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Wednesday, October 19, 2005 

Red and yellow black and white

One thing my school prides itself on is the fact that they use the same textbooks as US public schools, only two levels behind. (My fourth grade class is using a second grade textbook, which really isn't too shabby.) Anyway, I understand why this is good and how it would be very attractive to Korean parents. However...those textbooks are built to promote tolerance and a rather politically correct mindset. It's possible to use them towards that end in a classroom in the States. Here, it just makes for awkwardness. The culture is remarkably narrow-minded....which comes from having such a homogeneous population. Anyway, the story my sixth grade class is reading for the month is about a team in the Negro National League. Obviously, "Negro" is one of the vocabulary words. I wish I could describe well the conversation we had in class about that word and how it's not appropriate to use. I finally had to put it in concrete terms and tell them if they called someone a Negro, that person would probably want to hit them. Okay...they didn't get why it was offensive, but understood my point. One of their study questions today asked why the hotel manager in the story wouldn't let the team stay at his hotel. The answer was: because they were black. So as I'm writing the sentence on the board, one of my students says, "So teacher, you're white?" I said yes. He said, quite matter-of-fact, "And I'm yellow." Egad. I turned around and said, "No, you're Asian." (Hello, which is me imposing on him PC lingo.) He was confounded at this and pointed at his skin and said, "No, I'm yellow!" as if I maybe didn't get the point he was trying to make. So then I tried to explain how calling someone yellow could be offensive. I thought it would help to use my Korean-American friend Mary as an example. Then I had to explain adoption....which was difficult as well. I finally got the point across, though the entire class (of three students, so it's not bad we were slightly off track) was confused as to why it would be offensive. This same student said, "I'm yellow, with black hair and black eyes." He stared at me hard and studied me for a moment before adding, "But Teacher, you have black hair...why isn't your skin yellow?" I decided not even to get into the area of hair color (but my hair is naturally dark dark brown, so it's close) and just told him that there were lots of white people with black hair. He was surprised. I think he really thought only "yellow" people have black hair. I think maybe he really thought all/most westerners are light-haired with non-black eyes. Interesting stuff, I tell you.

Edit: another late-night "Ack, I didn't spell-check!" moments. Have I ever admitted that I actually do have obsessive-compulsive disorder (like, for real, I do)? I only wish this was as much as it interfered with my life. Could be worse though...I've got nothing on Jack Nicholson's character from "As Good As It Gets."

Getting kids to understand races can be difficult. My five year old nephew is convinced that he is vanilla and African Americans, chocolate. I don't think he knows any Asians so he has yet to come up with a flavor for them.

My math book is totally politically correct. Also, they make sure to incorporate names like Twylene, Letarsha, and Ahmed in word problems. Heh.

^ That's funny...in Israel I visited the company that makes the English textbooks for the school system for the entire country. They told us that they had to be extremely careful with what pictures they put in (to include both Arabs and Jews) and had to be super careful about the names they used. That's a more extreme situation, where they have to do it out of necessity, but still it's a reminder of really where the battles are fought (if that makes any sense).

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