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New book delivers expert teaching tips

Brooke Shepherd

December 10, 2019

After reading this book, you may find yourself wondering how you can fit Cyndi Kernahan’s class, Psychology of Racism, into your class-load next semester.

Kernahan’s book,Teaching About Race and Racism in the College CLassroom: Notes from a White Professor,is both honest and engaging. Her conversational tone pairs well with her thoroughly researched suggestions and collected data. She doesn’t forget to add in a healthy dose of personal experience, since she’s been teaching about race and racism for over two decades.

Kernahan started by explaining the importance of accepting students, even if they come into a course with misinformation. She explained what this misinformation might look like in a race related course. For example, students may believe in the idea of colorblindness, or think young people are less biased than older generations.

In her book, Kernahan explored the affirmation theory. The author recommended a first day of class activity, allowing students to write down an area that they are an expert in. Kernahan said that in some contexts she can use the previous knowledge of the student to reference in class to help the student feel seen. Research shows affirmation also leads to bringing down some of the defensive attitudes that come up when learning about a subject that may challenge many of the students’ beliefs.

This book is meant for someone who teaches or is thinking about teaching about race and racism. Kernahan said the focus of her book is how to teach these subjects, but not exactly what to teach. However, throughout the book, Kernahan points to several resources that could help a new teacher guide some course content.

Kernahan dedicated a section of the book to the practice of mindfulness. This section surprised and delighted me. The author explained that the practice of meditation, even for just a few minutes each day, allows an instructor to be more present, and better equipped to answer the questions or comments of students.

The author points out that the classroom atmosphere matters, especially when the subject is a difficult one to begin with. Referencing the bookLove 2.0by Barbara Fredrickson, Kernahan explains that a sense of belonging is connected to an improved experience. She gives many examples of how an instructor can foster these positive outcomes in their own classroom.

Kernahan explains many other useful topics, like how to deal with resistance and how to deal with students expressing guilt or shame. One of her main points in the book is that professors need to be compassionate with their students and themselves, though it may be difficult.

Overall, I would say this book is very well-researched and easy to read. I enjoy Kernahan’s honesty and her clear commitment to her students. I also enjoyed the resources listed at the end, which give readers an opportunity to dive deeper into any subject mentioned.

I found the author’s information, research, and list of references useful. This seemed to me like the kind of book that would be useful to teachers in any field of study, though more specifically those who plan to have conversations about race or racism. Kernahan did a very nice job putting this guide together.

Brooke Shepherd is assistant editor of the Student Voice.