As part of Whitman Middle School’s professional training sessions for their teachers in November, the school decided that the staff should attend the Pacific Science Center’s current exhibit on race.
Paula Peterson, a special-education teacher, felt the exhibit gave her a new perspective on how racial differences are treated in an educational setting.
“As a teacher, I’m always more and more conscious of my perception of students through their racial identity and any biases I may be having that I wasn’t aware of,” said Peterson.
Looking at the statistics of student suspension rates in schools for different racial groups surprised Peterson. Had she considered what kinds of students were getting suspended at the schools where she’s taught? The data made her wonder about the things she needs to think about as a teacher.
Peterson’s niece, 27-year-old Molly Anderson, joined her aunt in viewing the exhibition. She recalled taking a class on racial differences when she attended The Center School several years ago and was interested in learning more.
“I have a difference too,” said Anderson. Though it’s not a racial or ethnic difference, Anderson’s learning challenge has set her apart from others. Yet, Anderson still goes by the motto she’s always known: “Treat others how you want to be treated.”
In one video shown at the exhibit, teens from different backgrounds discuss the complexities in deciding what “group” they belonged with at school, with race being a factor. Since people have become more mixed in race and less black and white, the teens said they felt confused about their personal identity and questioned if it’s really necessary for them to identify with one group. Peterson and Anderson were both struck by the video and the conversations taking place among the teens.
One girl in the video explained how much easier it was to be friends with people when she was in elementary school because you decided who would be your friend by who was simply nice to you, not by their race. Anderson agreed with the girl.
Peterson thought about how this discussion among the teens might go differently for future generations. As the population continues to blend races and diversify, what then will determine how these “groups” are formed? Maybe, like the girl in the video described, it will all go back to the basics of humanity.