An (aspiring) Educator’s Blog

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Was I Racist in the 4th Grade?

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I woke up this morning to this:

My ‘Aboriginal ceremonial mask’ that I made in the 4th grade for a social studies assignment. I haven’t noticed it in years. For some reason, it blends in with my varsity letters, Mariners memorabilia, and other pre-college memories hanging on the walls.

I made this submission to Dangerously Irrelevant’s Dismaying Assignment Contest:

In the 4th grade, I had to make an ‘Aboriginal ceremonial mask’ for our Australia unit. It was an exciting project – the masks were fired in a kiln and took about 2 weeks to complete. So – what’s the problem?

We didn’t really study the Aborigines. Our understanding of their culture was based on stereotypes and a few photos from National Geographic.

I’m looking at the mask right now (I noticed it hanging in my room this morning). There are ‘tribal’ engravings. Not to mention a lot of blood (and anger). I’ll probably take the mask down tomorrow. It wasn’t my fault that no one took the time to educate me about the indigenous peoples of Australia, but I try to stay away from racist decor.

Why does this mask matter? It reminds me that cultural sensitivity is learned over time. I can’t expect young students have a culturally sensitive perspective on the first day of class. That being said, assignments and the classroom environment  influence the cultural sensitivity of students. The assignment could have helped students become aware of issues affecting indigenous peoples – from genocide to economic and social oppression. This mask was created in ignorance and students missed out on the opportunity to make bold artistic representations of important social issues.

I hope that I can create a classroom environment that helps young students understand issues of social justice. I wasn’t a racist in the 4th grade because I wasn’t at the stage where I could make informed decisions about race, culture, and society. What would have happened if educators, parents, and other leaders hadn’t exposed me to issues of social justice? This?


Written by TeacherC

10 June 2008 at 12:09 am

One Response

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  1. Sometimes as adults, we mess up too. When I went to Bangkok, Thailand on a tour and I was so excited that I had seen the King and I (Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about the King of Siam). But when I mentioned this I found out that mentioning this is not allowed and I made a bad social faux pas because they do not like how they are portrayed in that movie. I guess I should have done more research.


    20 June 2008 at 12:23 pm

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