The United States is known as a microcosm of the planet. You can find every nationality, culture, and language within it’s borders. You can also find such diversity in our education system.
America’s demographics are quickly changing, with more and more schools educating children who are dual-language learners or have other cultural perspectives besides the American mainstream. All children – regardless of nationality, culture, ethnicity, special needs… everyone – deserve a grade-A education.
However, in American education, there are situations that arise. One that I’ll focus on is difference between the teacher and students. Let me present these situations.
Black teacher teaching white preschool children.
White teacher teaching Native American preschool children.
Latino teacher teaching Japanese and Chinese preschool children.
Okay, you might see this and think I’m going to present something on the controversial side. Honestly, I probably am. Let’s see how this goes.
The above teacher/student combinations are situations in every school, at all levels. I think it’s a good thing. However, each one of these situations present some inherent differences between teacher and student. Some good, such as various perspectives, languages perhaps, culture, and ideas. That’s good. Everyone receives invaluable knowledge and experiences.
However, whether we like it or not, there will be some challenges in those same teacher/student combinations. These are not intentional, just inherent. They just happen. You get people from different backgrounds, different cultures, different ethnicities, and there will be, well, differences. Still, I don’t think that’s a bad thing either.
Where the negative begins is when these differences lead to inaccurate beliefs, negative perspectives, and stereotyping. Sometimes these differences lead to misunderstandings, conflict, or perspectives that are negative about the child from the teacher or the teacher from the child.
Or teacher to teacher… student to student.
“‘I don’t want to sit next to her. She talks funny,’ comments a 3-year-old, regarding a new teacher who speaks English with a strong accent.”
“‘You can’t be the princess! Princesses have blond hair!’ announces a White 4-year-old to an African American friend.”
“’This is supposed to be a happy painting. Why are you using all that black paint?’ observes a teacher to a young child at an easel.”
I’m sorry if these are hard to read. I am. But this is reality. These are not my quotes, but those from others in the field.
All of these statements strain relationships, affect learning, and cripple the classroom environment. These negative perspectives may come from previous experiences or things you’ve witnessed in the media. These perspectives may just have come from your education and, although you mean no harm, what you believe in may be inherently wrong (and you may not even know it).
I’m just going to say the word I’m trying to get to… it’s an ugly word called bias.
Now, some of you may be reading this and saying, “Well, that’s not me. I accept everyone. I’m bias toward no one.” Well, whether we like it or not, all people have a degree of bias in their thinking about other cultures, other people, other languages, others with different abilities, other beliefs…. just anything labeled “other” than yourself. It’s not right to have bias, but everyone has them. Begs the question…
“What happens when children receive messages about themselves of disapproval, of disdain, of dislike? What happens when children do not see themselves or their families reflected and respected in their early childhood programs? When adults do not actively guide children’s thinking about diversity, how do children make sense of information—accurate or biased—about people who are different from themselves?”
What would you do? If you realized you had a bias, would you try to work on it? Would you change your perspective so that your actions match your true feelings and attitude?
NAEYC put out a book on the topic of diversity in preschool classrooms.
Written by Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards, Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves contains information about diversity, recognizing our own cultural perspectives, and how to create an environment where everyone feels accepted.
“The heart of anti-bias work is a vision of a world in which all children are able to blossom, and each child’s particular abilities and gifts are able to flourish.”
Here are the goals of this book:
Goal 1: Each child will demonstrate self-awareness, confidence, family pride, and positive social identities.
Goal 2: Each child will express comfort and joy with human diversity; accurate language for human differences; and deep, caring human connections.
Goal 3: Each child will increasingly recognize unfairness, have language to describe unfairness, and understand that unfairness hurts.
Goal 4: Each child will demonstrate empowerment and the skills to act, with others or alone, against prejudice and/or discriminatory actions.
Does this sound like a foundation for any quality preschool classroom? Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves should be a required book for every preschool in America. Period. You can check it out here.
If you’d like to read the introductory chapter of the book, click here.