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In the book, “Color in the Classroom” by Zoe Burkholder the main argument is that activist anthropologist like; Ruth Benedict, Martha Mead, and Franz Boas along with many educators influenced the curriculum of teaching race in our education system in the first half of the 20th century. The author stated many examples of how the activists (Mead, Benedict, and Boas) believed that schools would have the most power in helping to change the racial climate in the United States. They worked together with the educators to create lesson plans, lectures, texts, etc designed to change the “race” outlook in America at the time.
They believed if race was taught scientifically then Americans would become less racist.
The author then took first-hand stories that teachers and students. She wrote about the impact of the anthropological activism on the way the teachers translated and taught the concept. Burkholder described that as these theories were being taught they created a dialogue on race that deferred from the definition of race produced by the scientists.
After Brown vs. Board of Education politics and other factors forced the education system to change their focus of anti-racist teaching to a colorblind approach. They now steered their lesson plans toward a belief that treating people equally leads to a more equal society; and that people should be judged by character not by skin color.
This book makes a contribution when studying the History of American education. When it comes to race education it tells the history of how our education system was reformed when it came to teaching about race.
Color in the Classroom walked us through different stages of our education system and how the system promoted tolerance. Also, it pointed out the change in understanding “race” during and after WWII. The education system after WWII taught how evil racism was and how good reducing prejudice would be.
One of the strengths of this book is how the author cited numerous examples of how teachers taught and spoke about race in the classroom when she recalled “teachers’ experiment with lessons on anthropological theories of race led to critical investigations of social equality… to find out the truth about black and white blood for themselves, these students decided to take samples from their classmates and study the results under a microscope” (Burkholder 125). The students came to the realization that there was no difference between black and white blood like they all had once expected. I enjoyed that teachers created hands-on activities for their students to discover their own solutions to their incorrect theories on race. Burkholder was able to demonstrate how they created an educational curriculum based on anti-racial concepts. The practices these teachers put into motion differed from the scientific methods after WWII.
The only weakness I can pinpoint is that I wish the research went more in-depth with race in school settings after “Brown vs. Board of Education”. I would have liked to see a comparison with the current anti-racial curriculum and what is being done in the classroom today. I believe race is still a major issue in this country. I cannot help but feel that something more can be done in the classroom today especially since I have experienced segregation in my elementary-high school years as a student. Counties separate towns based on socioeconomic status (SES) not always purposely but affects how students grow up and learn. Although high SES neighborhoods and school districts have a lot of benefits, a weakness they experience is lack of cultures and diversity.
I feel as though I was cheated out of learning about other people besides white Americans who were either Italian, Irish, Jewish, Catholic, and occasionally Asian children so when I came to Montclair State University I came across a lot of different personalities. This was honestly a lot harder to be around as a 19-year-old rather than in elementary school to be educated on because my peers were not forgiving or forthcoming with information on how we grew up so differently when we were less than 20 minutes apart from each other. They believed my lack of education related to a lack of care or ignorance but in reality, I just wanted to learn. I think many of the segregation issues come up today in income, housing, and education. Each goes hand and hand, also I don’t see these topics ever coming up in the same conversation. I do believe the education system has a lot of power when it comes to decreasing racial tensions in the United States.
In conclusion, I completely believe Color in the Classroom is an important piece of the teaching curriculum at Montclair State University. I also think other Universities that have to teach programs should include this book in one of the mandatory classes included in their program, especially for education courses. Soon to be teachers need to learn about race and the history of it especially in today’s climate. Teaching students about different races, cultures, and religions promote tolerance and respect while they are being educated on each other’s similarities and differences. This book would benefit all future teachers because it would give them a comprehensive background on the history of teaching racial education in the past in this country. It is extremely important for everyone to learn about past attempts to end racism by utilizing the education system. Hopefully, future teachers can take the lessons learned in the past, that are documented so thoroughly in this book, and combine them with current theories and utilize our education system to once and for all end racism as we know it.
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