Tuesday, November 25, 2008

OK, so I was wrong

I argued that K-2 kids didn't have much experience of racism. But it seems I may have been wrong. It was the last scripture lesson for the year, and to celebrate Christmas, their scripture teacher taught them all about the spiritual significance of candy canes. Yes, candy canes. To be fair, she did acknowledge that this wasn't from the Bible.

So, you ask, what IS the spiritual significance of a candy cane? Well, upside down (and the appropriate way around) it is a J for Jesus. The right way up it is the crook of the shepherds. So far so good. The red signifies the blood and pain of Christ (wrong holiday, but OK) and the white signifies our clean skin. Ummm....

After clarifying that this was really what was said, and then recovering from a mild case of apoplexy, I pointed out that this was really rather racist, and asked how he thought [first kid's name I could think of that isn't anglo at his school] would feel about white signifying clean skin. An hour later, he volunteered that it might make [another non-anglo kid] feel pretty bad too. At least he tells me the loony stuff he hears, so I can embark on re-indoctrination immediately.

I had pretty much already decided that Ben wasn't doing scripture next year, this has sealed the deal. And completely ameliorated any guilt I may have felt in not getting Ben to write a thank you note to the teacher.


  1. Wow. Oh my... Wow.

    That's breathtakingly awful.

    You could write a thank you note with a recommendation for a visit to Snopes.

  2. Wow, I didn't know it was a genuine urban myth.

    Is there also a religious explanation for the tradition of photocopying your butt at the office Christmas party?

  3. I do personally think racism needs to be taught.

    I don't believe in the idea that children are born loving and open to everything--then they learn racism from their parents.

    I think children DO notice differences. They DO judge based on appearances.

    I remember a four-year-old telling me she didn't like/feared the director of the preschool I worked at. I asked why.

    The answer was that the director was ugly.

    I think though that the difference between children and adults is that skin color is no more of a big deal than wearing glasses, being a different size/age, watching the "wrong" cartoon, having a crooked tooth, etc.

    Children do notice these things, and they can be very cruel about it.

    I don't think it's just about racism. Little elements of prejudice are everywhere and I think we have to counteract them with discussion.

    An example would be Disney movies. The princess are always thin and beautiful. The female villains are usually physically unattractive. I think it's important to teach kids that just because someone is pretty, it doesn't mean they're "bad."

    I think it's great about how you talked about the candy cane...and how that would make a nonwhite person feel. A lot of times we fail to think about these things.

    I don't think prejudice is something that's taught. I think we're all born with it. I think we need to learn how to deal with it and overcome it so a simple prejudice doesn't turn into something awful like discrimination, cruelty, or genocide.

  4. Dina, in my original post on the subject, I was arguing for anti-prejudice instead of anti-racism. Then the focus can be tailored for the local demographic. There's not much in the way of racism (of the kind that K-2 kids can understand) in our area, but it might be more common in other places.

    The key is what you said about glasses. Before anti-racism week, Ben did notice skin colour, but it was as significant to him as eye colour or the colour of your shirt. It didn't occur to him to classify people based on it.

    Because he hadn't come across overt racism of the kind they were talking about at school ("I don't like you because you are [whatever]"), it didn't mean anything to him, except to give him a whole new way to classify people.

    Gender stereotypes, however? He's got those in spades. I think they should be focussing on actual prejudice, rather than potential ones.

    In my experience, kids tend to judge based on very personal things. We also have to be very careful not to add interpretations that have no business being there. One mother was telling me about her daughter pointing to a very dark skinned african man and very loudly announcing "Look Mummy, that man has black skin!". She was worried about her daughter not being tolerant enough, but that isn't racist, our interpretation that there is a problem with that is. Her daughter just hadn't seen someone like that before, there are not a great number of people of african descent in Australia.

    Maybe overall, everyone needs to focus more on "How would that make someone feel" rather than "Don't be [whatever]-ist".

  5. Caitlin's class copped the candy cane story this week, complete with the "it's an upside down J" line. I was quite pleased to be so well prepared with my rebuttal.