How to teach kids to talk about taboo topics | Liz Kleinrock
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How to teach kids to talk about taboo topics | Liz Kleinrock


So, a few years ago, I was beginning a new unit on race
with my fourth-graders. And whenever we start a new unit, I like to begin by having all the students
list everything they know about it, and then we also list questions we have. And I had the type of moment
that every teacher has nightmares about. One of my students
had just asked the question, “Why are some people racist?” And another student, let’s call her Abby, had just raised her hand and volunteered: “Maybe some people don’t like black people
because their skin is the color of poop.” Yeah, I know. So, as if on cue,
my entire class exploded. Half of them immediately started laughing, and the other half started yelling at Abby and shouting things like, “Oh, my God, you can’t say that,
that’s racist!” So just take a second
to freeze this scene in your mind. There’s a class
of nine- and ten-year-olds, and half of them are in hysterics because they think
Abby has said something wildly funny, and the other half are yelling at her
for saying something offensive. And then you have Abby,
sitting there completely bewildered because, in her mind, she doesn’t
understand the weight of what she said and why everybody is reacting this way. And then you have me, the teacher, standing there in the corner,
like, about to have a panic attack. So as a classroom teacher, I have to make split-second
decisions all the time. And I knew I needed to react, but how? Consider your fight-or-flight instincts. I could fight by raising my voice
and reprimanding her for her words. Or flight — just change the subject and quickly start reaching
for another subject, like anything to get my students’ minds
off the word “poop.” However, as we know, the right thing to do
is often not the easy thing to do. And as much as I wanted
this moment to be over, and that I knew both of these options
would help me escape the situation, I knew that this was far too important
of a teachable moment to miss. So after standing there
for what felt like an eternity, I unfroze and I turned
to face my class, and I said, “Actually, Abby makes a point.” And my students kind of
looked at each other, all confused. And I continued, “One reason why racism exists is because people with light skin
have looked at people with dark skin and said that their skin was ugly. And even use this reason
as an excuse to dehumanize them. And the reason why we’re learning
about race and racism in the first place is to educate ourselves to know better. And to understand
why comments like this are hurtful, and to make sure
that people with dark skin are always treated
with respect and kindness.” Now, this was a truly terrifying
teachable moment. But as we moved forward
in the conversation, I noticed that both Abby
and the rest of the kids were still willing to engage. And as I watched the conversation
really marinate with my students, I began to wonder how many of my students
have assumptions just like Abby. And what happens when those assumptions
go unnoticed and unaddressed, as they so often do? But first, I think it’s important
to take a step back and even consider
what makes a topic taboo. I don’t remember receiving
an official list of things you’re not supposed to talk about. But I do remember hearing,
over and over, growing up: there are two things you do not talk about
at family get-togethers. And those two things
are religion and politics. And I always thought this was very curious because religion and politics
often are such huge influencing factors over so many of our
identities and beliefs. But what makes a topic taboo is that feeling of discomfort that arises
when these things come up in conversation. But some people are extremely fluent
in the language of equity, while other people fear being PC-shamed or that their ignorance will show
as soon as they open their mouths. But I believe that the first step
towards holding conversations about things like equity is to begin by building a common language. And that actually starts
with destigmatizing topics that are typically deemed taboo. Now, conversations
around race, for example, have their own specific language and students need
to be fluent in this language in order to have these conversations. Now, schools are often the only place where students can feel
free and comfortable to ask questions and make mistakes. But, unfortunately, not all students
feel that sense of security. Now, I knew that day
in front of my fourth-graders that how I chose to respond
could actually have life-long implications not only for Abby, but for the rest
of the students in my class. If I had brushed her words aside, the rest of the class could actually infer
that this type of comment is acceptable. But if I had yelled at Abby and embarrassed her
in front of all of her friends, that feeling of shame associated with one
of her first conversations on race could actually prevent her
from ever engaging on that topic again. Now, teaching kids about equity in schools
is not teaching them what to think. It is about giving them the tools
and strategies and language and opportunities
to practice how to think. For example, think about
how we teach kids how to read. We don’t start by giving them books. We start by breaking down words
into letters and sounds and we encourage them to practice
their fluency by reading every single day, with a partner or with their friends. And we give them
lots of comprehension questions to make sure that they’re
understanding what they’re reading. And I believe that teaching
kids about equity should be approached
in the exact same way. I like to start by giving my students
a survey every year, about different issues
around equity and inclusion. And this is a sample survey
from one of my kids, and as you can see,
there’s some humor in here. For under the question, “What is race?” she has written, “When two or more
cars, people and animals run to see who is fastest and who wins.” However, if you look
at her question, “What is racism?” it says, “When somebody says or calls
someone dark-skinned a mean name.” So, she’s young, but she’s showing
that she’s beginning to understand. And when we act like our students aren’t capable
of having these conversations, we actually do them such a disservice. Now, I also know
that these types of conversations can seem really, really intimidating
with our students, especially with young learners. But I have taught
first through fifth grades, and I can tell you, for example, that I’m not going to walk
into a first-grade classroom and start talking about things
like mass incarceration. But even a six-year-old first-grader
can understand the difference between what is fair —
people getting what they need. We identified a lot
of these things in class together. And the difference
between fair and equal — when everybody gets the same thing, especially goody bags at birthday parties. Now, first-graders can also
understand the difference between a punishment and a consequence. And all of these things
are foundational concepts that anyone needs to understand before having a conversation about mass incarceration
in the United States. Some people might think
that kindergarteners or first-graders are too young to have
conversations around racism, but also tell you that young kids understand that there are
many different components that make up our identities and how people are similar and different, and what it means to have power
when other people don’t. When we have these conversations
with students at a young age, it actually takes away
some of that taboo feeling when those topics come up at a later age. I also know that teaching
about these things in schools can feel like navigating a minefield. For example, what happens
if parents or families aren’t on board with having
these conversations in schools? But to these people, I can say: these are some examples of things
that students have said to me and brought to my attention. For example, I had a student come in
and whisper to me, “I’ve heard all these people
use the term LGBTQ, but I don’t know what it means
and I’m too embarrassed to admit it.” I had a student come in over a weekend
and come up to me and say, “You know, I just watched
this movie about Australia, and it made me wonder
if they have racism there, too.” And I always want my students to be
comfortable having these conversations because when they’re comfortable
talking about it and asking questions, they also build comfort in bringing in
their own lives and experiences in how they relate to these big topics. Also, some teachers might be
kind of nervous if a student brings up a topic
or asks a question and they don’t know the answer to it. But if a student ever brings
something to my attention and I don’t know the answer, I will always admit it and own it because I’m not going to pretend
to be an expert in something that I don’t have experience in
or I’m not an authority on. That same year, I had a student come in and ask a question
about the LGBTQ community. And I just didn’t know enough
to give them an appropriate answer. So instead, I encouraged that student to reach out and ask that question
to a representative of a nonprofit who had come to speak to our class
about that very same issue. When we admit to our students
that we don’t have all the answers, not only does it humanize us to them, it also shows them that adults
have a long way to go, too, when it comes to learning
about issues of equity. Now, a little while back,
I wrote a lesson about consent. And, to some people,
this was very exciting because I took this topic
that seemed very taboo and scary and I broke it down into a way
that was accessible for young learners. However, to other people, the idea of consent
is so strongly tied to sex, and sex is often considered
a taboo subject, that it made them very uncomfortable. But my students are third-graders, so we’re not talking about sex in class. Rather, I wanted them to understand that everybody has different
physical boundaries that make them feel comfortable. And the social and emotional
intelligence it takes to read somebody’s words
and tone and body language are skills that often need
to be explicitly taught, the same way we teach things
like reading and math. And this lesson is not reserved
for students of one single demographic. Things like questioning
and making observations and critical thinking are things that any student
of any race or ethnicity or background or language or income
or zip code should be learning in schools. Also, deliberate avoidance
of these conversations speaks volumes to our students because kids notice when their teachers,
when their textbooks leave out the voices and experiences
of people like women or people of color. Silence speaks volumes. I recently asked my class of third-graders what they would say to adults
who think they’re too young to learn about issues of equity. And while this is a small sample
of my 25 students, all of them agreed that not only are they capable
of having these conversations, but they view it, the right to learn it,
as a right and not as a privilege. And, in their words: “We’re big enough
to know about these things because these problems
are happening where we live. And we have the right to talk about them because it will be our life
in the future.” Thank you. (Applause)

About James Carlton

Read All Posts By James Carlton

100 thoughts on “How to teach kids to talk about taboo topics | Liz Kleinrock

  1. Talking about taboo topics does indeed bring certain topics into light so they can be explored and debated.

    The thing i found about racism as a topic is that, for me, it's most effective solution seems to be information, symphatyempathy, civilized dialog, avoiding labels and overgeneralization so that in the end skin color stops being the main focus point of our perception and we start judging people more objectively.

    Also, even thou i'm an Atheist, i still aknowledge the golden rule (The principle of treating others as one's self would wish to be treated) as something that must be teached to all kids.

  2. Omg this made me cry. In my view bringing a human to this world is a huge responsibility and the most important job for that individual once the little one is here. To guide a child to be part of a new world where their happiness comes from inside and they see everyone as their own is massive. One can only do their best but this I will do if the path to care for a little human is ever handed to me….

  3. I see value in you presenting some lesson plans that parents can use to break down big subjects and discuss these topics at home. As teachers, that is one of our areas of expertise. The discussion of values and beliefs are best left to parents/relatives or a private institution they choose to send their kids to. The public schools I taught in either frowned upon addressing these topics or allowed only one point of view. A one sided presentation does not benefit the children.

  4. The whole point of this video is “how to prevent our kids from being themselves in ways we don’t want them to be” and “how to resist a changing society that’s accepting more unpopular subjective topics. I’m not comfortable with them so why should anyone else be!”

  5. Men already have a safe space. Because of women men admit to dangers and insecurities. Let alone act on the dangers and attacks .but to all insecure males .do worry all votes most be kept a secret . with out and jugdment from the croud

  6. The teachable moment here was to take the kid that made the comment and tell her to say it to a black kids face. You have to show her how comments like that can hurt other people and how it would feel if she was on the receiving end. Basic empathy is how you solve racism, no "special language" required. Instead of teaching that, this woman pushes her divisive equity ideology on the kids. No wonder people have no idea how to get along when they grow up.

  7. I hope she clarified to her students racism isn't JUST when someone with light skin doesn't like someone with dark skin, but when someone who looks different doesn't like someone who looks different. That kid doesn't think racism is when someone with dark skin doesn't like someone with light skin. You don't need power or systemic systems of institutionalized institutions to simply hate someone enough to treat them differently or look at them in a not-so-nice light. Sounds like the media is already feeding these kids what the media wants them to think so democrats can get their votes. I'm glad she's thinking about teaching kids HOW to think rather than WHAT to think tho, so hopefully she did address this.

  8. Start Marxist indoctrination at an early age. Got it. 🤣 I am not white. So calling me a racist wouldn't work. White people should take care of the Marxist rat infestation in their education system.

  9. Telling children that European-Americans are inherently more powerful and priviledged than anyone else seems like a bad idea. Are you trying to raise a generation of White supremacists?

  10. Racism is just a white problem!? BS. The undertone of this talk ruined what had great potential. She's pushing her agenda and that is unacceptable! A teacher should be neutral

  11. When I was little, if a teacher didn't know the awnser to my questions I would ask "then how are you allowed to teach us" I feel bad for having been a bad student, but I also feel sad that my teachers scolded me for asking difficult questions like the ones mentioned.

  12. How to teach people to respect others religion by not killing people for own desire. Pray for New Zealand. 😢😢😢

  13. Ok. I know this is a lot to ask, but would it be possible that this woman teaches, like, the people involved in every comment thread on Facebook? Actually — and I understand, we'd have to think about how to do this technologically, perhaps some kind of webinar or so — can we oblige every single person on earth to take a class with her? Would this be possible? I'm pretty sure it would make the world a better place.

  14. God made earth interesting by creating many colors of people and many colors of flowers. respect the diversity!

  15. I find it funny because in Eastern Europe its the opposite.. how to stop your kids from talking about "taboo" topics. I felt it was kind of suffocating while I was studying in Britain because there was very little to talk about as most topics I'm used to were taboo, they literally kept quiet, just awkward silence. However, around here its mostly expressing uneducated opinions about important (taboo) issues which isnt really contributing anyhow, in fact, often things go south. Its not good to avoid a topic just because it can hurt somebody's feelings.. those feelings are hurt when you express opinion without having read more on that particular matter. Which is why the people concerned avoid talking about it. Prejudice is one of the biggest problems in our society

  16. "People with light skin have looked at people with dark skin and thought their skin color was ugly" as an Asian women you should know better. Asian culture has always looked at lighter skin as more desirable. The same is true in Latin American, middle eastern, indian, and african cultures. How dare this woman teacher of all things tell children racism is only one directional (lighter skinned people against darker skinned) Why do so many non-white cultures look at lighter skin as something desirable if racism can only mean the opposite? She is doing her students a disservice with her politically motivated and quite frankly blatantly racist comments and views on the matter. Not surprising considering leftists love brainwashing children.

  17. Excellent talk, she seems like a great teacher. Though I'd be curious if she distinguishes between equity and equality of opportunity in her classes.

  18. I haven't watched every Ted talk but I would estimate that I have watched about 70 or so, this is the first time that I have felt compelled to leave a comment. This talk is not on the usual high standard, and I feel that this is a one sided talk. This talk embraces the conception that only "white kids" have racist conceptions.. Need I elaborate more? .. We need to break all racial barriers from all angles. Poor content, this talk should be removed.

  19. I hope this message reachs out to her own ethnicity about their racist tendencies, and I am talking about her race. She is aware of how her culture treat blacks in China, Japan, and any part of Southeast Asia. We are not actually welcome there, and they make fun of our skin, as she is describing. I've seen more racist Chinese and Asian people then white people in my neck of the woods. I hope everyone learns to love and accept people for who they are, not by the color of their skin.

  20. This woman is mental WTF is she talking about? Would you let her anywhere near your children? She’s supposed to be teaching under 10’s but she’s actually indoctrinating them with supposed ‘progressive’ values (social Marxism) that are so regressive schools are churning out kids who actually believe ‘climate change’ or whatever they are calling it this week. Kids like that abused Swedish girl who is so heavily brainwashed that when she grows up and learns the truth she’ll turn on the system and her dumb parents and accuse them of mental abuse. In my opinion she’ll be right they have negligently lead her a merry dance. This woman is not a teacher she’s a child abuser.

  21. Why is equity more important than equality? And if equity is more important who determines equity and to what extent? Sounds like indoctrination

  22. Awareness is key to change. You can't initiate change without talking about the things society wants to ignore. Speak up and speak out. There is no topic that should be taboo.

  23. Hey kids the age of consent can't stop of us if we keep this a secret. If you're down with it , take off your clothes and lie on the bed.

  24. The problem with taboo topics, not just among children, is "blasphemy" — when a thought or idea is labeled "wrong" simply to entertain it, we're chasing after intentional and deliberate ignorance for the sake of denial. The kids that got angry at Abby were probably applying this principal, attacking Abby as if she wasn't merely mistaken but speaking blasphemy.

  25. You have great views and you sure understand your importance and influence as a teacher which a lot of people don't.

  26. I wouldn't have done a thing, it's not your place to get rid of racism
    People need to come to that conclusion themselves through life experiences

    Racism should not be suppressed, that would only instigate more racism

  27. Hello! Anyone can help me? I wanna delete my account in site ted.com, but i don't see this button in my account!

  28. If more teachers like Ms. Kleinrock existed, and weren't silenced by close minded parents/governments, we would have less of what just occurred in New Zealand. And oppressive parents who shelter their children who then grow up to rebel, would also be less of an issue. Our planet would benefit greatly. Somebody give this woman a medal, and more platforms to speak on. She is wonderful for teaching young children this way, and other teachers of all levels need to take a lesson from her.

  29. While you seem like an excellent teacher, the problem is that many or most teachers are unable to teach from a fair and neutral standpoint without pushing their own views down kid's throats.

  30. Teach kids about taboo subjects using a social justice lens? I hear that's working wonderfully on college campuses.

  31. O interesse é o melhor "ingresso" ao show:

    As discussões sociais deveriam ser sempre "usadas" para a promoção da paz. Nunca para segregação ou predileção de um grupo. Sob a desculpa de dívidas históricas ou exposições deprevatórias a uma "platéia" que não "comprou o ingresso do show", tragédias acontecem. Parabéns a professora, não apenas por estimular estas discurssões aos interessados, através de fontes em uma pesquisa autônima. Mas também por não impor temas a quem não se interessa por eles. Isto é ter liberdade de aprender sobre o que quizer, ao invés de medir com a mesma régua. Pessoas e interesses diferentes.

    Sim, o silêncio é revelador; Especialmente quando não se tem nada a dizer, ou quando não se quer, ser ouvido… O preconceito começa, quando desejamos que todos sejam iguais (e muitas vezes vemos que não nos enquadramos ao nosso próprio padrão).

    Note que não ha cor, nem opção sexual nestas letras, não tente reduzir este texto. A alguém defendendo apenas sua propria espécie, nacionalidade ou modo de pensar.

    Ser livre, envolve ter escolhas. E até quando não escolhemos nada ou não reagimos, exercemos nossas liberdades. Por isto antes de sermos (alguma cultura, esporte, raça ou religião), precisamos estar (livres e dispostos a escolher o que somos e nos tornaremos).
    Esta escolha supera a familia e a escola, sendo legada aos pais, professores, vizinhos, colegas e demais "autoridades internas" que se tornarem amigos e confidentes durante nossa eterna pesquisa/busca antropológica, por nos mesmos…

    Não saber o que somos, o que achamos sobre algo, nos coloca na defensiva (sempre). Pois o medo do desconhecido, nos manteve vivos por milênios. Quebrar este escudo não é suficiente para evoluirmos como humanos, troca-lo por algo melhor sim. Nisto, proponho a busca voluntaria e assitida por conhecimento confiável e de qualidade. Não uma regulação métrica, mas uma validação das fontes (sengundo suas especialidades, não finalidades).

    Se você acha que já se encontrou e não tem liberdade para discutir estes assuntos com seus filhos ou alunos, acredite: A internet e os amiguinhos deles serão.

    Obrigado a todos que leram isto,
    mesmo que não concordem.

  32. This makes me thing about what true education is.

    I've been taught for my life that education equates to having a higher degree in an institution.
    However, now I start to question whether a college degree is worth learning without the stuff presented in this video.

    Having these taboo discussions with other people regardless of their age, gender, race, etc. is very important to learn about other people and ultimately bring humanity together.
    Also, being skeptical and asking the question Why? to everything around us is essential for the pursuit of true knowledge.

    A question opens a mind. A statement closes a mind.

    I appreciate TED for bringing this up on youtube and I hope we can get more people to view this and learn from it.

  33. Thank you, I told my ex and her family to treat my son as an adult. Not because of his age (5) , but his level of understanding. I (myself) knew at a very early age things. I explained that he was more capable of understanding things if explained in the proper manner. I so far have a better relationship with him because, I still talk to him like an equal. He understands that I'm his father and knows that I will still discipline as needed. Overall he knows that he can talk to me, and that is the most important thing.

  34. You notice how the primacy take away for the children was that racism is calling someone with "Dark" skin a mean name? Think about that for a minute.

  35. As a teacher I have unfortunately had to deal with racist discussions in class about which race is smarter — and making that into excuse to give up trying to be good at math or science. It's not an easy subject to tackle and I didn't do a great job dealing with it. If I had to confront that situation again, think a curious mindset and a calm attitude would help. I think these topics are important. Even though I'm a computer teacher, I have talked to my class about equality vs equity, women in engineering, brain developmental differences of the sexes, mental health and addictions, which I'm passionate about. Also, can I just say, this lady is gorgeous!

  36. no offense but if you dont think kids consider this stuff already your mistaken, most kids i knew growing up knew every swear word before elementary was done. Topics of race usually never got further then a momentary consideration followed by whatever activity was generally more important.
    The problem is more so that parents have that divide where said topics words or what have you are generally triggers for parents to punish their kids.
    Its like asking your teenager what they did at the party, do you really wanna know?
    Im not gonna be grounded for a year am i?

  37. Abby was nine and knew full well at that age she was being cruel, hateful and she knew exactly what the reaction would be by everyone in that room, including the teacher. Abby has been practicing her craft as a troll probably since she was a preschooler. She should have been severely punished for her assault against humanity. A three day suspension would have been appropriate. Instead this was treated as some silly “lemons into lemonade” teachable moment. Ridiculous.

  38. Growing up I had poor teachers and I had great teachers. I know from my experiences that only in classrooms led by weak teachers who didn’t command respect would a kid have the guts to make a remark like Abby’s. Such meanness would have been unimaginable to a kid in a classroom where the teacher had firm control.

  39. This Ted Talk had me on the fence through that really specific event and solution. Although that summary at the end earns some merit.

  40. My parents always kept me in a constant state of ignorance. This led to constant ridicule by my peers. Thank you for this TED talk.

  41. 1 more talking video and im gone from this channel, more than 8 months you people at @TED have been talking about feelings solutions and riddles than showing the ideas what people are working on like you use to. This is residentsleeper i cant take this talking anymore. its like i have 20 different wifes on 1 channel called TED.

  42. Too many times adults fail to realize how intelligent and aware kids are. Children notice what you say and don't say in front of them.

  43. Ted has really fallen far in the last few years.

    Teaching kids about race and social justice. Really?
    Not the job of the school. Schools don’t teach kids to think objectively at all. What happens in these classes is the teacher pushes their own beliefs onto the students.
    Bad bad ted talks.

  44. It’s unfortunate that TED discredited themselves when they started pushing that pedophiles are just like you and me, and that when they rape it’s all our fault not theirs. TED = trash

  45. Race is a social construct it is not real . There cannot be races within a race. There are different people that are same because we are all humans. We are fundamentally same.

  46. Anyone who says talking OPENLY and HONESTLY with kids about taboo/serious topics is a bad thing, or that it doesn't help, are close minded individuals who most likely are the ones helping to cause the problem. See, kids are sponges. They absorb what they are taught and they REMEMBER it. Teach your kids about how black people are terrible, and teach them that being a racist is a good thing, and THEY WILL DO IT! Teach them about all the races, how everyone is equal, and about EMPATHY will result in your kids accepting EVERYONE and never looking at a person of a different race and going "you're inferior". Granted, talking to your kids doesn't always prevent bullying, but if we can prevent racism, if we can properly EDUCATE our kids and make them open to everyone – we have succeeded.

  47. She makes too much sense!
    Schools teaching about social and emotional intelligence? Skills that will actually help them become balanced people in the future?
    Outrageous!! More standardized tests please!

  48. I've found the only way to approach these topics is in person, where people seem to have a more innate respect for the other. Online it's too easy to see them as another unit of the internet, and tbh I've rarely seen a productive political/taboo discussion online.
    I wish schools had the balls to teach things like this to their kids, but oftentimes they're too scared of being yelled at by angry parents.

  49. I take issue that some topics have been arbitrarily defined as "taboo" – let's get rid of the concept of "taboo" and have an open marketplace of thought and ideas

  50. you know this is a very interesting subject but I find it hard to be able to give this a real answer without seeing some leg first

  51. The title of this talk is "*How* to […]," but I didn't hear about how*. Mainly she just said that she wants young students to discuss taboo topics, etc… but didn't describe how to go about it. Perhaps a more appropriate title would be, "kids *should talk about taboo topics." It is very strange, but despite the fact that she talked about both specific examples, and generalities, I didn't see the relationship between the two. At times, she was waxing philosophical; speaking in abstract strange ways, but I can't see how she made the generalization from the examples. She seems to assume that the audience will already accept her general claims, the examples weren't being used as evidence to back them. If the audience already knows about and agrees with everything the speaker has to say, then why are you talking to them? Usually, to make a general claim, you provide multiple examples which all have a feature in common. A red bicycle, a red house, and a red pencil are all red. The only thing her examples had in common was that they were times when she talked to kids about taboo topics. There were no common techniques, no common approaches, no strategies, no tools which can be re-used by someone else in the future. What is also odd is that she didn't talk about real/concrete outcomes; we should talk to kids about taboo topics because when we do the result is [X]. It's just supposed to be obvious that she should talk to kids about taboo topics. If that's the approach you're going to take, then there's no point in talking.

  52. THE COLUMBINE SHOOTERS MOM GETS A CLIP. That loser should be jailed! No comments allowed so I'll leave a comment on every video! DO NOT CELEBRATE LOSER PARENTS THAT STOOD IN THE WAY OF HELP, when parents are responsible for their kids actions then we will see less death! SICKENING TO APPLAUD COLUMBINES SHOOTERS MOM SHAME,

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