089: Teaching children about issues related to race

This episode is part of a series on understanding the intersection of race, privilege, and parenting.  Click here to view all the items in this series.

In this episode we continue our series on the intersection of race and parenting, which we started with Dr. Margaret Hagerman on the topic of White privilege in parenting; then we covered White privilege in schools with Dr. Allison Roda and what parents can do to overcome structural racism as well as talk with their children about race with Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum.

Today we’re continuing the series by learning from Dr. John Bickford about how to actually have a conversation with our child on a topic as complex and difficult as slavery or the Civil Rights Movement, using both primary sources and children’s ‘trade’ books.

During the episode you’ll hear Dr. Bickford and I hatch an idea to develop a resource guide for parents on exactly what sources and books to use to make sure you’re discussing the right issues within these topics: download the guide below!



Bauer, M.D. (2009). Martin Luther King, Jr. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Bickford, J.H., & Rich, C.W. (2014). Examining the representation of slavery within children’s literature. Social Studies Research and Practice 9(1), 66-94.

Bickford, J.H., & Rich, C.W. (2015). The historical representation of Thanksgiving within primary- and intermediate-level children’s literature. Journal of Children’s Literature 41(1), 5-21.

Bickford, J.H. (2015). Assessing and addressing historical misrepresentations within children’s literature about the Civil Rights Movement. The History Teacher 48(4), 693-736.

Bickford, J.H., & Schuette, L.N. (2016). Trade books’ historical representation of the Black Freedom Movement, slavery through civil rights. Journal of Children’s Literature 42(1), 20-43.

Bickford, J. (2018). Primary elementary students’ historical literacy, thinking, and argumentation about Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. The History Teacher 51(2), 269-292.

Marzollo, J., & Pinkney, J.B. (1993). Happy Birthday Martin Luther King. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Southern Poverty Law Center (2019). Anti-racism activity: ‘The Sneetches.’ Author. Retrieved from https://www.tolerance.org/classroom-resources/tolerance-lessons/antiracism-activity-the-sneetches

Southern Poverty Law Center (2019). Classroom simulations: Proceed with caution. Author. Retrieved from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/spring-2008/classroom-simulations-proceed-with-caution

Teaching Kids About Slavery

Click below to download FREE guides to teaching children about slavery and the civil rights movement

Get the FREE Guide!


Read Full Transcript

Jen:  00:01:44

Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Regular listeners will recall that we’ve been talking about the Intersection of Race and Parenting for a while now. We opened by talking with Dr. Margaret Hagerman on the topic of White Privilege and Parenting. And then we heard from Dr. Allison Roda on White Privilege in Schools. In our third episode, one of my listeners, Dr. Kim Rybacki and I interviewed Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum. And we tried really hard to cover a lot of ground on both what parents can do to overcome structural racism and on how to talk with our children about race. But I was very cognizant of the stones that we left unturned that I really wish we had time to address. Now, I reached out to today’s guest because I wanted to better understand his work on how historical figures are depicted in children’s literature. And he responded, I should be on your show.

Jen: 00:02:31

And after I read his papers, I said, yes, you should. So, Dr. John Bickford is here with us today. I just wanted to mention though that I’m rerecording this introduction because you’ll hear in the conversation that we formulated an idea to develop some resources to help parents talk with their children about difficult topics like slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. And we actually went ahead and did that. So, each one is a short PDF that walks you through primary sources were these exist on each topic as well as a collection of children’s books. You’ll hear Dr. Bickford refer to these as trade books and if it’s been awhile since you studied history, then primary sources or things like photographs and posters of slave auctions and audio recordings of former slaves, which you might not normally consider as things to share with young children.

Jen: 00:03:13

But which Dr. Bickford has actually done very successfully. So, the thing that makes these resources unique is that they use frameworks developed by the Southern Poverty Law Center for teaching young children about these topics. So, it’s not just a random collection of books and pictures and videos that we thought were interesting, but together they address what scholars believe to be the most important ideas on each topic. Things like the fact that enslaved people brought rich cultures and traditions with them that continue today and that the Civil Rights Movement was pushed forward by many, many concerted efforts and not just by Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Primary sources do exist for a lot of these ideas, but where we couldn’t find any, we supplemented with interesting secondary sources like videos. So, if you subscribed to the show through my website, you’ll already have received these resources and the email about this podcast episode.


If you subscribed through a podcasting platform like iTunes or Stitcher, then I don’t have a way to get this to you, but you can head over to this episode’s page at YourParentingMojo.com/TeachingRace to download these resources. So, back to the interview, Dr. Bickford received his Bachelor’s Degree in History, his Master’s Degree in Secondary Education and his Ph.D. in Social Studies Education all from the University of Iowa. And he’s now Associate Professor at Eastern Illinois University where he teaches How to Teach Social Studies at the elementary and middle school levels. His research focuses on how social studies and history education is taught at these levels, how students think about history as well as historical misrepresentations within children’s literature. And today we’re going to discuss a ton of resources to help us teach children about topics related to race. Welcome Dr. Bickford.

Dr. Bickford: 00:04:51

Thank you for having me.


All right. So, we’ve started each episode in this series by both me and my guests stating our privileges. And so my guests have heard mine a number of times right now. So, I’m going to state these quickly. These are my Whiteness, my economic status and the upper middle class, heterosexuality, able-bodiedness and my education. And I was actually also reminded by one of my Instagram followers last night that I should acknowledge the native Americans on whose land I sit, and those are the Chochenyo Ohlone. And I actually pay the Shuumi Tax, which is a donation that’s acknowledgement of this land used to belong to these people and was taken from them. So, I wonder if you could begin by telling us some of your privileges, please.

Dr. Bickford: 00:05:28

Well, it would be Whiteness and upper middle class socioeconomic status. I’m a heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied White male. I benefited tremendously from having two parents with college degrees and a grandfather who was a college professor. So, education and enriching experiences like museums and concerts were something that I kind of grew up with. I also have the privilege of being physically larger and more athletic than most folks, but my teenage son would disagree. And since you mentioned about the first people’s or native American’s land on which you’re sitting, mine would be of the Mississippian culture or the Cahokian culture.

Jen: 00:06:12

Oh, wow! And you must know that off the top of your head because I added that after I sent you the question list.

Dr. Bickford: 00:06:18

Yeah, yeah. That was not on the list, but one of my favorite passions as a child and as an adult now still with my own reading is about the native people of North and particularly Central and Southern America. I really, really enjoy that. Yeah.

Jen: 00:06:33

Okay. Well, we may get to talk about that a little bit more in the interview. I wonder if we could start up by talking a bit about your work. Can you tell us what kind of books you study and how you study them?

Dr. Bickford:00:06:42

Sure. Generally speaking, I study the texts and tasks, the best facilitate historical reading and thinking and writing. These are the sources and strategies that get kids to think historically not memorizing historical dates. That’s historical comprehension. But real historical thinking is looking at different sources and figuring out what actually happened, like a detective at a crime scene, so to speak, and invariably that involves the texts that include the curriculum the parents and teachers choose and use with their children and teenagers. And from an educational psychology standpoint, I spend most of my time on elementary children and some children in the middle grades. If you were to think of it as like a Venn diagram with one circle being what the experts know, the historians, the archeologists, the anthropologists, and then the other circle being what’s included in the curricula, textbooks and trade books.

Jen: 00:07:40

Those things overlap in some way?

Dr. Bickford: 00:07:43

In some ways they do. I explore the areas of convergence and also particularly the divergences between historians and children’s authors. I don’t get too much into the historical quibbles or the nuances. I tried to focus on what I consider important big picture aspects. Like is this accurate? But also age-appropriate. Could this be taught to a 5-year-old? Could this be taught to a 10-year-old? Things like that.

Jen: 00:08:10

Yeah. We had a fair bit of email conversation before this episode and I was looking for a blog post that’s actually well have been published by the time this episode goes out on what we should learn during Black history month. And so I asked Dr. Bickford if he knew of any online resource that actually presented an accurate view of Lincoln rather than this, not quite accurate version that a lot of us understand. And he kind of said, well, historians get over these things when they do an undergraduate degree. So no, there’s not really information out there because they don’t have a reason to put it out there because they just know it’s not true and they don’t really speak to laypeople. And I was really interested by that and I’d never thought about the resources that are available online in that way before.

Dr. Bickford:00:08:52

It really is remarkable, but it’s kind of like this idea if you were to ask a hundred folks, when did native Americans start to inhabit North and South America? Probably 95 of them would say something like about 10,000 years ago they walked across the Bering Strait and since then they populated North and South America. The five people who wouldn’t say that have background in archeology or historiography or anthropology.


Okay. Don’t tease us like that. Give us the answer.

Dr. Bickford: 00:09:24

It’s hard to know. But they know that they came over more than one way and they can do this linguists. Linguists by evaluating the different patterns of languages and people disagree to degree. But it’s anywhere from four to six different language groups that are in the North and South America for Native Americans. And they assume it was in these four to six different waves because presumably there were small tribes that walked across and linguists may disagree here and there on the small aspects, but the most logical answer that most people would agree with is that it was probably multiple groups probably starting somewhere between 25 and 35,000 years ago and probably the last one was maybe 10 to 15,000 years ago and I just mentioned the linguistic evidence, but there’s also a lot of contemporaneous evidence when it comes to spheres and in bison and woolly mammoths and things like that, spearhead points and things like that. It’s a whole lot more complicated than what I can just convey in a short answer here.

Jen:  00:10:25

Yeah, for sure. I didn’t realize your expertise extended to that area. We’ve been talking a lot about slavery and Lincoln and I didn’t realize that was one of your primary interest.

Dr. Bickford: 00:10:34

Actually, my primary interest is what historians call the Black Freedom Movement from slavery until beyond the traditional Civil Rights Movement. Native American history is something that I’m deeply fascinated by, but I haven’t taken too many courses in that. I just read it on my own. It’s a hobby. But I have done some research on it.

Jen: 00:10:55

Super. So, let’s get back to that Venn diagram that you mentioned and I’m going to quote from one of your papers. It says “Trade books potential and popularity give a false impression of their curricular soundness.” And so firstly, I wonder if you could just briefly just find what trade books are for us. And then secondly, what are some of the more egregious examples that you’ve seen where historical events depicted in these books are just plain wrong?

Dr. Bickford: 00:11:19

Sure. Trade books are biographies, narrative, nonfiction, historical fiction books, books that parents buy for kids over Christmas break and summer break. They’re distinct from textbooks, which is trying to be comprehensive. With textbooks, there’s lots of different ways to look at textbooks, but you can’t cover everything. If you have to cover from Columbus to Lincoln in 300 pages, you can’t cover everything. But it’s the trade books, it’s the biographies of Rosa Parks. It’s things like that. It’s the biographies of Abraham Lincoln that I’m most curious about because they’re presenting themselves often as nonfiction. And that’s what I mean by trade books. Some of the most egregious examples, the two most common are phrases like Hitler brainwashed. Where about 40% of the books actually used that word brainwashed. For one of my articles, I reviewed about 50 books, maybe 60, I forget, all centered on the Holocaust.

Dr. Bickford: 00:12:18

And I couldn’t get over how often that term was used. I mean, that’s a lie by commission where they totally intended, they picked that word. There’s also lies by omission, where if you were to ask most folks how many people were killed during the Holocaust (the industrial genocide that took place in Germany) and not just acknowledging that there were many other genocides. But most folks would say that 6 million Jews were killed. And that’s partly true, but it’s only about 60% of the answer. 11 million folks were killed, 6 million of which were Jews. Now that’s a lie by omission. It’s a lie by omission. And I’m not sure if the word lie is right, perhaps misrepresentation is better. But in my mind, if you’re an author, you should know this. The information is out there. There’s others though.

Dr. Bickford: 00:13:08

I mean, phrases like Columbus discovered. That’s in nearly all of the trade books. Nearly all of them use words like discovered. And that’s a complete lie by commission where the author intended that. There’s other lies by omission like what were the names of the folks he encountered? You know, they were the Tainos, which was a part of the Arawak tribe, a part of the larger Carib nation, and I mean this information is readily available. It’s just it doesn’t always filter in. It’s not that the details are the most important, but these are two simple ways. These are two simple ways of pointing out like the textbooks and the trade books really shouldn’t be trusted even if they say nonfiction because they’re getting some of the most basic aspects wrong. There’s a whole lot of others that I can articulate and then I tried to explore in my research, but those are the most basic, most obvious.

Jen: 00:14:00

I wonder if I could say some of my favorites from your research.

Dr. Bickford: 00:14:04

Sure, sure. I’d love to hear it.


So, there was one book that you looked at that located the Emancipation Proclamation before the Civil War.

Jen: 00:14:13

So, I think it was saying that the slaves were freed and I assumed it was all slaves were freed. I think that’s a point that you make as well, but not all slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. And this actually happened before the Civil War, where in reality, of course it happened afterwards. You read a whole lot of books on slavery and what that experience was like for slaves or enslaved people, we should probably say. And I think in all but two of the books that you read on this topic, the enslaved people secured their freedom, by the end of the book they were no longer enslaved. And in reality, what was the likelihood that that could have occurred?

Dr. Bickford:00:14:53

I mean, less than 1% if you count all the generations. And this is where these lies. James Lowe wrote a famous book in the 1990s about textbooks called “Lies My Teacher Told Me.” It is remarkable the garbage that gets passed off, the myths and the fables are so prominent. It’s like Betsy Ross. Everybody thinks the Betsy Ross sewed the American flag. And if she did, she never characterized it in her diary, which she kept for decades. It was literally fabricated by her ancestors. It’s the same thing with Lincoln. The Emancipation Proclamation, which was during the Civil War didn’t free the northern slaves. It only targeted the southern slaves, it wasn’t the slaves in the Border States they were still a part of the union or the northern states. I live in Illinois, it’s kind of like the idea of Illinois was a free state. Yeah, but African Americans couldn’t have residence here. They couldn’t actually live here. It was a free state in name, but they weren’t allowed to be here unless they were a slave. And that’s where the more you get into it, the more complicated it is.

Jen:  00:15:55

Yeah. So, it’s obviously difficult to convey all this in a book geared towards a 5-year-old. And so I think we’ve covered some of the egregious things, examples, where what’s in the book is just plain wrong. But there are a lot of examples where when something isn’t just wrong, it’s not exactly right either. And so I think when you look to trade books, looking at slavery, they basically don’t acknowledge that slavery was a violent practice. There is no sort of ill treatment of African Americans in slavery that families weren’t broken up. And also slavery didn’t really go away after the Emancipation Proclamation, which I didn’t know. It just sort of turned into a different form. So, it seems as though the books present this kind of sanitized version of history where, oh yeah, there was an Emancipation Proclamation, all the slaves were freed and now everything’s great and African Americans have exactly the same rights as White people do. Is that your impression as well?

Dr. Bickford: 00:16:56

Absolutely. And it’s not just an impression. It’s not just an opinion that’s based on a careful review of 50 randomly selected trade books. On the vast majority of trade books, skipped the violence, they skipped the degradation and inhumanities, and I’m not talking just about starvation or ill-clothed, enslaved African Americans, I’m talking about the threat of separating families and selling folks down south. I’m talking about the sexual violence and I’m not encouraging that that gets communicated to kindergarten or second graders, but when you reduce slavery to an exchange of free work for a free food and slaves lived in houses and the slave owners fed them, but the slaves had to work. It almost makes, it seems like it was a capitalist exchange and it would be like, can you imagine if you were to read a book that reduces the Holocaust to Nazis bullying Jews?

Dr. Bickford:00:17:54

Can you think about that? Like Nazis bullying Jews, not Germans, but Nazis. It doesn’t place the blame on Germans, but Nazis. It placed the blame on 1% of the population. So many of these books, even the expository or narrative nonfiction books, they talked specifically about slave owners, slave owners, slave owners. But they don’t talk about all of the people who benefited. And when you think about the textile workers up in New England, when you think about the shipbuilders, when you think about the iron makers, the people who made the change. When you think about all the people who profited from the Middle Passage and The Triangular Trade, and then you think, well many, many of the books say things like less than 1% of the American population owned slaves. I mean, by implication, that’s the 99% weren’t bad. If slave owners were bad and only 1% own slaves then slavery wasn’t that ubiquitous. When in reality it was touched upon in every major historical document that the United States had. It’s so misrepresented when you get that. Well, there were some bad slave owners, but not Washington, not Jefferson and Lincoln always wanted to free the slaves. You get these myths that are created and that’s just not the case. It’s either lies by omission or commission.

Jen:  00:19:15

Okay, so let’s just dwell on that for a little bit because I think it’s something (obviously I didn’t grow up here) and so I’m going to tell you my knowledge of American history has come to me since I came to the states because in England we don’t study American history because there isn’t enough of it. So, my impressions of this may be a little different from people who have lived here for a long time, but I think the general impression of Lincoln is that he believes slavery was wrong and he freed the slaves because he believed that slavery was wrong. Can you (using your knowledge of history that is obviously far greater than deeper than mine) just kind of set me straight there on what’s wrong about those things?

Dr. Bickford: 00:19:58

Well, usually with fables and myths there’s always some element of truth. Lincoln did talk as an adult about how he witnessed some slave trading, both when he was in either Indiana or Kentucky. He lived nearby a common slave trail where they would take slave south to sell. He lived nearby a major passageway. And then one time he rode a riverboat after he was in Illinois for a while and he rode a river boat down south, I think it was in New Orleans where he actually saw a formal slave market and as an adult during the war, he talked about these experiences and how it was wrong. And he used those as justification in many ways. So, there is some evidence of truth that Lincoln recognize the inhumanity of slavery. But the reality is when he was an attorney in the 1840s, he didn’t work against slavery.

Dr. Bickford: 00:20:53

Many times he was the lawyer defending slave owners when they’d bring slaves into Illinois and they’d say, hey, it’s slavery, this is a free state I should be free. He defended slave owner’s rights. He very publicly criticized a New York elected official (who argued for in Franchising African Americans, free African Americans during the 1850s) who voted for in Franchising Free African American males. And he was very vocally opposed to that. He ran on the election in 1860. He ran opposing ending slavery. There were radical abolitionist who wanted to end slavery. And then there were incredibly radical abolitionist like John Brown, but Lincoln wasn’t one of them. He was more of a policy of containment. Like, let’s keep it down south. Let’s not let it spread and eventually we’ll grow out of it kind of. I’m paraphrasing here, but that was Lincoln. And also Thomas Jefferson.

Dr. Bickford: 00:21:51

But he didn’t run to end slavery. And when the war started because of his election, he also didn’t immediately condemn slavery or work against it. He promised the folks in the Border States and up north, hey, look, if you’ve got slaves, I’m not going to take away your slaves, this war isn’t about slavery, later for pragmatic political and military reasons when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. But it wasn’t because he had this idealistic cause like, I got to do this for the slaves. This wasn’t a win one for the gipper sort of thing. That’s a football reference. I apologize. But it wasn’t anything like that. It was a very pragmatic choice. Like, well, I guess I’ll do this. And I’m not saying it was deeply held, but if Lincoln were alive today, and if you were just to look at Lincoln’s comments that he made, like he talked about, maybe when the war is over, we can send them to Central America. Maybe when the war is over, we can send them to Oklahoma where the American West. Lincoln would be considered a segregationist today because he didn’t think that free former slaves, former enslaved African Americans could live with their former masters. He would be considered a segregationist if you take him at his words.

Jen: 00:23:06

Yeah. I read a source (a speech of his) where he’s addressing some African American leaders and he’s saying basically paraphrased, it’s your fault that we White people are having this conflict among ourselves and if you would just leave, then we would be okay.

Dr. Bickford: 00:23:25

Yeah. The Back-to-Africa movement and the blame Africans for African slavery, absolutely. And this is why historians, they absolutely distinguished, if you read a historical text, they’ll distinguish and they use the praises often, not all the time, “African Slavery versus Chattel Slavery in America” and Chattel Slavery was this you and your dependents are forever enslaved from now until the end. Where it was just a continuous thing where African slavery was nothing like that. African slavery was nothing like that.

Jen: 00:23:56

And you mean slavery that existed in Africa before?

Dr. Bickford:00:23:59


Jen:  00:24:00

White people went there.

Dr. Bickford:00:24:01

Yes. Slavery that existed in Africa for decades. Biblical slavery was not American Chattel Slavery.


Yup. Okay. So, I want to get back to something you said about the violence of slavery and the sexual exploitation of slavery that you don’t advocate for teaching children, young children about that. But I’m curious about what you think children are ready to start hearing about the violence and what really happened during this period. And also more recently in the Civil Rights Movement in the last century, how should teachers and parents present this information so that what they’re showing is age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate but still accurate?

Dr. Bickford:  00:24:40

Sure. The first thing I would say is that teachers and parents should always use their best judgment. There’s nothing about common core and I know of no state curriculum that says kids need to be terrorized when they’re in kindergarten about stories of old slavery. In America there’s nothing that says that. But when a teacher or a parent feels strongly about introducing the concept of humankind inhumanity to other humans, I think they should do so very carefully, very deliberately and an age-appropriate ways. And I think it should be done as soon as the topics introduced. You wouldn’t expect a first grade teacher to say, okay, we’re learning about addition. So every answer is more because every time you add the answer is more, so seven plus two and all the kids chime in more, eight plus three more.

Dr. Bickford: 00:25:32

Nobody would do that saying, well, we’ll teach them the wrong way now so they can learn the right way later. No one’s going to teach them that when it comes to math in first grade. The same thing’s true of social studies and history-based topics. If you think it’s appropriate to include it now, it can be done, but it can be done in age-appropriate ways. And one of the ways that I encourage is iconic PG version images. And they’re readily available at the National Archives or the Library of Congress, things like that. You mentioned Civil Rights, take The March on Washington. So often it’s reduced to a few lines about Dr. King’s I have a dream speech. But what if the teacher were to show an image of the signs that folks carry during the March? First graders would immediately recognize that the signs are titled The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Dr. Bickford:00:26:27

And immediately they’ll start asking, well, what about the jobs and what about the freedom? And one of the things that the teachers can introduce, now, this is a very abstract concept when it comes to social segregation, political segregation, economic segregation, but it can be reduced in very concrete ways for young learners. Social Segregation, like separate drinking fountains. That’s very the back of the bus versus the front of the bus. That’s very obvious forms of social segregation. And so often the Civil Rights Movement is reduced to that where its separate drinking fountains, but it’s more complicated than that. When it comes to The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, any first grader can read those words, The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. That right there is a catalyst to get teachers or parents to say things like, well, in different parts of the south you couldn’t be a physician or a lawyer or an engineer if you were Black and the idea of introducing economic segregation because of jobs they couldn’t do. That is a very easy way from showing one image of one sign from The March on Washington to complicate our understandings on The March on Washington and Dr. King’s I have a dream speech or when it comes to freedom, that’s a little more abstract, but they were referring to voting and enfranchisement, political segregation.

Dr. Bickford: 00:27:49

What historians would call it. Now, you wouldn’t use that term with 5-year-olds, but saying, hey, should everybody get to pick when it comes to what you do during free choice time, when it comes to what you do during recess? Should everybody get to pick what they get to choose? If we all get to vote, should everybody get to vote? Those are tangible ways to introduce this to 5-year-olds and 7-year-olds and 10-year-olds just by showing an image of a sign that says The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And just like when you go into the sites in Washington DC and everything’s free in the National Mall, the Library of Congress and the National Archives have an array of sources that are all very, very free. And especially when you use the picture functions, 5-year olds, 8-year-olds can absolutely access this information.

Dr. Bickford:00:28:37

Now this is just one example, but what if you were to show something like, take Civil Rights, Emmett Till when he was lynched, (if I remember in 1954, maybe 1955 I forget) I’m not saying that you show his disfigured lynched body to little kids, I taught seventh grade for nine years and I’m not sure I would show that to seventh graders and they could view PG 13 movies just by their age. I mean, but that is a terrible, terrible thing to show. And I’m not advocating for that. But to show the violence that was depicted here or the anger that was depicted here, why not have a photo of African American teenagers and college students sitting at lunch tables, getting food dumped on them by jeering White Americans standing behind them or of African American kids walking to school, little girls, Ruby Bridges, walking to school to desegregate a school and seeing adults screaming at them and spitting at them and raging. Why not show that? You can show PG versions of hate. And I know a lot of folks will say things, (their initial response might be) I can’t show my kids that, but think of Ursula in the little mermaid. I mean, she exemplifies jealousy and anger and rage. Pick your favorite Disney movie.

Jen:  00:29:55

Yeah, fairy tales in general.

Dr. Bickford:00:29:58

Yeah, 5-year-olds can understand rage when it comes to Disney. And these are ways. Your question was about how do you introduce this in age-appropriate ways that matters because it’s kind of like the Hippocratic Oath for physicians, “Do no harm.” That should be your first rule. I’m not saying the goal is nightmares and tears, but there are age-appropriate ways to introduce the idea of hate. There are age-appropriate ways to show anger, there are age-appropriate ways to show mistreatment. Does that make sense?

Jen:  00:30:29

Yeah, it totally does. And I think the images, using historic images can be so powerful. I remember just recently when I was researching this, coming across a photo, it might have been of Ruby Bridges or one of the other early African American children going into a school and seeing the White mothers just furious and screaming and if you take away the fury and the screaming, they are these decent White people who you would think, oh they have the perfect lives and the perfect family and you could imagine them in their kitchen cooking dinner for the family every night. And just that juxtaposition of (and I guess the incongruity of) where you typically in the picture you have in your mind of that White fifties housewife and put her in this environment where she just does not want this African American child to go into her school where her child attends. It was just mind boggling to me.

Dr. Bickford:00:31:25

Yeah, absolutely. But that was reality then. And it’s terrifying to think but get this, (and this is why it’s so important to teach this because I can hear some parents) I can envision some parents saying, why do this now? That was then, this is now. Did you know that American schools are more segregated now than they were then?


By the time your episode goes out, my listeners will know this. Yes.

Dr. Bickford: 00:31:51

Think about this, school’s were more segregated now than they were then. And that’s not my opinion. That’s based on the facts.

Jen:  00:32:02

And a lot of it is through gifted and talented programs where it’s sort of social segregation within schools that are otherwise sort of nominally desegregated because anyone can attend. But when she walks in the door, all the African American kids go in one class and all the White kids go into another class.

Dr. Bickford: 00:32:17

Even more so than that. When it comes to the actual schools, not just the classes but the actual schools. There’s a wonderful book called “The Resegregation of America” where the author explores these facts and it is not disputed among the experts, among the educational sociologist who studied the sociology of education. It is not disputed that American schools are more segregated now than they were 50 years ago. And it’s because of things like White flight and the suburbs. And urban areas and certain parts of certain cities are definitely Black areas. And the idea of local schools and this phrase local control, it’s a euphemism for protect my own and let’s find a way to privilege our kids like I would like to be privileged. We are indisputably more segregated now from a school standpoint than we were 50, 60, 70 years ago. It’s crazy to think about. But that’s the difference between hidden segregation, like what’s happening now when it’s local control versus explicit and obvious and de facto segregation, like White school only, White children only, phrases like that.


Yeah. It’s more insidious now and more embedded as well, it seems.

Dr. Bickford:  00:33:33

That’s the right word, insidious. I wish I would have thought of that.

Jen: 00:33:36

You can use it next time don’t worry.

Dr. Bickford:  00:33:38

I will, I will.

Jen:  00:33:40

So, I want to talk a bit more about the books because I think that that is a really common mechanism that parents and teachers use to spark these topics. And so you said in one of your papers, and you’ve alluded here to the fact that no single book can possibly capture the complexity of something like the Civil Rights Movement or even the life of one person like Dr. Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln. But I mean a lot of the teachers who are teaching this are not experts and parents, (I’m not an expert) unless you’re a historian, most parents are probably not experts. How can they sort of introduce these ideas in a more realistic way? And I want to tell you a bit about how this played out recently at my house, it was Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday a few weeks ago.

Jen: 00:34:21

And my preschool’s class read a couple of books about him at school and she came home and she was really excited to tell me about this guy called Martin Luther King who was very friendly and he had a lot of love and he liked to spread that love all over and somebody killed him. And I was slightly unhappy with this glossed over version of the story. So, I had actually gotten a book out of the library specifically for the occasion and I pulled it out. And so the book talked about the Social Segregation of Schools and drinking fountains. And I was very explicit about how people with skin color, like mine made rules about what people with dark-colored skin can do. And then the next day I read your paper that talked about how most books about the Civil Rights Movement focus on this social segregation and not the more insidious political and economic segregation.

Jen: 00:35:10

And also that the majority of the books about the movement don’t explicitly identify the perpetrators of segregation. And so I looked again at the book I picked out and I saw that it said once there was a law in some places that said only White people could sit in front of the bus and once there were laws in some places that said African Americans could only use certain restaurants and drinking fountains. And it never mentioned where these laws came from. Who originated them? And I got my hands on one of books that was read in my daughter’s class and the difference in skin tone and even hair type between the Black and the White characters is almost imperceptible. We basically couldn’t tell which one was which. And it was full of language like they (meaning the Black people) refuse to ride in buses that made Black people sit in the back.

Jen: 00:35:55

And I’m thinking, did the bus make this rule and force it? And this is a book published by Scholastic (which is a major publisher in schools) and so perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised. So, I’m trying hard. I got this book out of the library, I made a point of having this conversation and then afterwards I realized I’m not doing enough here. I’m not covering the right topics and the books that she’s reading are not covering the right topics. So, are there books I can read that cover this accurately or are there sort of a set of books that if I get them all that we can get this picture? How can I get my head around this?

Dr. Bickford:  00:36:30

Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is you’re doing a lot and you should be commended because the act, it’s kind of like the path to exercise is your first step. The path to health is your first step. It’s a wonderful thing that what you’re doing and making other adults, whether you want to use the phrase woke or just aware, it’s wonderful and I applaud that. And the second thing is, and this is for me ‘cause I’m not a historian, I specialize in social studies education, particularly history education, but I’m not a historian when it comes to what they know. I’d encourage everybody to check yourself and to recognize like, hey, I don’t know everything, but I’d love to hear from people who do. Lots and lots of historians have podcasts and there’s wonderful resources that are out there.

Dr. Bickford:  00:37:17

When it comes to the Civil Rights Movement, Teaching Tolerance, which is like Dyson is to vacuums like Crayola is to crayons like Apple is to technology. Teaching Tolerance is a wonderful thing for parents and teachers. It is remarkable and they’ve got two resources that really stand out. Just using these phrases (if you were to put them in quotes) on Google Teaching Hard History, it’s about how to teach the American Chattel Slavery, Teaching Hard History. It’s a wonderful resource. Where it talks about, hey, these are 10 themes that you want to pay attention to. I’m not saying that every time you talk with the kids you need to talk about every one of these 10 themes. But these are things you need to be aware of. And when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement called Teaching the Movement or Putting the Movement Back in Civil Rights, those are different projects by Teaching Tolerance, which is outstanding and these are wonderful things that will let you know what you’re unaware of.

Dr. Bickford: 00:38:15

It’s kind of like being aware of your own ignorance. And as a nonhistorian, I’m absolutely aware of my own blind spots and I try to be, and I tried to be very deferential and this is, you’re talking about the back of the bus. If people knew what the back of the bus was for Rosa Parks, they would see that the issue isn’t where they’re sitting. It’s not the physical location on the back of the bus ‘cause that’s just the indignity of having to walk farther back. Buses back then had two entrances. You pay in the front and White folks will get on in the front. African Americans will get on the front and pay in the front, but then they had to get off and go on the back and sometimes the bus drivers, specifically James Blake, the guy who Rosa Parks tried to get ticked off so that she tried to get to be seated, when often folks like James Blake, the bus drivers would drive away after they paid before they can get it on the back or in different cities like Montgomery, Alabama.

Dr. Bickford: 00:39:08

They had certain places like if you were to divide your town into north and south, if the White section was the north, they would stop at every corner in the north and in the south they would just drive and stop at the main spot. One spot for African Americans and every corner for European Americans. It wasn’t just about the back of the bus, it was all of the indignities and with Rosa Parks, nothing against Rosa Parks. I love her. She’s awesome. It was just her birthday a couple days ago and I posted on Twitter about her. She’s a great lady, but Jo Ann Robinson, this lady that history has long forgotten. She was the one that was writing letters years before Rosa was arrested. She was the one that initiated all this stuff long before anyone knew about Rosa getting arrested. She was the one that wrote the leaflets while Rosa was in jail initiating the Montgomery bus boycott.

Dr. Bickford:00:39:55

It wasn’t just about Rosa and it certainly wasn’t about Martin Luther King. Not trying to throw shade on that guy, but it was more about Jo Ann Robinson and all that she did and it wasn’t just about the back of the bus. Now as parents, the first step is to just recognize that there’s a darn good chance that you don’t know everything about this topic because what you were taught as a 5 or 15-year-old was probably pretty limited and your memory of what you taught as a 5 or 15-year-old is even more limited. That’s the first step. The second step is to see what’s out there and searching things like Teaching Tolerance and through Teaching Hard History or Teaching the Movement, there are wonderful ways to explore these topics on what you don’t know. And then the idea of finding extra sources, whether it’s multiple trade books, you get a trade book on Rosa Parks and one on Martin Luther King.

Dr. Bickford: 00:40:42

The Martin Luther King biographies rarely mentioned Rosa Parks. Although they’ll mention the Montgomery bus boycott, they won’t mention Rosa Parks. You get the Rosa Parks books, and of course they mentioned the Montgomery bus boycott and they mentioned Martin Luther King, but they give credit to Rosa and Martin, but they don’t give so much credit to Jo Ann Robinson. And you very rarely find any Martin Luther King books that give credit to Jo Ann Robinson, but they all give credit to the Montgomery bus boycott, which Jo Ann Robinson initiated, and all of the Martin Luther King books talked about this was his entry into the American public eye. You get multiple books like this and you have the kids read multiple books from different angles on the same topic. I tell parents and teachers, it’s like when you buy a car, you sit in the driver’s seat, but you also opened the trunk and the hood and you ask questions about gas mileage.

Dr. Bickford:   00:41:40

The same way can be done for the Montgomery bus boycott. A biography on Rosa Parks, a biography on Dr. Martin Luther King, and a biography on Civil Rights, the latter may mention the names Jo Ann Robinson. And when you look at resources like Teaching Tolerance, they’ll prompt you with these things. And they also have wonderful podcast like yours with Your Parenting Mojo that go along with us. In a way, (and I try to use metaphors a lot in my own teaching and my research) think about this with dinosaurs or planets. There’s a lot of parents that think the Pluto is a planet and I mean we all agree.

Jen:  00:42:18

I always taught that Pluto is a planet.

Dr. Bickford: 00:42:19

I know. Same here. It’s like this idea of Brontosaurus. I mean it was the helpful giant dinosaur. And now Brontosaurus is, I dunno, brachiosaurus or apatosaurus or something like that.

Dr. Bickford:  00:42:30

But what if you were to get three different books on any one of those topics? What if you were to get an older book from the 1950s that your library got them and Pluto is a planet and Brontosaurus is a dinosaur. And then you get a more recent one and then explain why they’re not. They explain why they’re not. And what if (take the dinosaur thing) there’s one book that just explores five different dinosaurs? And say they explored in detail, and I’m just talking things per se a kindergartener. You’ve got one book that explores five different dinosaurs. Now you’ve got another book that explored, you know, say it covers 20 dinosaurs, but say the first book just has pteranodons and the second book has pteranodons and pterodactyls. Think about that. When you’re doing this, when you have multiple books, it’s kind of like when you’re purchasing a car and you’re looking at it from multiple angles.

Dr. Bickford:  00:43:18

It’s the same thing with these books and don’t think, hey, can I buy three different books about Rosa Parks? Although there will be some gradations, it’s kind of like organizing gradations of the color gray as opposed to a book about Martin, a book about Rosa, a book about Civil Rights and it’s like looking at black and white and blue. Does that make sense? The more sources you have. And then when you can add extra historical documents, particularly photographs, they’re so accessible for kids, and parents will have a very easy time comparing and contrasting because the books are intended, they’re engaging and they’re intended for young children, and the photographs everyone can access that.

Jen:  00:43:58

Yeah. So, I just want to sort of summarize what I think I heard. I think what parents can do is to download this Teaching Hard History curriculum and I’m going to put links to this in the references. And that kind of gives you a framework for what should be included? What are the important things to cover? And then when you get your series of books and your pictures, you can talk about what is included, which of the topics that we know are important are talked about here? Which ones are not talked about here? How are they talked about differently? And you can use then the books and the photographs and sort of form your own ideas about not just the events themselves but how those things are depicted.

Dr. Bickford:  00:44:41

Absolutely. And that right there, that last part is the nature of historiography. It’s not about a lot of parents use very frequently, but history isn’t just what happened. History is what we think about what happened. Take September 11th in New York City or in Washington DC. I mean the world changed on that day and the idea of how do we interpret certain things. The present impacts our understandings on the past. And the idea of looking at it from multiple perspectives but not just say a wide perspective and a Black perspective, but the idea of looking at one event from various historical figures and their contributions to it.

Jen: 00:45:21

Yup. Yeah. I remember reading somewhere that textbooks that discuss Lincoln published during the Bush administration were very different in terms of their stunts and content compared to books published I guess probably before, but certainly after.

Dr. Bickford: 00:45:37

It is remarkable and they’re still out there. The Eighth Grade Georgia textbook very recently said something like, the only description on the Middle Passage was a statement like (and I’m going to quote this directly), “Laborers were brought from Africa to work on the southern plantations.” That is a direct quote. Are you kidding me? And that is like 2015. Are you kidding me? It is remarkable. The garbage that’s out there that parents and teachers and administrators don’t know how insidious it is and how wrong it is.

Jen: 00:46:13

Okay. All right. Moving on a little bit. I think that in some ways teachers have a bit of an easier time with this than parents because if it’s on the curriculum, they’ve sort of got to teach it. And maybe that’s hard in some ways because it’s like if I don’t want to teach it, I still have to. But in other ways they have to do it. But I find as a parent, I’m trying to find a balance between following my daughter’s lead on these topics and letting her lead. And so I wanted to follow up on something that I had asked Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum because when we talked with her, I mentioned how I’ve been deliberately getting books out of the library featuring diverse characters. And I found that my daughter will actually refuse to choose the ones with characters who don’t have white skin on the cover for a bedtime stories.

Jen:  00:46:55

And so I asked Dr. Tatum about what she thought I should do about this and whether I should insist on reading all the books that I choose from the library. And she came down on the side of not doing that, that I should take the lead from my daughter’s questions as they come up. And she gave the example of her son looking at brown eggs and white eggs and wondering if they were different on the inside and using that as a teachable moment. But my problem with this is that these topics don’t come up that much if I don’t bring them up unless I have NPR on the radio and that sort of gives me an opening to discuss these things, which is how these conversations start at our house these days. But on the flip side of that, I don’t want the vast majority of our interactions about Black people to be about how much people who have skin color like mine have done them wrong because then I feel like that’s going to make the avoiding problem worse. So, I’m wondering how you approach this with your children and what you think I should do? Should I lead or should I follow her questions?

Dr. Bickford: 00:47:47

Well first, I think you’ve got great advice and I think the right approach is to ask yourself and to reflect. Because there’s times where it’s a teachable moment and you’re like, oh yes, oh yes, yes, yes, now we are talking about this now. And then there’s other times where it’s like maybe not so much. There’s ways that you can introduce it. Take the idea of the book, “The Sneetches” by Dr. Seuss. Like there’s ways that you can introduce it and it’s not as obvious as a book about say Rosa Parks. There are ways that you can inconspicuously introduce it. But I also understand the point like, hey, you don’t want to beat them over the head with this. And I strongly advocate that when it comes to talking about African Americans, especially for White teachers and White parents, this should not be just about them and the victim status.

Dr. Bickford: 00:48:34

It’s the same thing with native Americans. They are not a relic of the past. They were in the past and they were here long before us, but they are not only a relic of the past. African Americans when it comes to how they’re traditionally taught during Black history month, it’s in the victim status. And I wouldn’t revel in the victim status. And I’m not saying ignore the victimhood that’s been forced on them. I’m not saying dismiss it or let’s talk about other things so we can all be unified. I’m not encouraging that at all. But the idea of, hey, you should be aware, and I think what you’re talking about, I think all parents wonder, during the day you’re doing your best to keep them away from germs and they keep them healthy and not bleeding. And then a night you’re thinking, gosh, what should I have done?

Dr. Bickford: 00:49:19

Parenting so often is about worrying did I do the right thing or could I have done something better? Parenting is a lot about guilt and I don’t want parents to feel guilty because you can’t cover everything. It’ll get covered. You’ve got many, many years with them. It doesn’t all have to be covered on Tuesday that can’t be covered on Tuesday. But I think the parents should find ways to spark dialogue at times and at other times respond to their questions with important tangents. If the tangents lead them in this way, go for it. I don’t think that everyday all day should be an inundation of race-based complications. But I also don’t think it can be ignored and I certainly don’t think it should be minimized. Like well that used to happen, but we don’t do that anymore. Now African Americans can sit wherever they want on the bus. And this is where when it comes to parents and teachers use your judgment.

Dr. Bickford: 00:50:13

Use your judgment.

Jen: 00:50:15

There is this real tendency in the books particularly to sort of make it seem as though, oh, everything’s better now. Right? People can sit wherever they like on the bus, they can swim in whatever pool they like, they can drink out of whatever fountain they like. And it’s harder, I think, to learn about and teach about the ways that racism and prejudice permeate our lives these days than it is to talk about these more concrete things.

Dr. Bickford: 00:50:38

Absolutely. Scholars of literature and social studies education would call that chronological ethnocentrism. Thinking we’re better than folks in the past because we don’t do that now. And so often it’s easy to identify, look, slavery ended and then they’re 150 years ago. We don’t do that now, so get over it.

Jen:  00:50:54

And I would never do that. I would never have slaves.

Dr. Bickford:  00:50:58

That was the sort of thing. And it’s wrong. There are ways that people are mistreated. And that’s why the idea of moving beyond the phrase slavery, moving into things like marginalization because the reality is there are folks that are being marginalized today. There are folks that are being unnecessarily regulated today. And a lot of this is carry over from that. And I think the idea of having these discussions now when they come up in age-appropriate ways, but also not avoiding it, I think it’s important. So, I’m more of a fan of let it come up. But I also think there’s times for a deliberate catalyst. If it’s Tuesday night and your kids are in bed and you’re thinking to yourself, man, I wish I would’ve said this. There are ways to spark that.

Dr. Bickford: 00:51:43

And in conspicuous ways like with “The Sneetches” or in other ways too like, hey, I was thinking about something that happened yesterday. I specialize more in history education but as a parent of three kids, one of the things that I often say and the idea of recognizing, hey, I’m human, I make mistakes and because I’m human and make mistakes, I also apologize. And I also try to do better. The idea of saying something like, have you ever wished you said something differently than the way you said it? Like you’re going to bed at night and you’re like, man, I wish I didn’t say that. Well, yesterday something happened. And after thinking about it at night, I wish that I could have gone back and done this. I wish I could have said that. My children have all responded very well to that. It shows that you’re human and it shows that you’re being accountable and it recognizes reflectivity. I mean kindness is important, being diligent is important. But parents also want kids to be aware and to be reflective. Like, hey, how could I do a better job? And I think at times when parents feel the guilt, bring it back the next day and see if there’s a way that you can point it out to the children.

Jen:  00:52:52

A powerful lesson for the child on so many fronts as well.

Dr. Bickford: 00:52:56

I think so.

Jen: 00:52:57

Not just the immediate subject matter, but also we’re all fallible and we all have a chance to go back and make things right. Before we wrap up, I just want to sort of reference something you’ve alluded to a few times and that’s “The Sneetches” (the book) and I was not familiar with it before you introduced me to it and I read it and the angle that I want to talk about is about simulations and if you haven’t read “The Sneetches”, it’s basically a children’s book about the Jane Elliott green-eyed, blue-eyed sort of exercise where you make one half of the children’s superior to the other half and then kind of see what happens. And you had directed me to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website and there was a really useful resource in one place on their site where they really lament the dearth of evidence on the effectiveness of these kinds of simulation teaching methods where I mean it almost seems to me that the teachers use simulations because they’re uncomfortable having a discussion, whereas a simulation is scripted and yet in another place on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website, they recommend the class simulation around Dr. Seuss’ book “The Sneetches”. And so I’m just curious as to your ideas on the effectiveness of simulations as a way of teaching about race or would there be kind of series of readings and images and conversations that we’ve been talking about be a more difficult way to address these topics, but ultimately more effective?

Dr. Bickford: 00:54:15

When it comes to role play and simulations, I always encourage people and parents and teachers to think, how does your kid respond to an iPad or a computer? The way they mesmerizes and you’re like, man, that’s awesome. They’re still engaged. But then in the back of your mind you’re also thinking to yourself, all right, I need to get them off that. You know what I mean? In a way, role play and simulations, it’s kind of like going to the zoo where parents can take their parenting hat off and teachers can take their teaching hat off and just let it go. I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m not saying it’s a horrible thing, but it can be, it’s kind of like dessert, you don’t want too much of that as it relates to Jane Elliott’s brown-eyed, blue-eyed experiment. I mean it was iconic.

Dr. Bickford: 00:55:01

It was iconic and she started it in little Riceville, Iowa in 1968 soon after either Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy was killed. I think Bobby was killed first and then Martin Luther King was killed second and because Bobby was running on a desegregation platform and Civil Rights platform, I think there was a lot of dialogue. In between then she was thinking about doing this. Then she tried a couple of years later and was captured on like CBS or something I mean it was an iconic image. But the reality is that a lot of folks, a lot of experts in the field of educational psychology and education in general are very concerned about it. There’s groups on all the campuses called institutional review boards, which they make sure that research that’s done with human subjects or animals, it’s all ethical. You’re not teaching the orphans to stutter, (which is an example of horrible things that happened in the 1940s in Iowa) where a group of people tried to get orphans to stutter so that they could teach them to unstutter. It’s a horrible unethical stuff, but there’s a lot of institutional review boards across the state that wouldn’t pass Jane Elliott’s brown-eyed, blue-eyed experiments in the classroom today.

Dr. Bickford: 00:56:15

And that’s because they’re incredibly problematic because they can spend wildly out of control, especially with things that can’t be changed like brown eyes and blue eyes. Lots of times teachers try to get around it like, oh, I’ll make people wear badges. We will make people wear badges. And that’ll prove that the people with the badges are good and the people without the badges are bad, but still teachers can’t always control what happens in the locker room before PE or what happens on the playground during recess. Simulations can be effective. But sometimes they can be way too effective where kids get really good at being really bad and it’s kinda like back to the physician’s Hippocratic Oath, they promised to do no harm. I think it’s great guidance for teachers. It’s kind of like athletes that are training.

Dr. Bickford: 00:57:08

They’re thinking, how do I get better at sports? But they’re also thinking, how do I avoid injuries? And here’s just a couple of examples, where teachers, perhaps they’ll say they’re well intended, but they’re not. When teachers have had kids lay on their bellies so that other kids could walk on their backs to simulate the Middle Passage or squishing them under chairs so they knew what it felt like to be cramped during the Middle Passage. I mean, one that’s nothing like the Middle Passage and two, it’s just being cruel and the kid that’s standing on somebody else’s back or watching other kids get squished, it’s ludicrous. But these are actual examples. Now, some teachers may say these are well intended or they’re well planned, but Jane Elliott recreations are very problematic. You don’t know what a kid experience the night before, there’s some child that witness their mom getting knocked down the stairs by their dad.

Dr. Bickford: 00:58:03

Some kid has called the cops on their dad who’s banging on the door trying to get inside and his mom’s got an order of protection. There’s children that have traumatic events and the teacher may be unaware of it. At parenting, it’s different. But with children in the classroom, teachers don’t always know what’s going on. And the next thing is, it’s impossible to recreate a historical era and to capture the indignities and in humanities of a marginal life, a marginalized life in the span of like 30 minutes, oh, we’ve got 30 minutes, okay kids, now we’re done with the Middle Passage, let’s move on. I’m being sardonic but it’s impossible. It’s impossible to try to recreate a historical era. You can’t reduce the Underground Railroad to a game of tag. They can’t experience that. They can learn about it, but they can’t experience it.

Dr. Bickford:  00:58:57

And I think teachers need to recognize that. Now simulations are popular, but they’re also very problematic. Another thing that I would encourage parents and teachers to consider very carefully is when it comes to common tasks like creative writing. Creative writing is wonderful and it’s very beneficial and it’s a part of all the major disciplinary bodies for English and Reading and Language, all encouraged problematic writing. But often people are asked say instead of playing tag to simulate the Underground Railroad, teachers thinking, well, I can’t do that, but what if I already give my kids a writing activity where they have to think about what if they were on the Middle Passage or what if they were a patty roller (that was the nickname for patrollers on the Middle Passage to catch them)? Maybe I could have the kids write creatively since they can’t experience it.

Dr. Bickford: 00:59:47

Often creative writing is a substitute. Now, I’m not discouraging creative writing, but I don’t think children should recreate the mental landscape of a slave catcher or a master or an overseer or an antagonist in the Civil Rights Movement like the police chief Bull Connor that turn the hoses on peaceful protesters. I don’t think that teachers or parents should ask kids to explore. Okay, the dude who said yes, sic the dogs on them. Sic the dogs on those people that are walking peacefully over the bridge near Selma. I don’t think that 10-year-olds should be tasked with trying to recreate that mental landscape. I think teachers should carefully consider subjugation as suffering should never be trivialized, and the abuser’s role should not be toyed with. Students of color, particularly African American kids may feel uneasy at recreating an enslaved person’s voice and experience.

Dr. Bickford:  01:00:48

You think there’s an African American kid sitting next to a White kid and the White kids like, hey man, what if my grandparents enslaved your grandparents? I mean now that White kid sitting there, just what if like, what if I play in the NBA someday? But that African American kid that has to listen to that garbage, he’s not going to experience that simple sentence in the same way. And I think the teachers should be very careful about the tasks that they give and should use empowering language like this is our opportunity to give a voice to the often ignored and as the trampled on people in history. But we need to be very mindful. We need to be very mindful of the people that were marginalized. And now we’re recreating people, we’re going to explore dialogue from folks down South and yes they did talk a little differently.

Dr. Bickford: 01:01:36

And African Americans, on the library of Congress, you can listen to oral histories of former slaves. You can actually hear their voices and saying to the kids, now we’re going to listen to them, but we’re not going to snicker. This was the way they talked and we’re not going to make fun of them ‘cause that’s not a sign of ignorance. That’s just how they talked. And I don’t think that teachers or parents should assign creative writing tasks where kids are trying to impersonate this because in a way it’s almost like literary Blackface. And I think there’s a fine line between trying to write in authentic ways and literary Blackface and I think these are worrisome elements that can be avoided if teachers were to assign that much like simulations. Simulations are a big concern because you can’t control all the variables.

Jen: 01:02:24

Yeah, Yup. That makes a lot of sense. So, I really think we’re coming back to these sort of books and photographs and sort of frameworks as a positive way that parents can use these resources to teach about these difficult topics. And so I’m hoping to work with you to pull together a list of these kinds of resources if you’re amenable to that to post on the references for this episode.

Dr. Bickford: 01:02:47

Absolutely. And I’ll tell you too, I’m in an advisory group for the Southern Poverty Law Center that funds the Teaching Tolerance Project and they’re coming out with an elementary framework for teaching American Chattel Slavery. It should be out, I think sometime in February or early March.

Jen: 01:03:04

Before this episode goes live then. So, we’ll definitely go to that.

Dr. Bickford: 01:03:07

And it’s the same thing with putting the movement back in Civil Rights, that whole thing. There’s a ton of great books that are suggested. Also at the very back of my, usually in the appendices for my research where I just have a lot of dots and things, okay, these books have it, these books didn’t have it. Parents can absolutely check out their books and see what they’ve got going on. But yes, I would love to help out with that.

Jen: 01:03:30

Super. Thanks. Yeah. And so it would be much easier than using the tables that you mentioned in your work to see, okay, this one covers these five topics but not this one. So, I’m going to get this other book that does cover that and get a more balanced view. So yeah. Super. Well, thank you. I look forward to working with you on that. So, we are out of time. It’s such a fascinating conversation and I wish we could keep going. We didn’t quite get to all of our questions, but I know we need to go, so thank you Dr. Bickford for taking the time to do this and I really feel as though I have a better path forward now in terms of engaging my daughter on this, not overwhelming her but following her lead and also leading on occasion. So, really appreciate your taking the time to help us with this.

Dr. Bickford: 01:04:10

It was my privilege.

Jen:   01:04:11

So, references for today’s episode for all of the resources that we’ve talked about as well as the things I’m going to pull together with Dr. Bickford can be found at YourParentingMojo.com/TeachingRace.


About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.

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