In a few short days we’ll honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work and memory by observing a holiday; in a few short weeks, we’ll begin a month-long celebration of Black History and the incredible men and women that have impacted our nation and continue to do so.
I’m writing to urge you to leave the eggs at home.
You know the ones: one white egg to represent white America, and a brown egg to represent MLK/Black America/non-white America. Students make predictions, you crack the eggs, and a few minutes later racism is eradicated in a generation because they see that yes, on the inside, they’re both the same.
The thing is… while this may provide an opportunity to tie-up a lesson on racial equity with a nice neat bow in under twenty minutes, provide a great “Aha!” moment for students – it’s helping to perpetuate the status quo: whiteness as the default, and blackness as “the same on the inside despite the outside.”
Please don’t stop reading just yet. You might be angry or disagree, or think I’m making a mountain out of two sets of eggshells, but hear me out. If you still disagree at the end, you have my permission to leave me an angry comment – I just ask that you make it to the end!
To conduct the experiment, you’re relying on students seeing the white egg – whether you explicitly ask them to associate it with white Americans or not – as the default. The normal egg. The good egg. The egg you’d eat. You’re also relying on students seeing the brown egg – whether you explicitly ask them to associate it with MLK, Black Americans, or non-white Americans or not – as the other. The different egg. The egg you’re not so sure you want in your omelette.
The only way to get to the shock factor, the “Aha!” is through the route of one being more desirable than the other.
When you crack them and students find that the brown egg is the same on the inside as the white egg, there’s your “Aha!” Because in spite of it being brown – in spite of its differences, its “otherness” – that brown egg is just like the white one. Because the white one… the white one is normal.
The subtle message this sends is that Black Americans are the same and just as good as white Americans – in spite of the fact their skin is different. That we measure and value things against one single norm, one default. That message is one that I don’t feel we can risk sending to any of our children – especially not out of the convenience of teaching a message of racial equityin a neat, tied-up, twenty minute lesson.
So you leave the eggs home on MLK Day (and the whole month of February). Now what?
Try these ideas instead:
- Start with the students – as individuals. Complete a “Find Someone Who” activity that highlights the many perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds within your own student population and classroom. Students may find out they have more in common with their classmates than they knew, or have an opportunity to get to know their classmates in an engaging, low-stress way. Afterwards, have a discussion centered around the idea that because of (NOT in spite of) their varied backgrounds and experiences you have a wonderful classroom community!
- Focus on the future to honor the past. While I’d urge you to consider teaching beyond the “I Have a Dream” speech, I recognize this is where most educators start their journey in teaching the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King (hear more about this topic on Episode 5 of Equi-TEA). Before listening to or discussing Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, have students record (anonymously) their hopes for their own lives and for our country for the remainder of the school year. Place them all in a jar and then read each aloud. Have students respond silently with a thumbs up to indicate agreement or with their fingers inter-locked to make a connection. After you’ve read all the responses, identify a common hope that you can create a goal around work toward. Next, listen to Dr. King’s speech. Help students to draw parallels between Dr. King’s efforts to form partnerships to see his dreams through. Conclude by talking about ways your classroom community can work together to reach their shared goals.
- Be a leader, make a change. After reading a text about Dr. King or another leader in Black History – because he was NOT the only one! – or watching one of the numerous videos available, brainstorm words related to his personal character or his life’s work – such as leadership, justice, equality, bravery, courage, and fairness. Write each word on a cloud. Invite students to pick 1-2 traits that they relate to and see in themselves and have them write their names on multi-colored strips of paper. Attach the strips to the bottom of the clouds and hang them around the room. Revisit the words often as a part of your classroom culture, encouraging students to use these traits to propel them forward as a positive force. [Use this in conjunction with listening to the “I Have a Dream” speech or another primary source from that era and writing a classroom goal to tie character to action!]