Doors and Windows
It happened yesterday evening as my boys and I were watching “Molly of Denali” on PBS. After an episode about an Alaskan tribe that had lost much of their heritage during World War II, a short video played about a young black boy who lived in Alaska. In the video he talked about equality and what that meant. He was also an artist and made a Black Lives Matter poster to walk with at a parade in his own town. After the video ended my four-year-old looked up at me and said, “We should make a poster and go walk in the parade Mom!” It shocked me at first and I had to pause and think about what I would say next. I responded with the question, “Do you know why he was walking in that parade?” We continued our conversation about how the boy was black and that sometimes people that are black don’t get the same chances and choices that we do, but they should. He pondered for a moment quietly and then got up to play.
When moments arise as a parent or as an educator, moments where kids ask questions that might make us anxious, it’s important to respond in matter of fact ways. Even when those answers are a little scary. I worried I might say the wrong thing to my son, but I knew saying nothing wasn’t a choice. It might have been easier to change the topic and engage him in something else, but I made the choice not to. “Why?” you might ask, “Why would you point out that the boy in the video was different or talk about something controversial with your child?” The answer? I want my child to know that we should say something. Even when it might be hard or scary to say.
Some might respond, “Your child probably didn’t even notice the difference in the boy’s skin color.” However, it’s been shown time and time again in research that children do notice these differences. If I had ignored that aspect of the video I would have communicated that we should ignore or not talk about diversity. Rather, by acknowledging the difference and talking about how that difference impacts that child and his family, I am encouraging my child to feel comfortable with and embrace diversity.
Stepping out of our comfort zone to notice and acknowledge what children say, do, and express about diversity is a step towards a generation that knows how to appropriately engage in social change. We can help children acknowledge and embrace diversity by using “doors” and “windows.” Doors and windows in our classrooms can be books, materials, art, and play experiences that reflect the children in the classroom and help them see or step into the culture of others.
Educators, we don’t need to know all the answers to take the first step. The journey to anti-bias education is a long and stretching one. When in doubt, we can always respond to a child, parent, or co-worker with, “I’m not sure, lets learn about this together!”