Monday, June 11, 2007
What Age Do You Introduce Race?
Not so long ago I was having a conversation with an Asian friend of mine about when and how we should start talking about Race with our children. We didn’t want to “burden” them with this heavy concept, yet we didn’t want them to get their information from outside sources in a way that might make them feel embarrassed or ashamed of their ethnic background either. We finished the conversation when one of our kids poured a bowl of cheerios on their head, promising to get back to the discussion at a later date.
That later date happened for me last week.
I was lurking around the hallways at my son’s adorable Quaker School when I heard there was some presentation going on in the first grade classes. Since my son is going to be in first grade next year, I decided to go take a peek. Turns out it was a Race, Ethnicity and Identity extravaganza presented by the first and second graders.
Using a carefully selected collection of picture books (Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester, The Color of Us by Karen Katz) as their launch pad, the faculty created a curriculum to have the children explore the concept of identity. Rather than teaching the children about static racial categories, they gave the children the tools to define their own identity and share their personal true-life stories with their classmates. As the headmaster said to me as he witnessed parents, teachers and students gushing over the tremendous work these young people had created, “We’ve made it so the children want to learn about diversity because it’s fun, not because they’re supposed to.”
The kids made self-portraits, mixed paint colors to match their skin tones, wrote mini-biographies and of course had many enlightening discussions. Best of all was the aura of celebration and excitement around this theme instead of the weariness and dread usually associated with race-based curricula. I applaud the teaching team at Greene Street Friends School for taking the time and energy to infuse “diversity awareness education” with so much positive energy and excitement.
And I learned that if the story begins with a celebration of identity instead of a history lesson of oppression and other people’s perceptions, it’s never too early to begin the discussion of “race.”