Please watch this fantastic video that features several children’s reaction to a biracial family in a commercial and their response to the public’s outrage.
There are two things about this video that make me extremely happy, hopeful, and inspired.
Firstly, the fact that these kids didn’t notice that the couple in the video was biracial is a breath of fresh air and exciting for the next generation in this country. But seeing this made me ashamed of myself. Not because I had a bad reaction to this commercial or even because I’m a closeted racist (which I am not). I felt ashamed because listening to their answers made me realize a mistake I had made in underestimating my students in the classroom.
Every year I have been a teacher, I have had discussions on race in my classroom. In my first years, we analyzed speeches by Dr. King and Nelson Mandela, read excerpts from NIGHT and FAREWELL TO MANZANAR, which tackle the Holocaust and Japanese-American internment camps respectively, and read “A More Perfect Union”, which is a speech given by Barack Obama in 2008 that talks about some of the racial problems that exist today. In the last two years, I have taught TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and used a few other poems and speeches I found along the way. Every year at discussion time, I left my classroom at the end of the day feeling worried and embarrassed to be teaching in such a small town. You see, responses to my questions about the racial tensions that still exist today are always met with a skepticism that I had always seen as ignorance. Responses were statements like, “It’s a good thing racism doesn’t still exist because it just sounds terrible” or “I don’t understand how people back then were like that. No one I know is like that now.” It took every incidental professional lesson I had learned in college not to respond to them with, “If you only knew” or “How can you possibly think that what you just said is true?” I mistakenly assumed it was their small-town 99%-white-community experiences that had lead them to believe that racism was no longer an issue.
But what this video has shown me is this: my kids had it right all along. I stress to them that we as a society are not far removed from the plights of our country in the 50’s and 60’s, despite the fact that it feels like an entirely different world away to them. “Some of your parents,” I say, “and your grandparents lived through these times and remember them well.” But even this statement is becoming less true. We are getting further and further away from the generations of hate and prejudice – further away from that excuse of “being taught that way”, which always falls short for me in an explanation for unacceptable behavior and comments. For my students and their world, racism really is, perhaps, pretty much over. And maybe as time goes on we will continue to see the peace that blooms from this truth.
The second thing I take away from this video is the collectively intelligent response they all had in regards to ways You Tube could fix this problem. These kids understood the abilities and limitations a website with such a public nature, like You Tube, has in a way that I think a staggering amount of people 30 to 40 years older than them could never do.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with a teacher on her way out of the profession during my first year. She, like so many professionals, was disgusted by this new breed of young people that were coming to us with their noses buried in their phones and obsessed with 3 minute video clips, the fastest way to do things, and turning to Google on instinct to answer a question rather than taking a guess at it themselves.
“How can we possibly be expected to teach these kids? They can’t pay attention for any amount of time. Their spelling is dreadful. They don’t think they have to think about anything — that the computer can do it all for them. And they can’t appreciate anything that takes longer than 4 minutes to finish.”
I frowned at her and replied, “I guess we just have to try different approaches. You’re right. These kids aren’t the same kids that came through this building 10 years ago, or even five years ago. But I think soon we will start to see some super abilities they will have that they’ve gained from doing all of these things they do on a constant basis.”
She gave me a look similar to the look I gave the kids in regards to their “racism is over” comments — a look that says, “Yeah okay. Don’t worry. One day you’ll get it.”
And I think, in this case, I was right. While I know there are challenges that come with broods of kids that have grown up with 3G in their pockets — and there will be even more with kids like my 3-year-old daughter, who not only uses our iPad with proficiency but can show us things we didn’t even know it was capable of doing. But these kids are going to be smart, so smart, in ways that haven’t even been invented yet. Their expectations for entertainment (which IS 75% of teaching, even if you don’t want to admit it) are going to be ridiculously high, and it’s going to be hard to keep up.
But they will also be a beautiful generation. A generation with a new version of the iPhone every 6 months will not only embrace change and improvement, but demand it. “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it” will never be acceptable if that way is inefficient. A generation that spends so much of their free time making vines, watching YouTube, and creating lyric videos will have such a staggeringly impressive ability to create visual mediums that are interesting, new, and creative. A generation that is budding under a black president in a country with growing vocal support to simply allow others that are different races or sexual orientations or religions to live and find happiness will finally begin to do what Dr. King dreamed they would do: judge others not by the color of their skin (or the God they worship, or the sex they’re attracted to… I’m adding my own spin here), but by the content of their character.
And perhaps most significantly from an educational viewpoint, a generation with a world full of information in their pockets will never need to waste time memorizing facts and lists that google can tell them in less than the time it takes to sip your coffee waiting for the answer. We can use our time in the classroom for more fruitful and meaningful conversations that ask them to synthesize those facts, judge those facts’ credibility, and form opinions about those facts of their own and present them in an intelligent way. They will be a generation of kids that may not have memorized the exact date Martin Luther King said he had a dream, but they will be the ones that get to live that dream and all that it has to offer.