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Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund

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Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Education, Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program.

Issue/Question:
The more I think about teaching my students about racism, prejudice, and diversity, the more nervous I get. I want to do the right thing, but I'm afraid that I will offend someone or say the wrong thing. What should I do?

Suggested Response:

Before any of us can help children think constructively about diversity, bias, prejudice, and hate, each of us must consider how we ourselves feel about these issues. This process of discovery is an exciting, yet difficult journey. Perhaps the most daunting challenge is facing -- and understanding -- the roots of our own biases. Examining how we have learned the prejudices that we harbor and why we continue to hold them is a difficult process, but it is one that can make us better role models for all children.

It is also rewarding to discuss these questions with other people. You might find it helpful to talk with your fellow teachers about their experiences addressing these issues in their own classrooms. How did they begin? What worked for them and what didn't? They might be able to suggest some promising resources and approaches. Sometimes professional conferences provide a forum in which to discuss diversity issues in a group led by an experienced facilitator. Some schools are willing to invite speakers or to conduct workshops that enable teachers to discover ways to communicate information about multiculturalism or prejudice.

As you embark on this journey, remember that you will make mistakes. Also remember that you and all those around you can learn from those mistakes if you are willing to engage in honest conversations, and that means sharing information, asking questions, and listening to others who know more about certain topics because their life experiences have been different from yours.
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