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Teaching children about diversity, equity and inclusion

Oct 17, 2017 11:44AM

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice discussion in the Lower School at University School.

Diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice.  These are terms that are difficult to comprehend for adults let alone children.  Yet, these ideas are the keys to treating others with respect, dignity, and fairness.  We teach our children to read and write, but do we also teach them the importance of kindness, learning about others that are different from them, hearing about religions and places where people are not treated fairly?

Over the past 10 years, our world has become much smaller.  The media with the help of the Internet brings even the farthest places in the world into our homes.  No longer is our community our city, state, or even our country; our community is now global.  Our concerns and issues extend far past our borders. In school, our children can talk to people in different time zones and even on different planets.  By seeing how connected our world has become, it has enabled us to have open and honest conversations that we would have never had even ten years ago.  Topics that were once taboo like social justice, racism, religion, gender, LGBTQ, and able-bodiedness are discussed among adults and are on view for children to see and hear. Some of these issues have seen more acceptance in our society.  There have been movements among groups of people, and laws of protection have passed and rights have been granted. People from different cities, states, and countries have made connections in order to gain support and guidance for issues.  Yet, while some groups have seen progress, others have not. People are still marginalized due to their differences.

So how can we include children in this open discourse?  We know that children’s biases are formed by age three; we all have subconscious bias. Children are bombarded by what society sees as the norm, and yet, they are exposed to ideas and images that are not the norm. How can we teach acceptance?  How can we teach them to question?  How can we teach them to listen and learn to be open to something other than what they are used to in their families?

Enter Lauren Calig.  Three years ago, as the coordinator for equity and inclusion at University School in Shaker Heights, she began to explore these questions.

“I felt a sense of responsibility to teach the boys about diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.  As an adult, I had been doing this work for years, and indirectly, I had been working with the boys, but I felt a sense of urgency to be deliberate and to have open conversations with them.  I wanted them to be able to ask questions, see people who were not like them, and learn to respect them as they were,” says Calig.

Calig, who has a master’s degree in education and has completed the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio’s Lead Diversity Program, approached the head of school and asked if she could write a curriculum to teach diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.  She started meeting monthly with the boys and through activities, books, videos, and discussions, they would learn to be accepting and open to differences.  After showing positive results, she was given the green light, and last year started a curriculum with the kindergarten through fourth grade boys.

“Each month, I send the classroom teachers an overview of the topic and links to all the resources that I use.  They then include this in their newsletters, so the parents can see the resources and continue the discussions at home.  The teachers also now have the language to use, so they can extend our topics into other areas of their daily time with the boys.  The teachers were open to my curriculum, and we have all noticed boys use the language of tolerance and kindness with each other,” says Calig.

Each topic is presented in a developmentally appropriate way and a review with questions always begins and ends the session.  This past summer, Calig wrote the fifth through eighth grade curriculum and worked with the teachers, so they could implement it during advisory time.  With the older boys, they sign a “guideline for respectful discussion” to set the tone and parameters.

So what are some of the discussions that a parent can have with their child?  Calig shares the following:

Social Identity:
  Ask your child how she sees herself. What makes her proud?  What qualities does she like about herself?  Where does she see herself in her family?  Share your qualities with her too.

Social Justice:  Share the story of The Golden Rule. This brings together major religions and the common idea of treating others with kindness and respect and shows that children and adults are expected to act this way.

Religion/No Religion: Explain to your child that not everyone has religion in his or her life, and that is okay.  Tell them that we can learn from other people, and regardless of what they believe or do not believe, we respect others’ ideas and thoughts.  Also, a lot of religions all believe in helping others, and this is a great commonality that you can share with them.

Race:  Tell your child that race is not a real, scientific fact.  It is an idea that was created and accepted by people in a society.  It was created to classify people based on physical characteristics:  things we can see. You can go online and show them why some people have darker skin or lighter skin and the scientific reason for this.

Racism:  Tell your child that in the world, everyone is not treated the same, even though, we know this is not right.  Some people are treated unfairly and unkindly because of clothing they wear, religions that they practice, the color of their skin, or the language that they speak.  All of these examples are racism.  Tell them if they see someone who is a victim of racism, speak up, and let them know you are there to support them.

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