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Primary School Teaching: Challenging Racism Essay

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Updated: Sep 27th, 2021

Introduction

In multi-cultural diverse societies,’ differences of thoughts, and activities create divisions and there repercussions of the same are seen among the children in primary schools. The extent at which racism is spreading in schools poses a big challenge on the individualism and independent rights of a child. Channel 4 Online News Service was the first to expose tensions created by the racism attitude among the children in schools while documenting 100,000 incidents every day. But the question is why children adopt this racism attitude towards their other classmates? (Hannam, online 2007).

Discussion

The answer to this question lies in the social culture and socially construed manner by the way we all are spending our lives. Our children behave in the way we develop our relationship and show our response towards each other and towards the people of different ethnic race and diversity. Children derive their behavioural patterns and attitudes from their homes. They learn from their parents and from their surroundings and would eventually experiment this towards children of different ethnicity and cultural. On the one hand, teachers teach children to be tolerant towards the other religions or faith while on the other hand the way children are shown the images about the blacks or other aboriginals or native Indians, they develop negative attitude towards them.

There are different ways by the way children develop their relationship among their peers. The racism attitude is mostly seen among younger children and this attitude changes as child begins to grow older. The younger children feel discontentment and perceive them as aliens who could threaten their cultural identity.

My research is based on one particular class having children from diverse groups. They were 40 children in a class in one of the schools at Suburban Sydney High School. Majority of the students in the school were from ethnic backgrounds. It’s a mix of girls and boys school. My task was to study the behaviour the children showed among each other and the way they interacted with each other. The paper will be based on the arguments on the way children showed their resentments and apathetic attitudes toward each other and on the other hand, how they exerted their individuality in a diverse environment. Secondly, I would like to show whether the skin colour and religion is also a cause behind the children or there are other reasons behind it. After observing the behavioural pattern among children, I discussed the problems with their families and came out with concrete solution.

When I entered the classroom, I saw children were sitting on benches with their partners and listening to their teacher. I noticed one of the boys with blonde hair and whitish complexion was looking here and there and was finding himself in an awkward situation. He seemed to be in need of an eraser but was feeling reluctant from borrowing it from his partner who was an Aboriginal stout and short boy, whose name was Christie. Then he raised his arm and asked his teacher for the same and his teacher told the same boy to give him eraser. Christie looked at him, gave him a smile, took out eraser and extended the hand towards him. The white boy slowly took the eraser, conveyed thanks and both of them shook their hands. This is a positive sign of equality revealing children are not always receptive to their parents’ life of racism and behavior at home.

After some time when the teacher left, the whole scene changed and children began to form their own groups. I was surprised to see five of the white boys formed their group and went to sit at the corner of the class whereas one Aboriginal boy who was sitting with the blonde boy went to his own counterparts and they formed their own groups whereas others went here and there in two’s generally among their own peers. I observed each group very carefully. They were all busy among each other hardly noticing what the others were doing. At sudden instance, one white from the group came out and pointed at one of the Aboriginal boy with a knave of smile I heard him calling “hey you … pick up my paper fallen on the ground and throw in dustbin else I will blow you off.” But, he just ignored showed his reluctance and left the place. The scene of the class is a reality where majority of them seems to show their resentment against this diversity. But, there are some students who are adaptable towards multiculturalism and can easily understand the cultural diversity. The bell rang and the teacher entered the class. She called upon two children, one Aboriginal and one Asian to distribute notebooks among the class but they both went in the opposite directions. After a while I noticed strange behaviour among Aboriginal students. I found they were less attentive in the class as compared to the other children. They behaved more independently in the classroom, more of helping nature and were willing to help all the children irrespective of their race but took longer time to complete their work and felt shy to share their feelings in case of any mistake. I was all the more surprised when I noticed teacher was unaware of these differences and interpreted their behaviour as uncooperative and disobedient. Lack of understanding on the differences owing to cultural diversity is one of the biggest root causes of prevalence of racism in schools. Teacher’s lack of understanding and stereotype role that they adopt creates division in the class.

All these incidents show how in a divergent way children interact with each other and are dependent and are interdependent too. Children want to share among each other yet somewhere inside their heart they are afraid of each other and think others to be inferior to them. When one of the children appearing to be of mixed race answered the teacher’s question, he gave the answer in broken English and all children laughed at him. After the class, one child went to the extent calling him by the name ‘spic’ and bullied him. I saw this incident on one day but just imagine what a child must be facing every day. His individuality is getting threatened day in day out in school. He is depressed, emotionally upset and lack in concentration. After analyzing the behaviour of these children and in settings they are in, I could feel that white children and even others never wanted to behave in the way they are behaving yet somewhere in between social prejudice in them predominates and they act as they have been taught at their homes to act. I happened to speak to eight-year old aboriginal girl; how she feels among classmates; has she faced any abuse and does she feel it is due to her being of different religions or caste? She told me that, “Not even once during all my years in school did any one of the teacher or any one else in the school system confirm my Aboriginality. Instead of this, I am feeling myself ashamed of my own Aboriginal heritage and I feel myself pressure to assert that I am only part aboriginal”.

Australian children belonging to different colours have to remain contended with apartheid and adopted prejudice.

After deep study of the class, I found children though in front of their teacher show their caring nature towards each other yet their prejudice that has been imbibed within each of them never allows them to come out of the apartheid. After I prepared the report, I met few families of these children to discuss with them what I had witnessed in the class and come out with some concrete solutions to resolve the problems. I particularly chose the family of a boy who was the strongest among all the others in the class, and was of bully nature and had a habit of teasing. I visited the family and found the boy‘s home located in a well-polished society with a beautiful lawn. His father is posted in a Government job and his mother is a director of a reputed private company. They are well off and have only one son. They have kept one maid to do household chores that I noticed is black and they ordered him to bring a glass of water for me. The child acts what he perceives and I could see that he perceives all of them as servants and ought to get ordered and bullied. I told the family what I had observed in the class and discussed the aspect of bulling. The child has adopted prejudice against others. I discussed with the family the differences we all have to face in the society and these differences are confined in our respective races, religion, cultural affairs and sexual orientation and even in abilities. We often find these differences as strange and are even frightened. We feel they are different from us. This attitude within us compounded with our pride creates more divisions between all of us. Many children too adopt this habit resulting in culminating in bullying towards their peers in schools.

Schools are the temple of learning and any prejudice activity in schools crush the very foundation on which schools are based. Good schools imbibe among children to adopt tolerance, love and respect for other religions and races and families should also teach children the same.

In the classroom, I happened to see the nine years old boy. He was aboriginal, with dark eyes and properly cut hair. He was considered smart in the class and always got higher grade but one case lost his morale. He was having his lunch when few boys from other section of the class appeared before him and started making fun of him, as his complexion was complete black. They even threw his lunch box. He could not take it, and started beating his victimizer and badly wounded him. In turn, teacher instead of punishing the bullyboy punished this unfortunate black boy. He got completely disgusted and lost interest in studies. Initially, I did not notice him, as he always remained confined within himself. His name was Berry Chrishaw. I came to know that he was also a good artist but now he had lost all interest in drawing too. I got hold of his address and discussed the problem with his family. They were unaware about it and was totally aback hearing all this. I suggested them to take him out every evening in some or other social gathering where people of different ethnic groups mix with each other. When he will get exposed to such surrounding and mixes with the people, his hindrance will be over. It is not very easy interacting with parents as the issue itself is very sensitive and there is emotional involvement of the parents. But, when I started the discussions regarding the problem with their child and the purpose of my visit, they showed deep interest and listened to me carefully. Parents do care for their children and there is no doubt about that but we often engulf ourselves so much in our lives that we almost forget the gravity of these issues. These issues seem to us to be small but repercussions of the same are very grave. As Tatum defines racism, “ ‘as system of advantage over racism’. This definition of racism is useful because it allows us to see that racism like other forms of oppression, is not only a personal ideology based on racial prejudice, but a system involving cultural messages and institutional policies and practices as well as the beliefs and practices of individuals.” (Greene & Abt-Perkins, 37).

Our culture and family surroundings spread the messages of racism among children. But it is also said that it is more of attitude and pride that imbibes within us hatred and disinterestedness. The problem and its implications have been construed in the Vivian Gussin Paley’s book “Kwanza and Me”. This book develops the social implications of racism in classrooms and shows the clear picture depicting the signs of racism. The statement of Sonya who was one of the ex student of the Paley’s says, “I’d have done better in a black school. I was an outsider here.” (Paley, 6) These words were naturally harsh for Paley in one of whose kindergarten school she was a student. With her example, Paley seeks to discover the same truth in her multicultural classrooms. Her whole story takes us into the wings of conversation, whereby each voice gives new meaning to the very concept of belonging. She says through the words of Lorrain, who is a third grade teacher in school and they teach the lesson on the way the teachers and students must interact with each other.

In Kwanza and Me, Mrs. Paley took upon a personal journey towards the culture that is black. She gained intense knowledge on their feelings, their rituals, about their hair and their homes. Mrs. Paley is teaching at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in which 15 percent of her students are Black where 80 percent of them are white and how they are developing their relationships is the issue they discussed in the book. She said one black teacher wrote an article in which she advised the Black parents that they should not send their small children in white school and other put forward the argument that black boys would do better if they would send their black children into black schools. Mrs. Palley integrated with the children and teachers and explored their problems and came out with expected solutions. The whole story is all about dialogues the teacher has with parents and comes out with the truth that the most common thing that creates a bond among each other is our commonality. And, the day when non-conformity becomes a tradition, then our children and we together will accept several spheres of human faces. This is what Mrs. Palley share with many children. As part of her curriculum, she makes children feel comfortable and emotionally strong and adopt several methods to carry on with other children of her class. The story telling also was her part to share the experiences of differences children feel in their schools.

From the story it comes out that the sphere of racism is so deeply embedded that no legislation or power can fully admonish racism but the teachers can make the difference through their approach, attitude and dialogues that could make the wave. But how could the teachers change is very well reflective in the following paragraph that suggested:

“Exhorting children to have more faith in Black children’s potential is unlikely to change their expectations. But professional development programs in which teachers actually see disadvantaged black children performing at a high level can make a difference.”(Green & Abt- Perkins, 43) In other words when we are not able to think differently and find our ways then should be made to “act into new ways of thinking.” (Green & Abt-Perkins, 43) If teachers change their ways of teaching incorporating the stories imbibing equality among different races or religions then it could bring changes in the way of thinking among children too. As children are quick receptors of their teachers and therefore their way of teaching would also change.

From my interactions with families, teachers’ and students and from my observations, I would like to analyze few aspects. We all feel from our heart the differences we are carrying within each of us are unethical and iniquitous yet we are following these as part of our lives because we are all different. One crucial fact that came out from families is their duplicity. When the economic angle comes in, all are invited irrespective of race, class or society but when it comes to social interactions, whites gather together in their own social groups and blacks or Aborigines or others in their own groups. It is rightly said trends breed trends, and it is true with our lives too and it is all about how we perceive others mentally.

Commonwealth Racial Hatred Act of 1995 states clearly people are allowed to complain any act of racially offensive or abusive behaviour. The Racial Hatred Act aims to strike a balance between the two rights: right to communicate and right to live free from vilification. (Library, Online).

More than fifty years have passed since the historic Brown vs Board of Education and less than fifty years since the day civil rights act of 1964 was passed, it is said and found that there has been great progress towards the social justices and number of changes in legislation, yet these all changes proved to be diluted. (Beckles, Online) On 2nd July 2007, The Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 against school districts who were using race as a main condition in their efforts to sustain integration amidst diversity, which Justice Paul Stevens described as “cruel irony.” (Beckles, Online).

The laws have not removed racism and will never be able to remove the same unless people themselves especially victims adopt a positive outlook and initiate dialogue in their day-to-day lives to make a difference.

Works Cited

Anti-Defamation League. “Kids Do Experience Hate” Internet (2007). Web.

Beckles, Gabriella, “Anti-Racism Laws are Temporary: Brown vs. Board of Education is Being Undermined as We Speak”. 2008. Web.

Boulton, M.J. (1995). “Patterns of bully victim problems in mixed race groups of children”. Social Development, 4, 277-293.

Chen, Xinvin, French, Doran & Schneider, Barry. “Peer Relationships in Cultural Context.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Greene, Stuart & Abt-Perkins, Dawn. “Making Race Visible: Literacy Research for Cultural Understanding”. New York: Teachers College Press, 2003.

Hannam, L. “Revealed: racism in schools”. (2007) Channel 4 News. Web.

Library. “Australian legislation and international law” (2005). Web.

Lynch, James, Modgil, Celia & Modgil, Sohan. “Cultural Diversity and the Schools: Convergence & Divergence”. New York & London: Routledge, 1992.

Paley, Vivian Gussin. “Kwanzaa and Me: A Teacher’s Story”. Harvard University Press, 1995.

Prager, Jeffrey, Longshore, Douglas & Seeman, Melvin. “School Desegregation Research: New Directions in Situational Analysis”. New York: Plenum Press, 1986.

Smith, Peter & Slee, Phillip. “The Nature of School Bullying: A Cross-national Perspective”. London: Routledge, 1999.

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