TWIT: A Color-Blind America

Ask most people who know me and they’ll tell you that I’m a “glass-half empty” kind of guy.  I don’t know why, but pessimism just feels right to me.  In fact, I’ve always described myself as a “glass-thrown-against-the-wall-and-broken-into-a-billion-pieces” kind of guy.

So I can get stuck in moments of negativity about my work sometimes.  I take the criticism levelled at education personally, get frustrated when I don’t have the influence over key decisions that I desire, and wonder why in the world I stay in the classroom each month when I balance my checkbook!

In an effort to remind myself that teaching is one of the most satisfying professions on the planet as long as you’re on the lookout for the rewards, I’m planning to start a new category of entries here on the Radical called TWITs.  TWIT stands simply for “This is Why I Teach.”  The entries are likely to be shorter and lighter than the topics I typically tackle—hence the name TWIT—and they might not be for every reader.

Now, I know what you’re thinking:  The world sure doesn’t need another “smiles-and-daffodils” teaching blog preaching about how wonderful children are and how teachers are Saints on earth.  After all, if we looked hard enough, we could probably drown in glasses over-flowing with warm and fuzzy.

But what I need is to deliberately look for the moments where my interactions with kids leave me energized.  Otherwise, I’ll completely forget that I like what I do.

Does this make sense?

My kids gave me one of those moments on Wednesday morning.  I’d stumbled across this great image representing the Presidents of the United States on Patrick Moberg’s Illustration Blog.

Because we’re working on identifying main idea in our reading classes, I asked my students a simple question:  “What point do you think the artist was trying to make with this image?”  My students’ answer:

“Well, that’s pretty obvious, Mr. Ferriter.  He’s trying to say that the United States has never had a woman president.”

Amazing, huh?

Was gender the first thing that you thought of when you looked at the profiles of our previous Presidents?

It wasn’t for me.  I expected them to point out that for hundreds of years, America has been ruled by old white men.  After all, race has defined many of the most powerful conversations in our country over the past 200 years—and as a white man teaching in the South, race has always been an issue that I’ve danced around.

My kids didn’t see race, though!  Barack Obama’s image didn’t stand out despite being the only black man on the page.  All that they noticed was that he was a man—nothing more and nothing less.

That’s got me feeling pretty good about the future of our country.  Sure, there are people who will always look at other individuals through the lens of skin-color.  While racism is abhorrent, it’s also a sad truth of the human condition.

But as more and more children grow up in an increasingly tolerant world with successful role models of every shape and color, our country—like my kids—becomes increasingly color-blind…and that’ just plan cool.

This is why I teach.

5 thoughts on “TWIT: A Color-Blind America

  1. LE

    J.M Holland-
    You pose some interesting and important questions about the increase of people of color in positions of power in our country. I’m currently student teaching at a middle school, and shared election day with a diverse group of 7th graders full of questions and comments about the election. It was a powerful day for me as well. I didn’t think that I would see in my lifetime, a person of color elected to our highest office. Looking around the room, I thought what an amazing impact this moment in our history will have on my students. They will, from a young age see that the door to this highest elected office has been opened. While, I agree with Bill that young people are building new levels of tolerance, I also agree with you that this doesn’t translate into color-blindness. While tolerance builds, so seemly does segregation in our communities and schools. Acknowledging race in our society is the foundation for changing how we view each other.

  2. J.M. Holland

    “That’s got me feeling pretty good about the future of our country. Sure, there are people who will always look at other individuals through the lens of skin-color. While racism is abhorrent, it’s also a sad truth of the human condition.
    But as more and more children grow up in an increasingly tolerant world with successful role models of every shape and color, our country—like my kids—becomes increasingly color-blind…and that’ just plan cool.”
    Interesting post Bill.
    I think that you may be on to something but, I am not sure that racism is a condition of the human race or that being color blind is a good thing.
    What does color blindness in ed policy lead to? What does it lead to in our classrooms?
    As you know I am the minority, a white man, in my school. The more I talk about, and joke about race the less of an issue it becomes for my colleagues and myself. It is naming the unnamed so that it loses power. Maybe your students were afraid to name the unnamed and address race head on. Maybe it was the safe route to talk about something they were all obviously comfortable with, gender equality.
    Some thoughts from an embedded reporter.

  3. J.M. Holland

    That’s got me feeling pretty good about the future of our country. Sure, there are people who will always look at other individuals through the lens of skin-color. While racism is abhorrent, it’s also a sad truth of the human condition.
    But as more and more children grow up in an increasingly tolerant world with successful role models of every shape and color, our country—like my kids—becomes increasingly color-blind…and that’ just plan cool.
    Interesting post Bill.
    I think that you may be on to something but, I am not sure that racism is a condition of the human race or that being color blind is a good thing.
    What does color blindness in ed policy lead to? What does it lead to in our classrooms?
    As you know I am the minority, a white man, in my school. The more I talk about, and joke about race the less of an issue it becomes for my colleagues and myself. It is naming the unnamed so that it loses power. Maybe your students were afraid to name the unnamed and address race head on. Maybe it was the safe route to talk about something they were all obviously comfortable with, gender equality.
    Some thoughts from an embedded reporter.

  4. Melanie Holtsman

    I love your new TWIT post. I’m out of the classroom myself for the first time in 16 years and the one thing I worry about missing the most is the kids’ reminders of why I chose this profession. It’s definitely a calling but sometimes hard to hear when you go Christmas shopping on a tight teacher budget. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. Alex

    I think with this picture, it makes a big difference where you first see it. See it as a thumbnail on a website and *of course* you think about whites and blacks, because that’s all the detail you can make out. See it filling the screen or the whiteboard and your eyes go to the centre, those crusty old identikit men, and you don’t even notice Obama until after that impression is formed.
    The way in which a picture is presented can make so much difference to its interpretation.

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