A heartwarming news story caught my eye recently and reminded me just how much we can learn from young children. Over the years I have heard many sweet conversations take place in my classroom of 3-6 year olds. Inevitably at some point during the school year one or two children made the realization that they had different colored skin. I sometimes observed kids placing their hands next to each other and attempting to name the color. Pronouncements like “brownish” and “more grayish” were often made and then it was back to business as usual. But more often than not, my students did not see race, ethnicity, disability, socio-economic status, gender or anything else as a barrier to friendship and compassion. Children are born “colorblind” in every respect.
Once I overheard a rather heated argument between three kindergarteners and when I asked about the problem they each very carefully explained their positions. The two girls had decided they wanted to marry each other since they were best friends and the little boy told them that they wouldn’t be able to because only boys and girls could marry each other. One of the girls told him that she really could marry her best friend because her aunt had married hers. The boy was adamant, telling the girls that his parents had told him so and that people could go to jail if they did that. Children are born bias-free. All of their initial prejudices come from the adults in their lives.
While much of the culture outside of school walls has become unkind we can look to our students for guidance. They are the best example of the universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity and how we must rely on our differences to understand the world around us. But we cannot forget that they are growing and watching and learning. As educators we have both an opportunity and an obligation to model and offer children an environment in which they learn lifetime values. We can infuse multiculturalism into our classrooms and create school environments where all students can thrive together and understand that individual characteristics make people unique and not ‘different’ in a negative way. We can teach our students that there is great strength in diversity but they cannot learn that unless they are welcomed into an environment in which the adults are both accepting and inclusive.
With all of the political rhetoric swirling around us today, it’s easy to become deflated and hopeless. It’s easy to openly criticize our rather controversial president within earshot of our students. And if you’re like me, you might have a particular problem with the current administrations’ position on race relations. So how do we rise above it all and be good role models for our students? We can use the current political climate as the tipping point for educators to recommit to teaching values and to work with our professional staff to continuously improve a learning environment that facilitates the awareness, appreciation and inclusion of diverse beliefs and cultures. After all, preparing students to live and work in an integrated world and contribute to improving society fulfills the intended purpose of all educators.
As Michelle Obama said in one of her last public speeches as first lady:
“Our glorious diversity, our diversity as the faiths and colors and creeds, that is not a threat to who we are — it makes us who we are … To the young people here, and the young people out there, do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don’t matter, or like you don’t have a place in our American story, because you do, and you have a right to be exactly who you are.”
The National Diversity Council
NBC news and politics