Third Graders and Conversations about Racism and Sexism

This was our morning message yesterday:

At the end of our morning meeting each day we read our message together. After reading it today I asked my third graders what they noticed about who signed the Constitution. Their first thoughts were to begin guessing who might have signed it. “Thomas Jefferson!” “George Washington!” I said we’d have to do some research on that, but redirected them to the message and asked what they noticed there about who signed it.

One girl said, “Men.” I asked them if I would have been able to sign it if I had lived then. They said no because I am a woman. I then told them that the thirty-nine men who had signed it all looked a lot like me, with very pale skin. Not one of them had dark skin.

My students, on the other hand, all do. Of my nineteen third graders, sixteen are Latinx, two are Vietnamese, and one is Black.

We talked briefly about how our government now does have women and people of color. (Not enough by any stretch, but we didn’t get to that. Not yet.)

I asked them how long ago this was that only white men could be a part of our government. One of my students figured it out pretty quickly, with some pretty awesome math.

I hope that my students feel the possibilities in knowing something of what our country was 230 years ago and what it is now. We have so far to go still, but knowing progress has been made should give some hope.

This was a brief conversation but I think it was an important one. My students are eight years old. They should not be taking on the entire world and I have to walk a fine line. I want them to understand the challenges in their lives due to the structural racism and sexism we face but I also want them to believe in their abilities to be and do many things. Especially to be a part of continuing to improve our society for all of us.

2 replies on “Third Graders and Conversations about Racism and Sexism”

  1. Charlene O'Brien says:

    Depth of a difficult topic introduced in a few short minutes. Authentic conversation. What a good start to their day! I’d love to hear if this topic carries over into other areas of their day.

    • jenorr says:

      I’m hoping it’s a good start to us having these types of conversations again and again. I expect that I’ll still need to set them up for a bit, but I hope as we go through the year they’ll begin to notice inequities (in books, in history, etc.) and start the conversations on their own. We’ll see…

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