Toward a More Just and Empathetic Classroom
Even the Youngest Children Notice Differences
"Why is my skin this color? Can I change it?"
"Why does he talk funny?"
"You are a baby, you can’t walk." (Comment to child in wheelchair)
"Martha has two mommies, does she have a daddy?"
"Girls aren’t strong. Boys can’t play with dolls."
These questions and comments from young children demonstrate their early awareness of differences. How adults respond to these questions impact how children will think about differences. Teachers and parents have an opportunity and responsibility to shape and guide children’s development during the critical early childhood years, and can do so with thoughtful planning.
Anti-bias education involves creating a community that supports all dimensions of human differences, including culture, race, language, ability, learning styles, ethnicity, family structure, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, and socioeconomic differences. It introduces a working concept of diversity into the classroom that addresses the impact of social stereotypes, bias, and discrimination in children’s development and interactions. In addition, it empowers children by giving them the tools to foster confident and knowledgeable self-identities, empathetic interactions, critical thinking skills, and activism.
Acknowledge, Ask, and Adapt
Program leaders, directors, and principals have a central role in anti-bias change. Their work involves strategic and thoughtful long-term planning that addresses all components of an early childhood program. This includes reading the context of programs, creating a culture of trust, supporting adult development in the anti-bias journey, working with families, and managing conflict.
For example, when teachers and families come from different cultural backgrounds, there is an increased chance for misunderstandings of each other’s intentions and actions with regard to social values and a family’s child-rearing styles. Areas where common cultural conflicts often occur are discipline and child guidance techniques, gender roles, age-related expectations of children, sleep patterns and routines, diet and mealtime behavior, the child’s role and responsibility at home, and a family’s expectations of teachers and schools.