How Do We Educate Our Students About Charlottesville?

Added to Medium, August 17, 2017

Museum educators continue to prepare for school visits as the new school year approaches. As I was preparing for the upcoming school year, I as well as everyone in this country found out about the white supremacists rally and the attack that occurred on Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia. It made me sad to learn that this is occurring in our country, and more importantly I thought about the future generations trying to understand how and why this is occurring in our nation. Museums and history organizations made their statements on what has happened in our country and their stand on these tragic events. We, as museum professionals, have this one question in mind: how do we educate our students about what is happening in Charlottesville?

Throughout the museum and education community, I have seen many organizations have spoken about these events. The American Alliance of Museums stated in their newsletter and Twitter account “There is absolutely no place in society for the kind of hatred, racism, and violence that were on display this past weekend, and we offer our deepest condolences to the victims, their families, and the community.”

The American Association for State and Local History also released a statement on the events in Charlottesville. They reinforce the importance of this organization, and what it stands for in this nation. AASLH
“abhors not only the violence of the clash in Virginia, initially over a Jim Crow era statue, but the hateful misunderstanding of history, the cruel misuse of the past, and the willful blindness to the historical record by the forces of white nationalism. As the national professional association for individual members, historical societies, history museums, and history sites that preserve and interpret state and local history, the AASLH stands for open discussion, reasoned research and interpretation, reliance on evidence and current scholarship, and the preservation of historical resources.”

Museums are not the only organizations that have made statements about the events in Charlottesville. Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit international educational and professional development organization that engages students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry, released a message as well.

Roger White, President and CEO of Facing History and Ourselves stated in an email sent to newsletter subscribers:
“As educators, our first concern is the millions of young people watching Charlottesville unfold. As we return to classrooms across the United States and the world, we will be called upon to manage difficult conversations about the evil, base bigotry at play. We will need to provide historical and cultural context for the violence, for the references to Nazi language and events, and for the legacy of slavery in the U.S. that underlies the pain we see across the nation today.” Roger White, August 14, 2017.

As I read through these statements, I thought about how we should explain these events to our children and students. It is important to express that we should be accepting of every person within our community. One of the resources I read which I agree with is an article written by CNN’s Jessica Ravitz on the topic of what we should be telling children. According to Jessica Ravitz, we should be proactive, not just reactive; don’t ignore; and empowering kids as well as yourself.

Children should be taught at an early age to appreciate diversity and practice empathy at home, in the classroom, and within their community. Also, it is important for parents, guardians, and teachers to be honest and frank about these events in an age-appropriate way, as well as reassure them they are safe and remind them there is still good in the world. I agree with these tips because we all should be able to make the choice to take a moral stand and do not support hate crimes.

Teachers should be able to encourage students to learn about different cultures and identities in addition to what had happened in our past to understand why we should continue to work at decreasing the hate in our communities and nation.

What should museums do to help educate students about what happened in Charlottesville? Museums need to continue to fulfil their education missions, and inspire people to learn more about the community around them to learn how to appreciate diversity in addition to practicing empathy. According to Paul Orselli’s blog post, “What can museums do to resist?”, now is not the time for museums to be “neutral” or to sit on the sidelines. He has a point that museums should not be neutral because we create a space where people can come together to acknowledge our past and help one another respect and appreciate each individual from all backgrounds through our collections and programming.

Various museum professionals have been vocal about what has happened in our country, and what we should do moving forward. Seema Rao for instance wrote a post for Nina Simon’s blog Museum 2.0 called “How Museums Can Resist Racism and Oppression”. Seema wrote this post in response to a program she participated called MuseumCamp (a summer professional development program at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History) in addition to the news on what happened in Charlottesville. Both Nina Simon and Seema Rao started an open Google Doc to assemble ideas for specific things both museums and museum professionals can do to resist oppression.

Some of the ideas from the Google Doc include staff can share their feelings together; have an open ear for those that need to express their feelings, thoughts, ideas, vent, etc.; raise money for organizations that support inclusion; educate themselves on anti-racist terminology, history, activities, and opportunities; and reach out to colleagues in Charlottesville with unencumbered, unquestioning support.

Also, in the Google Doc, museums could, but not limited to, host conversations for visitors; if open conversations are not possible, then provide open talk-back boards (remember to talk back); model inclusion in their programming, work together in regions to create safe spaces for inclusion; and offer space to local NAACP, BLM, SURJ, and other anti-racist groups for their own events, meetings, and public forums.

There is more than one way we can encourage inclusion and diversity, and practice empathy as we have seen in this blog post. I implore everyone, including everyone who reads my blog, to take action however you can and…be good to one another.

While I was reading social media posts about what happened in Charlottesville, and the statements from organizations including American Alliance of Museums and American Association of State and Local History on what happened in Charlottesville, I came across resources that will help all educators approach this topic with students. Here are the following resources I read and recommend everyone to read and use:
Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/08/13/the-first-thing-teachers-should-do-when-school-starts-is-talk-about-hatred-in-america-heres-help/?utm_term=.6fc22fdfe36f
NPR: http://www.npr.org/2017/08/14/543390148/resources-for-educators-to-use-the-wake-of-charlottesville
Harvard: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/02/talking-race-controversy-and-trauma
CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/14/health/talking-to-kids-about-hate/index.html (article referenced in this blog)
Paul Orselli: http://blog.orselli.net/2017/08/what-can-museums-do-to-resist.html?m=1
Museum 2.0: http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2017/08/guest-posted-by-seema-rao-how-museums-can.html?m=1

 

What are you and your organizations doing in response to the events in Charlottesville? Do you have ideas on what museums should do?

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