Thursday, April 3, 2008

Did you know....?

"Did you know," said 8th grader, Kevin. "that Canadians are mostly dark-skinned?"

"What?!" I asked, trying not to overreact. "What do you mean?"

"They have dark skin in Canada, like those Iraq people, kinda."

"How do you know this?" I asked gently.

"I have a good friend I met on the Internet. He lives in Toronto, and his name's Rahsheed. He's like Pakistanish or something, but he's really cool."

The great thing about this proclamation from Kevin is that his intent was to teach his peers (and me, maybe) that not all people from the Middle East are to be feared. But in the process, he also brought to light a very important issue that hits my classroom in this small, rural school district in northeast Wisconsin; we are so insulated from the rest of the world. Many of our students grow up never having seen a person of color (in the flesh, so-to-speak) in their their entire lives. Thus, they rely on their "experience" to shape their views.

I took the opportunity to explain to Kevin (who goes home to milk cows every night, does his homework, and has wonderful parents) that Toronto is one of the biggest cities in the world and that in addition to people with brown skin like Rasheed, there are also a couple million people of other races. (Tomorrow, we'll do a little Web search to learn more.)

In the meantime, I feel blessed to have opportunities like these. While comments like Kevin's are shocking sometimes, I am grateful that he spoke it out loud, rather than keeping his misguided thought to himself. Who knows how many others in the room held the same "knowledge." Teachable moments like these are so valuable.

"Canadians are mostly dark-skinned...." Pretty funny, eh?


  1. That really is funny. It reminds me of the time I was teaching kindergarten and we were talking about what sounds different animals made. When I asked sweet little Caleb what sound a duck made he said, "AFLACK," in a perfect imitation of the Aflack commercial. When the other children said that wasn't right he yelled, "it is too, I saw it on TV!"

  2. I grew up in a very cosmopolitan area of California and now live in Nowhere, MI - 95% Caucasian (or so it seems). I wonder all the time what kids here think.

  3. Christy, that is hysterical!

    Jane-I grew up here but have lived in central Illinois and upstate New York. I met my first Jewish, gay and African American people while working in Schnechtady, NY. The diversity of that area is what I hated to leave...There are pluses and minuses to life in this area...

  4. When my sister was looking for where to move when my BIL was transfereed to Chicago recently from Seattle (she'd lived in Nashville, Memphis, and South Florida prior to WA), she was most concerned to find somewhere the demographics were not 100% white (which she had trouble finding outside of the inner city). She didn't want her kids growing up not knowing diversity. It's tough.

  5. When we first moved back here and the kids were small, I'd go out of my way to take them to parks where they'd play with kids of color. Today, there are probably ten kids of color in the entire middle school of 930 kids. There aren't a ton of real-life, authentic opportunities here for kids to be enlightened about other cultures.I guess it's up to parents...

  6. I was born, raised, and still live in the suburbs of Los Angeles. When we were little, my baby brother told my mother that he wanted "pieces of Negro" on him just like his friend. My mom had NO idea what he was talking about, so she, too, gently asked him to clarify. He went on to describe *Freckles*..... he thought they were cool and wanted some.

    This same brother, a year later (or so), came dashing in to my mom, all breathless and bursting at the seams with the amazing news that Anthony Davis' brother was "Negro, too!" Anthony Davis was a star football player from USC football.

    Living in Southern California does have its benefits. We are blessed to share and learn from all the interesting folks who come to live here from other places with other cultures, languages, foods, beliefs, styles of dress, and behaviors. Now, if only my autistic son was given as much leeway and acceptance, I would be truly blessed.


  7. You know, I spent five years in Nebraska (5th grade through 10th grade) and there were two brothers from the Philippines in the school but otherwise, every single other kid was white. It was eye-opening to me when I moved back to California!

    Here in Arizona, my sons' school is very diverse, which is nice.


Your 2 cents...