This post is dedicated to Jorge Calvillo Garcia. He was one of the 22 victims in the terrorist attack in El Paso on August 3, 2019. Jorge was at the WalMart to support his granddaughter’s soccer team’s fundraiser. As the gunman approached the soccer team, Jorge stepped between him and his granddaughter and her teammates. He lost his life protecting young children.
When I heard that the shooter was only 21 years old, I couldn’t help but wonder, had he been exposed to anti-racist lessons that modeled acceptance? Had he learned that the Latinx people, who he specifically targeted, were people with beautiful cultures and gifts?
You might read that phrase above, “anti-racist lessons” and think, well I don’t teach racist lessons! Of course not. But do you have dialogue with your students about race and other cultures? Do you expose students to races and cultures through literature and other media that represent children in your classroom, but also represent those who they might not have daily interactions? It is not enough to not be a racist. Silence on these important issues just might be exactly what allowed the hate of the Latinx people to fester in the shooter’s heart. Check out this article from EdWeek about ways we can teach important life lessons in our classroom.
We can no longer be silent.
This post is one of twenty-two that will share lessons, books, research, anecdotes, and helpful articles to guide you in your next steps. It’s time to talk racism, and we want to make sure you can do it well. Bookmark this link to visit all 22 posts this month.
Using Mentor Texts
Mentor texts are the perfect tool to teach mini-lessons over several standards and skills across subjects, and also provide a way to teach the required content while representing races, cultures, family dynamics, and other differences that make diversity so beautiful. Read more about the importance of diverse mentor texts here.
A beautiful mentor text called Dreamers that was just published in 2018 by Yuyi Morales, a Mexican-American author, tells the story of what happened after she immigrated here with her two-month-old son and came upon the most wondrous place- the public library! She learned English and also discovered her love of story-telling through the beautiful picture books in this place of amor. It’s a reminder that we all have gifts and we take them with us wherever we go.
Dreamers Lesson Ideas
The word count of Dreamers by Yuyi Morales may make you think this book isn’t appropriate to read to upper grades, however, the words Yuyi uses are high-level vocabulary. Words like resplendent, immigrants, ancestors, suspicious, improbable, and resilience would make great context clue and reference skills lessons.
The art in the book is beautiful (make sure to point out to students that Yuyi wrote AND illustrated the book) and you could study each page for several minutes to learn even more about her life and what she feels is important. One thing that appears on every page is a monarch butterfly. Monarch butterflies are migratory insects, living in both Mexico and the United States. The butterfly is a great example of symbolism- connecting Yuyi and the monarch as Mexican-American migrants.
The themes of the book revolve around determination, resilience, and hope. Students can support these themes with evidence in the art and the words of the text. Yuyi arrived without English and learned to speak it, in spite of mistakes. The library became a place of hope for her, a home for her. She learned to read and also learned to have her own voice. It is where she figured out she loved stories and storytelling, and drove her to become an author.
Make sure to also read the author’s note at the end, where she shares about her life and the reason she wrote the book. This will lead to several opportunities for personal narrative writing, as students can reflect on their own dreams and gifts, and even places that are special and important to them.
I hope that the ideas I’ve shared using this mentor text help ease any discomfort you may have about including anti-racist lessons in your classroom. Simple exposure and helping students connect to others as humans is a great first step. I know that sometimes we worry too much about saying the wrong thing, or not knowing how to answer a question that may arise, but silence is not the answer. It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to make mistakes and then share that growth with your students as you learn. We must take steps to do the right thing for the future of our world. You could be the one that makes the difference in a child’s heart. You could be the one that helps a student learn that differences are beautiful. You could be the one to plant the seed of acceptance.
Click here to read more about what happened in El Paso, and more about this special blogger event.