BECOME A MEMBER! Sign up for TIE services now and start your international school career


An International Student Conversation on Racism that leads to Activism

By Jennifer J. Beckwith, Ph. D.
 An International Student Conversation on Racism that leads to Activism

For the first time in six months, the daily and news broadcast headlines center on a 46-year-old Black male, George Floyd. As the cruelty of this injustice unfolds, I remember reader reactions posted in Teaching Tolerance, from veteran and pre-service educators about, "Why We Walked: A Letter to Our Future Educators." I can only imagine the compassion and awe-inspiring debate fueled by outrage over tyranny, racial conflict, diverse beliefs, and a commitment to human equality that would send sparks flying in international classrooms around the world if only classes were currently in session. 

International educators would facilitate these critical conversations, not just because our students would demand it, but because of the connection and promise that having these uncomfortable discussions is worth it. Sharing the stories from educators that have walked for a cause would and can prompt a deeper narrative on diversity where students hear accounts from people they have come to know and trust.

David Brion Davis is a scholar who long believed that "tyranny is a central theme of American history" and that this discussion cannot be held solely in social studies classrooms. International schools must reach all students in a manner that values their identity, and American History taught as a human story is a way to work with students that have ingrained political ideologies and misconceptions about historical events.

However, this history / human story is similar for many countries. Therefore we must fight stereotypes and nurture respect for others in the classroom. It is imperative that all educators take part in this conversation.

I have no doubt that the individual social consciousness that international students bring to the classroom along with worldwide anger in response to oppression will cause educators to change their pedagogical approaches, recentering on how we are supposed to treat each other rather than how we're not supposed to treat each other.

Rebecca Coven, an award-winning educator, calls this erasing the line between schoolwork and "real-world work." This is how and why students become community activists. These are the youth you see around the globe protesting problems they often time studied in class.

We missed another school-wide opportunity for increased rigor and dialog due to COVID-19, but we know the student voice will not be silenced. Youth have and will continue to stand up for a cause that calls to them on issues that surface, whether it is prompted by the Vietnam War or events taking place in Soweto, Maple Spring Quebec, Hong Kong, Charlottesville, or Minneapolis.

Each day, I am inspired by the work of the amazing international teachers that recognize and link the emotional and curricular focus in daily instruction. This is the quiet work of educators and a powerful realization of the relevant racial conversations that spark inquiry and activism for the students we serve.

Jennifer J. Beckwith, Ph. D. is Founding Director of the American United School Kuwait.

Please fill out the form below if you would like to post a comment on this article:


06/14/2020 - Idella
Thanks for sharing Dr. Beckwith.

Great article. It tells a lot about your expectations from your international teachers and how they interact with students. George Floyd's death has begun global conversations about systematic racism that will last for quite some time.

I am so proud of the role you have played in your international students' success.

06/11/2020 - Francis
Subject close to my heart. Refreshing to have leaders like you in international education.
06/06/2020 - Roena A. Wiggins
Excellent article. Encouragement is a daily factor. Dialog with each other is important "to each other and not at each other". I am happy to have known you during your middle and high school years. Your aunt and mother would be proud of you.
06/05/2020 - Nae
This is a great article that is very relevant and timely! Kudos Dr. Beckwith!
06/05/2020 - Randy
NICE! But generally, wypipo don’t get the message no matter how many lesson plans you write. There need to be more white people teaching wypipo, like Cuomo does below...

And this man takes a stand!

And Cuomo was direct in his June 1 and 3 press conferences while supporting the protests. I want to write him in on my ballot…
06/05/2020 - DCARS
Great article. Timely and on point. Providing intentional global education is critical if we are to break down the racial divides. We hope that conversations happen in the home; we know that true educators reinforce or reprogram in the classroom.
06/05/2020 - ,LC
Thank you for sharing. My two granddaughters are experiencing a moment that I feel has never occurred quite like this before. My personal experience were the riots that occurred when Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. Today's young and peaceful protesters set the bar for our next generation. Love the international response that's taking place too - totally unexpected, but greatly appreciated. This is a special time right now. Also, you look absolutely lovely in the picture.
06/05/2020 - Peter
Dr. Beckwith,
Thank you for your leadership. It is heartening to note the keen interest of international students, on the important issues of justice and respect for human dignity. Racial discrimination, and or institutionalized discrimination saps a society of its values and vitality over time. The killing of Mr. Floyd was described as “senseless and brutal, a sin that cries out to heaven for justice.” It is important that those in authority do not let their words and actions accentuate the pain of those who grieve.