The Little Big History of Diversity

As the debate regarding @therealroseanne was happening in real time, my middle school students were sharing their presentations on #LBH, or Little Big Histories, the final research project of our middle school Big History project.  Big History is a class that covers 13.8 billion years of the universe in one year. Using the skills gained in the past year, students had to pick a topic or particular invention. Then they created an 1) an infographic; 2) research paper; and 3) a presentation that imagined the world without that invention, or a service project using that invention.

 

We had amazing projects presented.  One group wanted to use corporate sponsors and donuts to ensure kids were not hungry in the morning.  Another wanted to sell cupcakes and raise $500 for the food pantry in town.  Topics ranged from the History of Disney parks to the need for caffeine in the human experience.

 

But on this afternoon, two service projects stood out.  The first, after an infographic on changes in marriage, suggested the development of a student-facilitated, middle school teen group that met weekly to deal with the trauma of divorce on kids.  The second, after detailing the history of Crayola, spoke of the need for diversity conversations regularly in the classroom.  As middle school students, they articulate their understanding.:

Diversity is something that can separate people from one another. But without diversity in this world, everyone would be the same, everyone would act the same, think the same, and do things the same. Even though people disagree with what other people might think because they are a different gender, or have a different religion or, a different ethnic group, they also help us see things from different perspectives. Like the crayons, they help in the big picture to bring everything together and help things run smoothly. At the end of the day, all of the crayons have their own place in the box and they are all part of a set that goes together. The same as every person has a place in their community on this planet.

 

 Seeing this presentation gave me hope. Amid the backdrop of a teachable moment yesterday on social media, these students understand that it is our diversity that gives us strength.  And it strengthened my resolve to make these conversation about diversity, bias, and yes, #everydayracism a continual part of my classroom.

After school, I went to the Starbucks website and downloaded their Third Place curriculum. Here’s my take:

 

  • By starting with the assumption that anyone who walks through the doorway is a customer, the perspective of Starbucks changes.  What can that mean for our schools or other communities to which we belong?
  • Many of the pieces in the bias training are adaptable for the classroom, especially the powerful reflection pieces. How do I need to reflect on my own bias?
  • Challenging students or members of a social club to make their own videos to explain why bias is such a concern might be worth the time.
  • Role playing, as baristas did Tuesday, acceptable ways to address conversations that are disrespectful is a powerful idea. It’s not new.  John Lewis speaks of the disciplined result of role playing that was part of his preparation during the civil rights movement.  How might we use this in our communities?

As my own school year is winding down, I’m reminded of the work accomplished in my school, and the work yet to be done.  One thing I do know is that the visibility that is coming to our conversations is a critical piece.  Processing the lack of equity in this country is a process.  Bigotry wasn’t stopped because one show went off the air, and frankly, it’s all over the airwaves.  Difficult conversations must continue if we ever hope to create welcoming schools that are places where students feel respected and valued.

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Infographic courtesy of Molly and Kaylie