The national political climate is generating anger and division and young students are soaking it in like sponges. Shane Safir believes we can create safer spaces for them.
A few months ago, a local high school was shaken by the discovery of a student Instagram account featuring racist, anti-Semitic, and ableist memes. There were swastikas plastered across student photos, anti-black slurs and students doing the Nazi salute.
At a South Bay high school where I train teachers around unconscious bias, an Asian American student posted a video of himself ripping the head off a Black doll with the caption, “Just another Tuesday morning in the South.”
And last year, my own son — an intelligent brown boy of Filipino, Irish, and Jewish descent — was called a ‘Mexican dummy’ and taunted with a Spanish accent on the playground. I saw firsthand how these slights can erode a child’s confidence.
The fear and finger-pointing in our larger political culture is showing up in our schools. In a national survey of amore than 10,000 educators, 8 in 10 reported heightened anxiety in students of color and 4 in 10 had heard derogatory language directed at marginalized groups. This isn’t an accident. Our children are sponges, constantly absorbing the messages around them.
As a parent and an educator, I think about what my own responsibility and what we all can do. First, we can listen and believe students who bring these stories forward. It’s easy to minimize the impact of harmful speech, but learning requires children to feel emotionally safe and supported, not under threat.
Second, we can respond. Four in 10 educators didn’t think their schools had action plans to address hate and bias. If your child’s school doesn’t have one, now is the time to develop it. Words like inclusion and equity must be more than words.
And as parents, we can have hard conversations with our children around race and difference. Instead of offering platitudes like “treat everyone the same,” let’s acknowledge racism and other forms of injustice. Let’s teach our children to be allies and upstanders instead of bystanders.
A moment of crisis is a moment of opportunity. Creating more inclusive and humane school communities takes will and it takes courage.
With a Perspective, I’m Shane Safir.
Shane Safir is a parent, educator and author who works with schools to promote educational equity.