Teachers, faculty and parents familiar with the Dismantling Racism curriculum at Bowman Elementary School are urging the Lexington, Massachusetts school committee to expand the program across the district.
Bowman principal Mary Anton told the committee members her staff had focused on closing the achievement gap and addressing unconscious biases in the past, but until last year “didn’t open up the spaces for children to learn how to talk about difference and across difference,” Lexington Wicked Local reports.
The change, implemented through weekly or biweekly discussions about racism with K-5 students through the Dismantling Racism curriculum, is making a big difference in how students interact, Anton said.
Second grade teacher Catie Sawka said she’s witnessed students carry on their conversations about race outside of the classroom, while first grade teacher Alicia D’Abreu contends students are more kind, empathetic and aware than in the past.
“This is something we need to bring to all schools right away,” parent Matthew Cohen, whose daughter is in Swaka’s class, told committee members.
Cohen said his daughter never wants to miss school on Wednesdays – the day her class works on Dismantling Racism.
“It’s a great program, and we need to just expand it,” he said.
The Dismantling Racism program is part of a broader effort to address racism and bias in Lexington schools that also includes a Discipline Task Force aimed at curbing high suspension rates among black and disabled students.
“The group’s goals including finding ways to identify resources, collaborate across the school district and make systemic changes,” according to the news site.
The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia points to the importance of teachers and other school officials working to create a positive moral culture for students.
In “The Death of Character,” IASC founder and UVA sociologist James Davison Hunter writes:
The Influence of moral culture cuts across the boundaries of economic circumstances, race and ethnicity, gender, age, and family structure.
With students spending the bulk of their days in school, teachers have an unparalleled opportunity to influence students to treat others with equity, acceptance and understanding, regardless of racial background.
The Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues offers a variety of resources to help educators in that mission, including a lesson on “The Virtue of Friendliness and Civility” that delves into how the virtue fits into students’ lives.
Friendliness and civility “builds upon the basic desire to warm to others and to be accepted by them for good things – a very basic human desire,” according to the lesson. “But it also moderates our more negative emotions, especially those related to the taking of offence.”