The challenge of teaching race in the classroom

Numerous states have proposed laws that would restrict how to teach tough topics. Here’s how to help your kids understand discrimination through history.

When her 11-year-old twins told Hayley Thompson about their social studies assignment to create a commercial touting how wonderful life was in colonial Carolinas, she was incredulous. Her children are African American and would have been enslaved in colonial Carolinas—not living the charming life they were being asked to tout.

Her children complied with a thoughtful and sardonic commercial: “Why go to any other colony when you can go to one that has two in one? With miles of land, perfect for getting your crops grown, and oodles of money to be made, there’s hardly a choice. With deals on slaves that you can’t get anywhere else, you can do minimal work at minimal cost!” the video ad stated.

Thompson’s concerned email to the twins’ teacher and principal at their suburban Detroit school netted a response that the district would be implementing a new, more inclusive and diverse curriculum to respect the backgrounds of all its students. But the experience shows the challenges educators, teachers, and parents face as they navigate classroom subjects that bump up against race.

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