I'm teaching my social studies class about the Tainos of the Caribbean and the European conquest of the Americas. This year, I have changed a few things about how I’m doing it. For one, after reading the New York Times articles, 1619, I will be introducing slavery right away, at the same time as the arrival of the Europeans. Also, the new trend is to refer to slaves as “enslaved people”, so I will take the opportunity to explain this language to my students.
This year as the students delved into readings (written by me) and videos about the Taino people, one student questioned the existence of fossils as proof of how people lived before. He claimed that there were people who went around the world, planting fossils all over so others could find them. He said they have to made up, because after all, where in the bible does it mention fossils? I knew that I had to respond carefully.
“Well,” I said, showing him with my hands, “the bible is one thing, and science is another.” I knew I couldn’t tell him that the bible wasn’t real, but I also knew that I had to convince him that science is.
I’ve had this student in class since the beginning of last year, 2018, so I know him pretty well. Later that class, he made another comment which I did not address at the time. He wondered out loud what would have happened to the Tainos if Columbus had not mistakenly run into the Caribbean islands. He followed that with, “Ewww, we would have been tanned, ugly.” I had heard comments like these before from him - a sad commentary about a kid whose people are a mix of Taino, Spanish, and West African people. At the time I was too busy with other students and it was nearing the end of class so I just said something like, “don’t say things like that.” However, I know I will have to address it.
Today, he brought me oatmeal cookies and was better-behaved than any other day all year. Coincidence? Maybe.
How do you address statements like this from your students? I have thoughts about how to continue integrating social justice awareness in my curriculum, but I would love to hear from readers! Please comment below!