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Crack the Shell

An Educator’s Response to a “United America“ in addressing Racial Violence

Laura Mourino
4 min readMay 29, 2020


I did not sleep last night, nor the night before.

I could not get rid of the image and sound of Donald Williams on CNN Tuesday night crying and stating over and over aging “We need to unite!”

Hearing George Floyd call out for his mother in his last moments will be permanently ingrained in my memory.

What can I do to stop the horrific violent, degrading and disgusting incidents that George Floyd’s, Ahmaud Arbery’s and thousands of other people of color experience daily?

As Will Smith reminds us “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed”. I totally agree. Social Media is flooded with the trending videos of the likes of “Central Park Karen” and yet all we can do is shake our heads in disgust????

There has to be more!

What can I do to stop the hate!

What could a NYC public high school educator do? I teach diverse students that rush after school to secure a bed in one of the city housing shelters as well as students with multiple housing options, including vacation homes.

During my tenure as an educator I heard at least 1,000 such statements:

- the Black man with glasses brought this …

- the Chinese woman sent me …

- the Puerto Rican Music teacher gave me …

- the Muslim kid told me …

- the old White man assigned me …

And so on and so on and so on.

Did I mention I work in New York City? These statements from young people raised amongst the most globalized community in the world irks me.

When this happens I explain that unfortunately I have no clue who they are referring too as I am not accustomed to using labels in describing people.

I tell my students to “Crack the Shell!”, which usually results in the Scooby Doo Whooomm look. I assign my students to come back the next day with 3 statements that describe those individuals beyond their outer “Shell” — hence “Cracking the Shell”. My students are practicing to go beyond the outside to replace limited and narrow labels: engage with the person to learn more about their backgrounds.

Students report back interesting characteristics to describe individuals:

-” That person I was trying to talk to you about lives on a boat and speaks 3 languages!”

- “I was trying to tell you about the person who lives in New Jersey and they also volunteer at an animal shelter. That’s so cool”.

- “I can’t believe that person that I was talking about reported before a congressional education hearing”

- “That person I didn’t know how to tell you who they were is a doctor!”

And just like that, role models are born and bonds are formed.

My students “Cracked the Shell”!

What better way to describe people through experiences, skills and strengths rather than labels.

You might be thinking as a math educator, I have no role whatsoever in shaping a child’s mind but I disagree. Educators focus on both academic and social-emotional growth. When students engage in inappropriate community behaviors, these are learning experiences that if left unchecked will lead to a vicious trend of verbal — and quite possibly physical — abuse.

I can’t help to wonder if someone checked Derek Chauvin when he first showed signs of racism maybe — just maybe — George Floyd would still be with us.

I don’t know why Derek Chauvin or the Central Park Karen’s of the world can’t “Crack the Shell” but I have a moral obligation to provide my students with multiple tools to look beyond an individual’s external features, eliminate negative labels form their vocabulary, probe and realize that the person in front of you has a family and a community where they very much matter, needed and are loved.

This is my form of action, my response, to the hate that exists within our country: give every one of my students numerous opportunities to amend their language, revise their lens and eliminate reductionist labels and potentially hateful stereotypes by assigning them to discover 3 cool facts about a school community member through sentence starters such as:

- how many years were you in school (and be surprised to discover that many adults within their educational community still are in school);

- how many people do you live with and describe your dwelling (we can than engage in an interesting discussion of about housing profiles)

- what do you do during vacations (and possibly discover common interests)

I am not trying to create another Slogan.

I am trying to create some way I can stop the hate.

Let’s all “Crack the Shell”!



Laura Mourino

Education Activist. Math Adjunct Professor — Baruch and Hunter College (CUNY) , The New School and NYC public school Math Educator (Harvest Collegiate HS)