Skin color, melanin, and students' misconceptions about it all during a presentation on soil

Tough class today. It wasn’t just that we got off-topic (which we did). It was that I felt like I was battling some real and serious misconceptions about life, the universe, and everything while I was working with the students. One of the students asked the question, “I was looking up some stuff online and it said that the reason black people’s skin is dark is that we have dirt in our veins. I didn’t believe it … but is it true?” (The assumption here was that having dirt in your veins made you dirty and somehow bad.)

So, instead of working on soil temperature and soil moisture (which we did eventually get to), we talked about melanin and skin tone. And after I explained that pigmentation had more to do with the amount of melanin in our skin rather than anything else, we talked about how different skin tones do not categorize people into “better” or “worse” groups and that darker skin does not indicate in any way that someone is worse than someone with lighter skin (and we did discuss that in fact the more melanin someone has in their skin, the less susceptible she or he is to skin cancer). It was such a delicate conversation to have with a bunch of ninth graders but oh wow did it feel important.

I love the work I get to do. Tomorrow, I go back and we finish up soil moisture and soil temperature, but honestly, I feel that this conversation was the most important work I did with them all day.


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