Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gets me thinking

So my bloggy  sister posted a reading that got me thinking about where I work. The school I worked in this year is a good one, it has a great reputation and the educational philosophy is one that I agree with. But on occasion I was sickened by the "diversity issue". This is what preschools politely call their race policies. It seemed to me that no other diversity was taken into account- there was no overt concern for mixing gay and straight parents, single parents and couples, divorced people and still married, mixed race couples and single race couples, or even mixing of kids on financial aid and full tuition families. 

It all came down to what box the family had checked for their kid's race- so much so that a child who I spent the whole year thinking was German based on looks of him, and mother and his name was considered the one diversity boy in next year's class because his father is mixed race. I am not saying that this child does not bring diversity to the school, but if you never see the dad or talk about what makes this child different, no one would ever know. In a class of 18 kids this one boy was, in my opinion, the token non-white; except for the fact that he is (at least in skin tone) whiter than me. 

Little kids see differences in concrete ways: your hair is curly, mine is straight; "I have a penis with a ring, you don't have a ring on your penis"; "Regina you are spotted like my mommy, and I am all over brown like my daddy".  Yes I think children need to be exposed to people of other colors than themselves so they can see these differences and not be afraid of the "other", but I also think our differences (and similarities) lie more within our cultural frameworks and upbringings than in the color of our skin.  Little kids are capable of having discussions about culture; how is your family the same as mine? how are they different? And here's a hint its not just the color of our skin that sets us apart or brings us together. 

I am fully aware that at some point my own children will ask me, (or my sister, or the child) why my sister's kid is a different color than the rest of the family, and the answer will be because aunt liz adopted him from a different place than our family is from. It's a simple answer (and one that will grow more complex as the children grow older) but really isn't that what skin color comes down to- geographic location of your ancestors? I know that this simple explanation doesn't address the values placed on the colors of people's skin but that is sort of the point, but there is a time to address that issue; and its not when a kid is 3. 




3 comments:

Liz said...

Stay tuned for my next book review, of a book called "The First R." It's got me thinking that NOT addressing race and racism and the values placed on the colors of people's skin until the kids are 3 is almost too late - the book has examples of 3 and 4 year olds using the n-word and being fully aware of what it means and why it is hurtful to their pre-school classmates of a different color. And the pre-school teachers for the most part are totally clueless about what's happening practically right in front of them. I had to put it down half-way through, it got me depressed, but I'm going to pick it up again soon and probably write a review by the end of the month.

regina said...

Pre-school teachers are pretty clueless about lots of things as a general rule....I would like to read this when you are done, but I would ask how does author know the 3/4 year old is aware of why it is hurtful. It is a word (and i am oversimplifying here) that adults use to hurt others- kids model their behaviour on their adults. if i called someone princess in a hateful tone enough times in front of a child they would look at the word princess as a word to use to hurt others.
Joe can use the word Shit in context when he throws his bowl on ground and it makes a mess, because he has heard us say it like that, but at 2 does he really get that it is not a word that is good to say? nope its all learned behaviour.

I would also ask where the author taking examples from- in the school i am in everyone is pretty affluent which i believe changes how people look at people of color as well. There is a sense of "oh well even though they are X color they can afford to be here therefore they must have education etc." Thats part of my problem with the diversity stuff, the school doesn't get that race and class and the values placed on both often go hand in hand...

Liz said...

It was a kind of ethnographic study, where one of the authors spent a full year in a pre-school observing the kids. She observed them behaving with her in much different ways than they behaved in front of the teachers. I wasn't convinced by the examples in an early chapter, there didn't seem to be enough evidence to prove the point - "this child's behavior shows that she is practicing the cultural assumption that whites are better than blacks, and we know this because the child is white," that sort of thing...but the chapter I am in the middle of now makes a MUCH stronger case for it. There is so much white privilege built into our general cultural that is just taken for granted, it almost doesn't matter what kids learn at home...