who have access to educational resources such as the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), etc.
Safe Space Radio: Tips & Strategies for Talking about Race and Racism
If you want to start this conversation in your own family…
- Bring it up. Start noticing race out loud in your everyday conversation with your kids.
- Ask questions. Make observations about who is included. Say, “I’m enjoying this [book, movie, show], but I notice that all of the characters are white. What do you think about that?”
- Notice inequality and read about the history of discrimination that underlies it.
- With young kids, talk about kindness and meanness, fairness and unfairness. Even very young kids can understand justice in these terms.
- It’s okay not to know something. Learn alongside your kids. Say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but let’s find out!”
- Set an example. If you hear someone say something racist, speak up. Your kids will follow your lead, especially when challenging racism among other white people.
- Name whiteness. Kids notice differences, and it’s okay to acknowledge it. Say, “Have you ever noticed how white our community is?
- Talk about history. Learn about and acknowledge the indigenous people who lived where you do for centuries before it was taken from them.
Things to keep in mind…
- It’s never too late to start this conversation.
- You don’t have to get it right the first time.
- Having white privilege doesn’t mean that we don’t have hardships or struggles in our lives. It just means that we have some advantages, simply because we’re white— advantages that people of color don’t have.
- Racism is like a smog that we all breathe in. You can be both a good person and someone who has absorbed a lot of racist ideas. Uncovering our own unconscious biases and prejudices doesn’t mean you’re bad, it means you have the courage, to be honest.
- If you’re worried about protecting your kids, consider that this conversation has many benefits: it will build intimacy and trust in your family, make your kids more resilient, more empathetic, and better friends. It helps make a difference for the next generation.
Get creative with it!
If you’re a parent or a teacher and you have a story about talking to children about race and racism, we’d love to hear it! Leave us a voicemail at (617) 600-8419.
SUPPORTING BLACK YOUTH
SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS TO FOLLOW
Embrace Race has a wealth of resources, including free webinars, to “help parents practice raising and caring for all kids, in the context of race”
The Conscious Kid is “an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to reducing bias and promoting positive identity development in youth. We partner with organizations, children’s museums, schools, and families across the country to promote access to children’s books centering underrepresented and oppressed groups.”
Here Wee Read is run by a diversity and inclusion expert (and mom) Charnaie. The mission is to help fellow parents find diverse books, and educational products to help raise curious kids.
How do we talk about racism with non-black youth?
Anti-Defamation League: How Should I Talk About Race in my Mostly White Classroom?
How white parents can talk about race:
NPR's Michel Martin talks to Jennifer Harvey, author of Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, about how to talk with white kids about racially-charged events. 'Raising White Kids' Author On How White Parents Can Talk About Race
This resource provides guidance and considerations for how to engage in reflection and discussion on race and racism with white youth.
How can educators navigate conversations with students after traumatic events?
This is a reflection guide for educators around fostering community
This article gives tips to educators on how to create a space for students to have important conversations about the history of violence against black Americans.