If I didn’t say something, then what would have happened?
People would have been drawn and placed on a map of the world solely based on their skin color and eye shape. And young children would have learned, from the age of three, to categorize human beings.
I worked up the courage to speak to the head of the department about my concerns regarding the pre-school’s approach to teaching diversity. And as hard as it was, especially in another language, I am so incredibly proud that I said something.
The discussion itself with the director went great. She thanked me for sharing my opinions and asked me to join in on the meeting of the grade-level teachers to share my concerns.
So, I went in. I shared about my grandmother being from China, but how my mother, who is Chinese, was born and raised in New York. I shared about my experience of a six-year-old asking me if I worked in a “chino” (what they call dollar stores or bazaars here in Spain). And I shared about how uncomfortable it made me knowing that young children are being taught to categorize based on physical characteristics.
The response was respectful, though there was a sense of defensiveness and some claiming that they actually hadn’t meant to draw people on the map according to their characteristics. They said the original idea was to draw people of different races holding hands around the world, but for some reason that didn’t pan out.
Whatever the case may be, I left feeling relieved that I said something, and motivated to take advantage of this month’s diversity theme and role with it. Because the fact of the matter is, that the idea of categorizing people was floated. And even if my concerns fell on some deaf ears, it is always better to say something than to say nothing.
So for Martin Luther King Day, I printed up some pictures from the times of segregation and the Black Lives Matter movement along with some info about why we celebrate this day in hopes of reminding everyone that his is a message that needs to be remembered around the world. The teachers appreciated it and encouraged me to put it in the hall for parents to read as well.
For Chinese New Year, I pushed a celebration for the four and five year old classes. We ate mandarins, watched a video of a Chinese New Year Parade and tried different types of Chinese crackers. The kids LOVED every second of it, and now when they hear chino their context won’t just be the dollar store.
It was then that I realized, no matter how complex the theme or race may seem, and no matter how young the children we teach, it is NEVER too early to intentionally teach acceptance and diversity.