Anti-Racist Learning in 2nd Grade

Danny Stock

Anti-racist learning in 2nd grade has accelerated recently with race cars—and beaded bracelets. Using hands-on art projects, literature, personal reflection, group discussion, and at-home family conversation, 2nd grade teachers are ensuring that anti-racist thinking and action become part of their students' everyday routines.

Students examined the races and ethnicities of the people in their lives by creating a beaded bracelet as they listened to prompts about their family, neighborhood, movie and book characters, playdates, toys, and the people who teach them at school. Various color beads were used to represent different racial or ethnic identities. Once the students had completed their bracelets they answered questions about their experience making them, how they might feel about wearing it, if (or how) they would want their bracelet to look different, and what actions they might take to make the changes they wanted. The activity, originally created by the National SEED Project, elicited some important personal reflection from the students, who shared some of their thinking in a private writing activity as well as aloud with their classmates.

“I would feel comfortable wearing my bracelet [and explaining what it means to someone] because I want people to know my identity,” one student wrote.

Another said, “I would want it to have some of each color because then I could have a diverse life.”

What actions could you take? “I would see if I could meet more people who don’t have white skin,” a student answered.

Another said, “I could be friends with more African American and Asian American kids.”

How did this experience feel to you? “I felt creative and was able to express myself,” a 2nd grader said. “I’m proud of all my colors and don’t want my bracelet to look different.”

Looking ahead, one student wrote, “It’s more interesting when it’s not all the same color. [By] next year I will probably have more friends who are more different [from me].”

The 2nd grade classes also read A Kid's Book About Racism by Jelani Memory and Race Cars: A Children's Book about White Privilege by Jenny Devenny to unpack the concepts of racism and unearned privilege. In particular, they explored the contrast between overt, “very obvious” racist acts and “not so obvious” but still pernicious racist acts that some people commit without even realizing. They agreed that discussing race and racism is important for children so they can learn to be more intentional in their words and actions, including taking action when they see racism.

When reading Race Car, a book explicitly about White privilege, students especially considered the experience of learning that Whie privilege is real as well as who should take action when an unearned privilege is recognized and how they could do so themselves to make real change possible.

“I think it took a long time for Ace to realize he had a privilege.”

“I think people with privileges should help other people with their privilege.”

“Take the signs [away] so that the black cars can win sometimes and the white cars can win sometimes.”

“I think White people should give Black people the privilege to be treated the same way as Whites.” 

The 2nd graders also discussed how the ending to Race Cars is also somewhat problematic as it does not offer a sustainable solution for the non-white cars. The students brainstormed a better book ending. Together they decided that white cars being a part of protests and diversifying the race committee would produce fair results for races long-term.

While these two activities are neither the only recent 2nd grade anti-racist lessons—nor the only examples of learning around racism and unearned privilege in the Lower School (far from it!)—they do highlight the important ways in which anti-racist learning is integrated into everyday learning in the school, every day.

Stay tuned for additional stories about our anti-racism work and follow our progress on our Anti-Racism Action Plan.

  • Anti-Racism
  • DEI
  • Lower School