Color in the Classroom: How American Schools Taught Race, 1900-1954

By Zoë Burkholder | Go to book overview

Introduction: The Social Construction
of Race in American Schools

In Germany today, even the scientist can teach only those things which
agree with Hitler’s ignorant prejudices. There is no excuse, however, for
ignorance or prejudice in our educational world, which is free to teach
the truth.

—Franz Boas, 1939

[Teachers] need to see that, in spite of its terrible potency in the world
today, racism is vulnerable.

—Ruth Benedict, 1946

The cure for prejudice is scientific investigation, straight thinking, and
proper education.

—English Teacher, 1947

Just before Christmas break in 1943, eighteen elementary students from P.S. 6 in Manhattan assumed their places on stage for the musical Meet Your Relatives. Catering to incessant government demands for tolerance education, the purpose of this play was to popularize the anthropological definition of human race and its message of racial equality. As the curtain opened, twelve “eminent scientists” dressed in cap and gown stood in two rows on either side of an illustrated chart mounted in the center of the stage. Six children, wearing folk costumes from around the world, stood in front of the scientists and recited their opening lines:

FIRST CHILD: You have heard many ideas since you were born on the question
of Race, Religion, and Nationality. We all know Hitler’s pet ideas on the
superior, super-duper Aryan race. I don’t have to tell you what he thinks of
you or me —or DO I?

-3-

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