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Teaching and Race

How to Survive, Manage, and Even Encourage Race Talk


Irene Murphy Lietz

Teaching and Race: How To Survive, Manage, and Even Encourage Race Talk provides an in-depth interdisciplinary analysis of some common student talk about race, its flavor, character, rhetorical, sociological, psychological and educational development sources, and manageable tools for responding to students. The book recommends an accessible two-step, compassionate listening followed by critical challenges, to make the transformative connection between emotion and evidence. The book helps teachers embrace the moments of difficult conversation, confront student denial (as well as their own), and take advantage of the unique opportunity the classroom provides to advance the students’ anti-racist identity development. Teaching and Race narrates common, sometimes offensive, language in four student interviews that are tied to strong feelings of confusion, denial, guilt, resistance and more. The student interviews help college teachers name and analyze loaded racial discussion so that they can thoughtfully address it in the classroom, rather than feel their only choices are explosive confrontation, gloss-overs or redirection. The book empowers teachers to shift potentially confrontational race talk to open-minded race dialogues that ultimately defuse the shock, sting, alarm and confusion of race talk by well-intentioned but unpracticed voices. The book creates a compassionate but informed moment for teachers, preparing them to confidently raise a critical challenge to misinformation at the moment it arises, and providing a beginning response for the teacher.

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Chapter 2 Methodology and Literature: How Did We Get to This Place and Time?



This book is the story of four students who found themselves in a first-year college composition course where they were forced to confront race. It’s also the story of their struggle with that focus, how it looked to them at the time, just after they’d finished the course, as well as how they felt it had affected them four years later as they graduated from the college, a small, Catholic, predominantly female liberal arts institution in a mid-sized rust-belt city. This book is deliberately not a comprehensive study of a large group. Focusing small, this story is made easier to hear and think about because it is the story of only four students; you will get to know them each and be able to look more closely and listen more intently for things unsaid as well as those actually spoken in the interviews.

Most likely, you will recognize these particular young people are typical of many first-year students in their sincere desire to do well, to “get it right,” to earn a good grade and perhaps the teacher’s respect for their skill and ambitions. At the same time and again quite typically, they were a little unsure that they could measure up, a little nervous that perhaps their previous learning in English composition might have some gaps. What is not typical of most first-year college classes is that their insecurity pretty quickly turned to...

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