Wired Magizine’s GeekDad Jonathan Liu recently highlighted a new book called NutureShock: New Thinking About Children. Authored by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, NutureShock disproves many of our assumptions about how kids grow up thinking about race and race relations.

It is tempting to believe that because their generation is so diverse, today’s children grow up knowing how to get along with people of every race. But numerous studies suggest that this is more of a fantasy than a fact.

According to Liu and the research in NutureShock, here’s how to go about raising racist kids:

Step One: Don’t talk about race. Don’t point out skin color. Be “color blind.”

Step Two: Actually, that’s it. There is no Step Two.

Congratulations! Your children are well on their way to believing that <insert your ethnicity here> is better than everybody else.

What Nutureshock documents is that most white parents don’t really talk with their kids about race.

The attitude (at least of those who think racism is wrong) is generally that because we want our kids to be color-blind, we don’t point out skin color. We’ll say things like “everybody’s equal” but find it hard to be more specific than that. If our kids point out somebody who looks different, we shush them and tell them it’s rude to talk about it.

More research:

  • Only 8% of white American high-schoolers have a best friend of another race. (For blacks, it’s about 15%.)
  • The more diverse a school is, the less likely it is that kids will form cross-race friendships.
  • 75% of white parents never or almost never talk about race with their kids.
  • A child’s attitudes toward race are much harder to alter after third grade, but a lot of parents wait until then (or later) before they feel it’s “safe” to talk frankly about race.

Basically . . . silence is not golden if what we want is for kids to be tolerant and open-minded of others. So how does this apply to the classroom?

I think we’re often afraid of discussing potentially uncomfortable topics with our students because, well . . . it’s just easier not messing with it. This includes the topic of race relations.

So perhaps the best advice? Talk about differences, provide examples of positive collaboration, read authors from a variety of experiences, be honest about the past and be open to discussion.

A good place to start would be the Legacy of Brown site created several years ago as part of a Teaching American History project. You’ll find both print and web resources on race relations, lesson plans and document-based question strategies.

Because it’s too easy to ignore the important stuff.

Photo – University of Haifa

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend