Talking to Students About Systemic Racism

Mike Moen | Public News Service
Many educators say the recent protests over systemic racism should inspire more training for schoolteachers to discuss these issues in the classroom. Photo Credit: Unsplash/ Javier Trueba

PIERRE, S.D. — The killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis has amplified calls for white people to openly discuss systemic racism.

Those calls include adults having talks with school-age children.

Protesters demanding racial justice say providing children with a better understanding of the history behind racial inequalities can help to eliminate such problems in the future.

Mary McCorkle, president of the South Dakota Education Association, says she thinks both parents and teachers can play a role in sparking conversations. She says classrooms provide a good setting since many students are curious about the news they are exposed to.

“Students are, again, depending upon their age, are very much aware of what’s going on or if they’re younger students, they may have questions,” she points out.

McCorkle says it’s important to let students lead the conversations, and for teachers and parents to follow up with questions.

And she says the situation also creates opportunities for school districts to enhance their curriculum to have a more accurate portrayal of the nation’s history when it comes to systemic racism.

McCorkle says she hopes the awareness will also lead to the hiring of more educators of color, which she says can help students from diverse backgrounds feel more connected in the classroom.

“How do we begin to help grow the number of educators of color so that students they see, they see themselves reflected in the world around them?” she states.

According to federal data, South Dakota is among the 30 states that have a shortage of bilingual teachers.

McCorkle says this issue is a top priority for her organization as a way to help shape a more robust learning environment in classrooms across the state.

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