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Get Them While They’re Young: An Idea Toward Creating An Anti-Prejudice Future

The recent incident with the Arizona elementary school mural and the city councilman who hated it with his racist, racist ways got me to thinking about how it always feels to me that no matter how many minds I change via this blog or through personal interactions, it still may not be enough. There are too many people who are mired in their mindset and never have it challenged because of where they live, or who they associate with, or whatever. It might be possible to write those people off except they have children, and they teach those children either directly or by example. And the cycle continues.

So how do you combat this? One of my thoughts was that if we could teach young people about the concepts we discuss here — privilege, unpacking the knapsack, the different levels and manifestations of prejudice, bias, and bigotry — could we give them the tools to combat them or, at least, change on an individual level?

I know such efforts occur on a college level. I have a piece in a book about key debates around race (though I’m not sure when that book is coming out). Though I wonder if this is too late? Or even enough?

Kids in elementary school deal with or perpetuate bias, so shouldn’t we start with them? Of course, kids that young might not be able to fully grasp concepts of privilege (adults seem to have a hard time). What I envision is a multi-step, multi-grade curriculum designed to teach different aspects of anti-prejudice thinking and behavior appropriate to the age level. Elementary, middle school, high school, then college. You’d have two tracks — one for kids who progress from one level to the next, starting in elementary, one for kids in middle and high school who get these lessons for the first time. As far as college goes, I think every school needs to have a mandatory freshman class on Understanding the Other.

This learning scheme will not only be about race but also gender as well. And higher level materials will also include sexual orientation, class, religion, and more. And there should be discussions and lessons for kids who are likely to be the target of prejudice on how to deal with it effectively. I would also love to see materials for kids of color that specifically deals with intra-POC relations. because it’s not as if there aren’t issues there, too.

There are three aspects to this curriculum that I see as key.

  1. Books. We need different ones for each learning level as well as teacher materials and activities. While my choice would be for each child to have a book they can keep, it might be more effective to aim for each school getting books they can re-use.
  2. An online component. Since there are always new essays, blog posts, and amazing discussions online, there should be a repository for links or full text that teachers and students can also access. This way the books won’t have to be updated as often, but the curriculum can remain fresh. I feel a wiki would be the most useful in this regard, as that would make it easy to categorize posts, articles, and essays and make interconnections between them.
  3. Independent teachers. As much as I would wish that existing teacher could implement this curriculum, I know this would not always be the case. For many schools, it might be more useful if outside teachers came in and taught during one class period — perhaps for the one devoted to social studies? — for one week twice a year. Obviously the optimal situation would be throughout the year and all the time. But you have to start somewhere. The teachers wouldn’t have to be full-time in this case. Professionals who get the training necessary and could take a week off from their job or part of the day for a week to teach. I expect this would work best in any area where the program is just getting started.

To get started on something like this one would, of course, need money. We’ll need folks to come in and help design the curriculum for each age level, we’ll need folks to write, design, and print the books and materials, we’ll need teachers. And since all the news I hear about public schools is how people keep taking their money away, I assume that the best strategy for getting this into schools is to offer it at no cost. So, privately funded.

The whole time I was thinking about this, I was sure that I can’t have ever been the only one with this idea. And someone must have implemented it somewhere. i’d love to know, if anyone out there is aware of such things. I’d also like to know how they pulled it off, what the results have been for the kids.

This idea and the structure I’ve envisioned may not be perfect or exactly right. But it’s an open source idea. Build on it, improve it, whatever. What I want the most is for people to get together and make it happen. How? I am not even sure. I’m willing to have someone tell me. Or even just to go out and do it. I don’t need to spearhead.


8 thoughts on “Get Them While They’re Young: An Idea Toward Creating An Anti-Prejudice Future”

  1. P. G. Dudda says:

    Is something like the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance program similar to what you have in mind?

  2. Benjamin says:

    I’m sympathetic to the “offer it to the public schools for free” school of thought, but I wonder if that might actually backfire.

    Part of the creation of an “anti-prejudice future” is going to be at the personal level, helping kids not to perpetuate prejudice and helping them to deal with it better when they encounter it. But part of it is also structural, obviously: a school can have all the classes like this that it wants, but if it’s still placing kids of color in remedial classes, for example, or disallowing the GSA, etc., then the hope for these kids to live in a “prejudice-free future is going to be pretty slim.

    I say all of that to say this: People, for better or worse, tend to own a process as much as they have paid for it. I think that schools will OWN this process of “anti-prejudice education” (or whatever the best term for it is) if they have to make an institutional decision to put some skin in the game. Schools will accept pretty much anything if it’s free. If somebody wants to teach a class in tiddlywinks, great, if it’s for nothing…. So I think that a program like the one you describe SHOULD cost something, because that will send the right message to schools: This isn’t something nice, an extra, that we accept because it’s free. It’s something we invest in doing (and doing well) because it’s WORTH IT.

  3. SBarnacle says:

    I’m with you. I have a white son and a black daughter that I am homeschooling. They are 9 and 6 and I find it challenging to find material that is age appropriate AND brings up some of these really big subjects. Mostly, I’m making it up as we go along, which never works as well as a carefully thought out plan. We talk a ton about stereotypes and have started turning that conversation into discussions of prejudice and racism. We read lots of historical picture books about people and events, but I really long for books that explore privilege of all sorts and what do DO and how to respond when we see something happening that is not right.

    I like the Teaching Tolerance programs, but there isn’t much that is for the younger set. I was really struck by The First R and realize that NOW is the time to be working with my kiddos to teach them, not when they hit middle school age.

    As a homeschooler I deeply wish for a tidy curriculum to make my teaching life simpler, but also because homeschooling, at least where I live is a very white community. Too many good intentions, not enough education and information, so having a resource I could easily share would make a huge difference in our community.

  4. C.E.K. says:

    Great ideas. I recommend you read Troubling Education; queer activism and antioppressive pedagogy by Kevin Kumashiro and of course, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire. Right on with what you’re talking about.

  5. Virginia says:

    I think this is a noble idea but the truth as I see it is, bigotry is taught in the home and in the churches. Children learn what their parents teach them. The last place I worked at was full of 30 year old Klan members: and they let me know in no uncertain terms. 30 years old. That’s child bearing age. We have been trying to teach tolerance since the 60’s. That’s before these people were born, and still Archie Bunker is alive and well.

  6. Agatha says:

    I’m living proof, that even in a pluralistic, open, liberal society, it’s next to impossible to change attitudes, things are far too entrenched and the power structures as they are do not allow for more latitude.

  7. Stina says:

    You might want to check out how race and identity development intersect with the book “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.

  8. Crafty says:

    I work at an after school program at a private International school, where diversity, tolerance, and inclusiveness is part of the curriculum and culture of the school from age 4 up through high school.

    Imagine a school where faculty, staff, and students are from all over the world, speak all different languages, and the celebration of that diversity is infused throughout the curriculum. Perhaps we need to take a look at schools like this, schools that are getting it right, and see what we can take from there and spread to other schools.

    One very basic thing that we teach our youngest is that everyone needs to be included. It’s actually a school rule that if someone wants to join your game/conversation/club you are not allowed to exclude them. (of course, sometimes they want to exclude someone because they cheat or get mad when they lose, at which time the adults mediate and the child involved has to promise not to do those behaviors)

    Also, on the rare occasions when a student does make a derogatory discriminatory comment, the school comes down hard. Parents are called, these things are taken very seriously by everyone and not tolerated.

    When I stop and think about how our kids see the world, how they see differences between people as a good thing, not just to be tolerated but to be celebrated, I have hope for our future.

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