The recent incident with the Arizona elementary school mural and the city councilman who hated it with his racist, racist ways got me to thinking about how it always feels to me that no matter how many minds I change via this blog or through personal interactions, it still may not be enough. There are too many people who are mired in their mindset and never have it challenged because of where they live, or who they associate with, or whatever. It might be possible to write those people off except they have children, and they teach those children either directly or by example. And the cycle continues.
So how do you combat this? One of my thoughts was that if we could teach young people about the concepts we discuss here — privilege, unpacking the knapsack, the different levels and manifestations of prejudice, bias, and bigotry — could we give them the tools to combat them or, at least, change on an individual level?
I know such efforts occur on a college level. I have a piece in a book about key debates around race (though I’m not sure when that book is coming out). Though I wonder if this is too late? Or even enough?
Kids in elementary school deal with or perpetuate bias, so shouldn’t we start with them? Of course, kids that young might not be able to fully grasp concepts of privilege (adults seem to have a hard time). What I envision is a multi-step, multi-grade curriculum designed to teach different aspects of anti-prejudice thinking and behavior appropriate to the age level. Elementary, middle school, high school, then college. You’d have two tracks — one for kids who progress from one level to the next, starting in elementary, one for kids in middle and high school who get these lessons for the first time. As far as college goes, I think every school needs to have a mandatory freshman class on Understanding the Other.
This learning scheme will not only be about race but also gender as well. And higher level materials will also include sexual orientation, class, religion, and more. And there should be discussions and lessons for kids who are likely to be the target of prejudice on how to deal with it effectively. I would also love to see materials for kids of color that specifically deals with intra-POC relations. because it’s not as if there aren’t issues there, too.
There are three aspects to this curriculum that I see as key.
- Books. We need different ones for each learning level as well as teacher materials and activities. While my choice would be for each child to have a book they can keep, it might be more effective to aim for each school getting books they can re-use.
- An online component. Since there are always new essays, blog posts, and amazing discussions online, there should be a repository for links or full text that teachers and students can also access. This way the books won’t have to be updated as often, but the curriculum can remain fresh. I feel a wiki would be the most useful in this regard, as that would make it easy to categorize posts, articles, and essays and make interconnections between them.
- Independent teachers. As much as I would wish that existing teacher could implement this curriculum, I know this would not always be the case. For many schools, it might be more useful if outside teachers came in and taught during one class period — perhaps for the one devoted to social studies? — for one week twice a year. Obviously the optimal situation would be throughout the year and all the time. But you have to start somewhere. The teachers wouldn’t have to be full-time in this case. Professionals who get the training necessary and could take a week off from their job or part of the day for a week to teach. I expect this would work best in any area where the program is just getting started.
To get started on something like this one would, of course, need money. We’ll need folks to come in and help design the curriculum for each age level, we’ll need folks to write, design, and print the books and materials, we’ll need teachers. And since all the news I hear about public schools is how people keep taking their money away, I assume that the best strategy for getting this into schools is to offer it at no cost. So, privately funded.
The whole time I was thinking about this, I was sure that I can’t have ever been the only one with this idea. And someone must have implemented it somewhere. i’d love to know, if anyone out there is aware of such things. I’d also like to know how they pulled it off, what the results have been for the kids.
This idea and the structure I’ve envisioned may not be perfect or exactly right. But it’s an open source idea. Build on it, improve it, whatever. What I want the most is for people to get together and make it happen. How? I am not even sure. I’m willing to have someone tell me. Or even just to go out and do it. I don’t need to spearhead.
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Get Them While They’re Young: An Idea Toward Creating An Anti-Prejudice Future