By Kelly Likos
This week we taught our spirited class about race from an anthropological point of view!
To study race, I introduced the field of Biological Anthropology to the class! Biological Anthropology is defined as the scientific study of anthropology with genes, primates, and evolution.
At the beginning of my lecture, we completed a group activity to introduce different concepts of race. After that, I wanted to make sure to open up the subject of race as an area for discussion. I asked the students, “What is race to you?” and “What do you know about race?”. We spent a few minutes talking about the different idea that the students have about race. I felt it was important to approach race as a subject to discuss instead of an issue I am directly teaching to them. As always, race is a difficult subject to tackle and I wanted the students to understand this.
After our initial discussion, I shared the biological anthropologist’s view on race. Stated simply: race does not exist. Scientists have not been able to locate precise characteristics that could define race among the human population. Race is not real. This statement was quite a shock to our young anthropologists!
While there are no individual races between humans, I wanted the students to understand that together we make up one human race! We are all connected to each other! I used the Beijing olympics to illustrate human living in collaboration as one race. It only occurred to me afterwards that our 3rd graders probably have no memory of these specific olympic games.
To continue our lesson, I explained the adaptive trait of melanin to our students. It is a popular assumption that race is correlated with skin color. I wanted to dispel this myth by explaining melanin as a cline trait relating to sun exposure. Skin colors become darker as we move towards the equator as a way to defend against sunburn.
I ended my time with the students by asking them to complete an activity. Each group was given different pictures of people and asked to separate them into distinct categories. After the sorting process was completed, I read aloud the ways each pictured person identified themselves. These labels varied far more than the labels we supplied with the pictures.
Our young anthropologists are so wise. When the activity started they immediately saw the flaws in our plan. We had just spent the entire class time teaching them that race does not exist, yet we asked them to divide people into these groups. When I read the results to each group, they were surprised to hear how each person self identified with race. This raised a lot of questions about how we should handle race in our everyday lives. My fellow anthropologists and I were pleased with the thoughtful questions they asked. We enjoyed continuing the conversation outside of the lesson, and I encouraged the students to continue to discuss these issues with their friends and at home.
I am so happy that I was able to teach these wonderful students again and I am glad that our anthropology lessons will be carried beyond the classroom in the hands of our students.