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8 Ways Teachers Can Address White Supremacy in the Classroom

Help your students build a better world with these strategies, lessons, and tools.

September 07, 2017
Tanner Higgin Director, Education Editorial Strategy
Common Sense Education

CATEGORIES In the Classroom

After the horrific display of hate at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017, teachers are once again asking themselves, "What can I do?"

White supremacy, and the concept of whiteness that it relies on, grows when it goes unnamed and unchallenged. In the absence of honest conversations about race, it festers like a wound. It's more important than ever to have these tough conversations with our students.

Let's be real: It might feel scary to take this plunge. But the thought of you and your students discussing race is much scarier to white supremacists. Frank, open conversations about race -- grounded in understanding, solidarity, and equity -- are dangerous only to those who fear difference.

We've put together some helpful resources, including lesson plans, articles, and tools, to help you get started. You'll need to make adjustments based on your student population and community, and you should adapt the focus for your grade level and subject area. These important conversations can benefit all classrooms.

Here are eight ways to make a difference.

1. Review the research on reducing bias and prejudice.

The two articles here offer concise summaries of the proven strategies for reducing kids' racial predispositions. These strategies are effective from kindergarten to high school.

2. Unpack "color blind" ideology and whiteness.

It's critical for white teachers to productively acknowledge difference in the classroom and understand whiteness as its own privileged, racial construct.

3. Find relevant, high-quality teaching resources and professional development.

Dig into Facing History and Teaching Tolerance, the two best websites for social justice education. Also, explore crowdsourced syllabi created in response to racially motivated hate crimes and public displays of hate by white supremacy groups.

4. Expose the history of racism and white supremacy.

Gain perspective on past and present incarnations of white supremacy and their effect on modern institutions.

5. Expand students' horizons through cross-cultural communication.

Counter bias and prejudice by helping students get exposure to and form relationships with people from different backgrounds and perspectives.

6. Focus on news, web, and media literacy.

White supremacists use propaganda, specifically on social media, to recruit young people to the cause. Give your students the critical skills to counter these messages.

7. Cultivate your students' capacity for empathy.

Racists demonstrate an inability to take the perspectives of others and acknowledge their histories, experiences, and feelings. Build this capacity in your students by practicing listening and taking perspective.

8. Empower students to take action.

It's important to encourage students -- especially those entering adulthood -- to take action to stop racism and white supremacy. These resources offer strategies, lessons, and tools to help students make a commitment to social change.

Image courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action