To recognize the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday this year, we have been talking about citizenship, service, and anti-racism. On Tuesday morning we discussed why our school had been closed this Monday. We all agreed that for schools and businesses to be closed for someone's birthday might mean that that person was important and special. We wondered at morning group time, what made Dr. King so special? What did he stand for and what can we learn from him?
As we discussed Dr. King's legacy and some reasons why the teachers admired him, we were sure to speak about racism truthfully and age-appropriately. I asked, "Did you guys know that people are sometimes treated differently because of their skin color?" and even more specifically, "Have you heard of people with light skin treating people with dark skin unfairly?" This information doesn't come as a shock to preschoolers, who are avid observers, constantly taking in both spoken and unspoken information about the way the world works and how people are treated.
One thing that is amazing about preschoolers is that they are fierce advocates for justice. Fairness and unfairness are huge concepts for children of this age and because of this they are eager to know how they can help make their classroom, their community, and the world more fair. At two to five years old, this group of children understands where their skin color comes from - their ancestors, the sun, and melanin - and that while our skin color can be one of many unique and interesting attributes we have, it isn't something that should affect how people are treated. That's unfair, plain and simple, and easy for preschoolers to understand when explained in these terms.
The injustice of racism brought up big feelings for the group. Adults who wish to be advocates for anti-racism are familiar with these feelings: anger, sadness, fear. Those feelings are hard, and we don't want to overwhelm children, but our goal also isn't to create comfort or complacency around these issues, because injustice and racism exists. Overwhelm can also lead to a feeling of helplessness, which is also not what we want. For me, what helps to integrate these feelings of anger and sadness is action.
As teachers we want to offer actions to children that are attainable right now. Some of our ideas: If you hear someone say something mean or treating someone poorly based on another person's skin color, tell them that's not okay. If you notice someone who is different from you, try and get to know them and ask them questions. If it's an adult, you could ask one of your trusted adults to help you. You can also ask yourself and your trusted adults questions when you're wondering about someone's differences. Ask your parents about doing a service project as a family. Participate in our school service projects.
We also want to offer hope and momentum for change. One of the best way to do this is to learn about the history of activism and change-makers, from the Civil Rights Movement in which Dr. King was a leader to more recent movements such as Black Lives Matter. Preschoolers see their own desire for justice and action reflected in the examples of activists from history and right now.
As a white teacher, part of my work is addressing my own internal biases, not becoming complacent, and inviting other teachers and parents to do this work with me. Some resources that have been extremely helpful to me in my work are ReThinking Schools , So You Want to Talk About Race? by Ijeoma Oluo, and What If All The Kid Are White? by Louise Dermin-Sparks. I believe talking about race and racism is essential to helping the next generation to recognize and dismantle bias, and I look forward to continuing discussion with both families and children in our schools.