Monday, November 24, 2014

Students' racial identities

Let's start this by laying out some groundwork.  I'm white, grew up in a predominately white community (at least 80%), attended a predominately white college, currently live in a predominately white community, and teach in a predominately white school.  That is to say that there have been few times in my life when I've been in a situation in which my race made me a minority.  Having friends who aren't white may give me some insights into what being a minority can be like, but it doesn't truly inform me.

My French class has been writing introductory letters to penpals in France. They know very few themes of vocabulary so far, and I've been encouraging them to use what they know instead of question me for endless lists of words.  In any case, I've entertained some requests and I was surprised to find out how many students wanted to specify their race or ethnic heritage in their letters.  None of the initial letters we received provided this information.  My French class is the most diverse class I teach and probably one of the most diverse in the entire school given our demographics.  Of the 23 students, 8 are white, 8 are African American, 1 is Native American, 5 are Hispanic or Latino, and 1 is "mixed" (her word, not mine- the school says "two or more races").  For comparison sake, my Algebra classes are 17 or 18 students of which at most 3 are not white. 

I remarked at this trend in vocabulary queries today because I realized no white students had asked me how to say, "I'm white" but I'd answered that question for every other race or ethnicity at some point over the past few days.  I'm not sure I've ever had to point out my race, except to fill out demographic info on surveys and the like, so it was interesting to me how many students felt compelled to include it. 

One of the African American students said he wondered if his pen pal was black.  I told him I knew the area where our pen pals live wasn't very diverse (I'd lived nearby a few years ago) and I doubted it; the odds aren't in his favor.  He seemed disappointed. 

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this observation, but I felt like it was worth recording.  If I have some new insights, I'll add to this post later.  I'm not explaining this eloquently, nor do I have a lot of depth to offer on the subject.

What role does race play in your classroom?

Mathematically (and linguistically) yours,
Miss B    



  1. I work in a diverse school district and have lived in a diverse community my whole life (except college). My students are OBSESSED with race. It's very odd to me because I've never encountered it before. Race is frequently used as an excuse for anything and everything from lack of volume control to food preference. I don't understand my students' constant preoccupation with their race and the race of others.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Brianne. It's interesting to note that students are also interested in race in more diverse communities than mine.