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Beat It! Defeat It! Racist Cookies: We Won't Eat It!

By Bree Picower

When the students arrived in class, my co-instructor and I played an updated news clip showing a protest in front of the bakery. The students discussed their reactions. Shock, outrage, disgust. Aminah talked about the amount of time, energy, and thought that must have gone into creating each of these caricatures?the effort the baker put into widening each nose, expanding the lips and coming up with a name he felt suited these cookies. These preservice teachers had already practiced designing social justice units, so on this night I had them break into groups and use the formats that we had been using throughout the year to create lesson plans and units to teach about this incident. Using The Kid's Guide to Social Action and keeping in mind the mandated literacy and math curricula in NYC schools, my students quickly brainstormed and created five-day units that integrated rigorous academics with this social issue. Essential questions and enduring understandings started to emerge: "Students will understand that racism is an issue that has affected us in the past and still affects us in the present." "Can we distinguish the line between freedom of expression and the issues of oppression?" "As a society, how can we hold people accountable for their actions?" "What tools can we use to express our ideas on social injustices?" One group made historical connections to the Greensboro sit-ins by incorporating Freedom on the Menu, an elementary-level book that one student had just read as part of a book club assignment. Another group planned a lesson that used the same methods that the baker used to spread racism to teach anti-racism by holding a "recipes for respect" bake sale in front of the bakery, offering "diversity donuts" and "social justice shortbread."

As Mariel said, "During the lesson planning activity I felt all of my anger about the cookies coming forward, but because I was planning this unit that covered the incident, racism, and social justice, I felt like I was able to take action in an effective manner." By providing an outlet for the outrage that many of them expressed, the students could do more than complain about the bakery?they could apply their teaching skills and desire to teach for social justice into tangible classroom activities. [The lesson plans are available online at http://www.edliberation.org/resources/records/beat-it-defeat-it-racist-cookies-we-wont-eat-it/view.]

Taking Action

After sharing their lessons with each other, I mentioned that it just so happened that all 38 of us were going to be in front of the bakery tonight. "Perhaps you might like to do something?" I asked them. Possibly because of the recent election and their excitement over Obama's victory, or perhaps because of the obvious ugliness of these racist cookies, the students were ready for action. In the past I might have had some students who were ambivalent, but I was delighted that this year, the whole room was abuzz.

Julia shouted, "Can I go buy spray paint?" She seemed sincere.

Holding back my smile, I responded, "While I appreciate your enthusiasm, it's actually hard to get a teaching job with a police record."

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