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Exploring the Science of skin color

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Language Arts And English +10 Age Levels Middle School (13 to 15 years old), High School (16 to 18 years old), Post-Secondary, Adults

What was the role of Science in the construction of race? How can various written works and works of art begin a conversation about race as a social construct? These series of activities allow for a dialogue about this complex issue.

This collection includes a three-part activity that can be modified by choosing to spend more or less time sharing out as a group and whether TED Talks are watched as a class or individually as preparation for class. 

Part I begins with a work of art to stimulate thought using the Project Zero Thinking Routine "See-Think-Wonder."  Students will then read an article and view an advertisement. Another thinking routine is used here to uncover the complexities of this particular advertisement. In the next parts, students view TED Talks followed by different kinds of media. Several Project Zero Thinking Routines can be used to stimulate and record thinking.

 

Part I: Identifying the focus and beginning a conversation

Starting with an artwork by Byron Kim and Glenn Ligon, students use the "See-Think-Wonder" Project Zero Thinking Routine to try and make sense of the image. After a class discussion, students should be guided to read a short article about skin-colored ballet shoes that would be more representative of the skin tones of actual ballet dancers. Teachers could choose to help students digest this article or move directly into the Ivory soap advertisement. Using the "Beauty and Truth" Project Zero Thinking Routine, students can uncover the underlying complexity of this image.

 

Part II: The evolution of skin color and telling the story of a work of art

After viewing the TEDTalk by Nina Jablonski about the illusion of skin color, students can reflect individually by answering the question "Why is it problematic to view race as a biological concept and categorize individuals based on skin color?" Then, using Project Zero’s "The Story Routine," students can create meaning for a work of art. Students can share out in pairs first or simply share out to the whole group depending on class size, etc.

 

Part III: Photography, an essay on color and race and a work of art from that essay

  Angelica Dass’s photography challenges how we think about skin color and ethnic identity. The TEDTalk describes her Humanae project and allows for further dialogue about the complexity of skin color. Teachers could choose to help students identify important aspects of the talk or move directly into silent reading of Zora Neale Hurston’s essay "How It Feels to be Colored Me." Students can use the "Step inside-step out-step back" Project Zero Thinking Routine to identify perspectives addressed in this essay. Glenn Ligon created a work of art using this essay and students can use this piece to further the conversation with the same thinking routine or simply as part of the reflection.  A final reflection about skin color and the social construct of race can be completed either as a group or individually using the "I Used to think…; But Now I Think…" thinking routine. Teachers should consider providing a more focused prompt that suits the goals/objectives of their lesson.