News & Press

An Educator’s Reflection: Teaching That Words Have Consequences

By Executive Director Paul Stein


Executive Director Paul Stein

On March 16, 2021, we were shaken by the news of another mass murder at the hands of a young gunman. Eight were left dead, six of whom were women of Asian descent. One spokesperson reported that the murderer had been, “at the end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him…” 


Such words trivialize what has occurred. The Atlanta mass murder is part of a continuum of recent as well as historic abuse, harassment and outright violence against both women and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Whether one motivation for this crime (a number have been posited) was more prevalent in the mind of the murderer is irrelevant. It cannot take away from the fact that this was a misogynist, racist act of hate.
We, at Schools for Children, join the many other organizations that are expressing their sympathy for the victims, their outrage and, as educators, their responsibility to address the root causes of injustice. This requires our vigilance, our self-reflection and our agency. Hate can germinate even in the most seemingly innocent of places.


At their heart, our schools value diversity, inclusion and equity. This requires a close attentiveness to what we teach, how we teach, and how we foster an inclusive school climate and culture. Even familiar historical depictions, the works of beloved authors and long-standing traditions require critical analysis and, perhaps, reframing. For example, Dr. Seuss Enterprises recently announced to great controversy that it is going to stop publication of certain books due to their racist imagery.


And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was one of these books. It is a story about a young boy whose father sends him out in the world telling him to be alert to what he sees, but also scolds him when he returns with outlandish tales. Seeing a mundane horse-drawn wagon the boy imagines a more and more elaborate and fanciful scene, which he can’t bring himself to share with his dad at the story’s end.


Whatever one thinks of this story, none of it can take away from the fact that it includes a racist stereotype of an Asian man – an image embedded in this white boy’s imagination. Such embedded stereotypical imagery fosters prejudice, which festers, and ultimately contributes to a cycle of oppression.


To be clear, I don’t for a second mean to compare the harm done by a murderer with the harm done by a hurtful stereotype. I only mean to point out that, as educators, we must be vigilant in big ways and small. We can anticipate hard work and controversy, but we cannot let up.
There is no fanciful retelling of what happened in Atlanta. It’s ugly, frightening and deeply disturbing. We first mourn for the lives lost, and then we, as educators,