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White Anti-Racism: No Hairshirt Necessary

Age Appropriate Black History Month

I commented on loveisntenough.com earlier and thought it would be appropriate to repost here in slightly edited and expanded form. Sorry if some of the background info is redundant to readers of this blog!:

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I’ve been thinking about the huge variety of opinions regarding what should be involved in Black History Month. I’m not a mom [really only relevant to the fact that this was first written for loveisntenough.com] – I run an afterschool program at a charter school for 3yr olds to Kindergartners with a 95% black population. On Monday my employees and I started to plan activities for the week and to kick off BHM. I’m white and the three employees are black. Each of us had very divergent thoughts about what the focus of BHM is– probably thoughts you’ve all heard before. What really interested me though was the divergence of opinion on what race issues are appropriate to talk about with 3 yr olds. One person wanted to do a project in which the kids placed pictures/drawings of their families on the continent of Africa to symbolize heritage. I’m very in favor of teaching kids as much African history as we do European history, but I really didn’t like this project for three year olds. Firstly, I’m not confident that they would understand the idea. But secondly, I think it’s problematic to treat the continent of Africa as a unified monolithic landmass from whence all black Americans came, with absolutely no knowledge which countries the families’ have actually come from. [Granted, I imagine that it is quite hard for black Americans to trace their lineage back to Africa because of the discontinuity and trauma caused by slavery.]

One of the other people wanted to do a project focusing on the idea that “difference is beautiful/special.” I totally agree that acceptance and respect for one’s differences should be instilled in all children, but I wasn’t comfortable with planting the idea of black as different in the kids’ heads. They go to an all black school in which I don’t think there’s any reason why they would think of themselves as different. While I’m sure they have an awareness of different skin colors and perhaps vague awareness of cultural differences, I’m not convinced that they already associate racial issues with the tension and discomfort that I think this project idea was ultimately intended to address. I’d love to hear thoughts from parents with young kids!

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5 Responses

  1. Alexis says:

    Having had faced a similar problem teaching in the public schools in New Orleans, I am curious to know what project you ultimately decided upon. I had middle school students so the definition of “appropriate” was slightly different and I ended up approaching Black History Month from the perspective of forcing engagement with black authors and African American history and allowing them to largely interpret the information and texts individually. I realize this is not a kindergarten/pre-school activity, but would there not be room for the same self-discovery/realization on an “appropriate” cognitive level? Again…curious what you came up with.

  2. mgummere says:

    I like the approach of emphasizing black authors and African American history. I think that should be the primary focus of Black History Month. However, in my school, that emphasis is present throughout the year. Obviously authors of other races are represented and the kids still learn about George Washington, but African Americans are well represented throughout the curriculum which, again, is for 3 to 5 year olds.

    I decided to let each employee do the project they were interested in. I also talked with the director of the school (my boss) about it. I told her that my two concerns were that 1- I wanted my after school program’s engagement of BHM to be consistent with the school and that (more importantly) 2- I didn’t want the selection of projects to make parents think that the program was forcing ideologies/opinions on their tiny children one way or another. I agree with my boss’s response to this concern–that because no one project that we do with the kids will be all that memorable, that I shouldn’t worry about it. She did however understand my concern about what parents think, but pointed out that really, our engagement of Black History Month as a defined one-month long celebration– in a pre-school scenario– is aimed at satisfying the parents.

  3. […] I posted about my reluctance to teach pre-schoolers to appreciate Africa as part of Black History Month at […]

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