Anti-bias education is a stance that supports children, and their families, as they develop a sense of personal and group identity within a complex and multicultural society. This approach helps teach children to be proud of themselves and their families, to respect a range of human differences, to recognize unfairness and bias, and to speak up for what is right. (Derman-Sparks & Olsen, 2010).
At the Eliot-Pearson Children's School, this means working to create an inclusive community that encourages conversations among children and adults about all types of human differences in the context of classroom life. Discussions may include topics such as: culture, race, language, physical, mental, and social-emotional abilities, learning styles, ethnicity, family structure, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, socio-economic differences, and our many ways of being. ABE supports children and adults to listen to each other with open minds, and to reserve judgment when we encounter views with which we disagree.
Parent: "Anti-bias Education gives us tools to talk about difficult topics. It's safe to disagree."
Teacher: "ABE is a complicated, messy process. There is no right or wrong answer."
Anti-bias teachers are committed to the principle that every child deserves to develop to their fullest potential and an ABE stance helps every child do that. ABE is important at all stages of development. Early childhood is a critical period of time as it is when children first receive and perceive messages about who they are, as well as how others see them and their families. With ABE, we work to make sure that all children see themselves and their families reflected and respected in the early childhood classroom.
Parent: "If we fail to talk about our differences, all we are left with is to make assumptions about others that are often misleading or unfair."
Teacher: "Children need language and experiences to broaden their understanding about diversity. The more experiences they have, the more easily they can take on an anti-bias approach themselves."
Children learn about similarities and differences in people and communities. They are encouraged to act in ways that reflect anti-bias values and to stand up for things they feel are unfair. ABE is integrated into the classroom activities. It is both planned curriculum within the structure of the day, as well as natural "teachable moments" based on children's social interactions, conversations and play. Anti-bias curriculum topics come from the children, families, and teachers, as well as historical or current events. When children ask questions about differences, adults listen in order to facilitate conversations and responses.
Examples of questions and comments children ask about differences:
"What color is my skin? Why does my skin look different?"
"He's a baby because he can't walk."
"Why does she wear that scarf on her head?"
"He has two mommies."
Families can play many roles.
- Be aware of the school's approach to ABE and understand the ways that it may be manifested in the classroom.
- Build relationships and engage in dialogue with teachers, staff, other families, and your own children.
- Share your wisdom and insights about your child with the school, including information about your home culture, values, and ways of being.
- Participate in classroom activities, school-wide activities, and adult learning groups.
Each family's level of participation is unique and is respected. As teachers learn more about your child and family throughout the school year, they become better equipped to invite and facilitate rich discussions and learning opportunities for both the individual child and the classroom group. Families should feel empowered and valued to share ideas and perspectives – not only when concepts or topics make sense, but especially when topics are confusing or uncomfortable. Families should feel able to tell us the ways in which their family interacts with the world.
Parent: "Families do and don't feel like they fit in for a whole range of reasons. We want to be heard, valued and included in ways that seem meaningful and valuable to us."
ABE is an example of an anti-bullying, pro-social curriculum because we are proactively teaching children how to fairly understand and respond when they encounter difference. However, we do not use the word "bullying" in early childhood because young children are not bullies; children at this age are simply learning to get along. Exploration of power and conflict are a natural part of this process.
Creating and maintaining a classroom community where everyone feels safe and respected is an essential part of the teacher's role at every age level. During the first weeks of school, teachers develop "ground rules" or "classroom agreements" with the children. These may include words such as "We take care of each other. We don't use words or actions that hurt others". Teachers lead discussions and activities that foster understanding others' points of views and differences. Problem solving strategies are directly taught.
The Director, Associate Director, and Head Teachers can answer questions about ABE. Families who have been at the school in past years can also serve as great resources for new families. Also, a list of anti-bias readings and resources is available at the front desk and some of these materials may be checked out from the school library.
(Derman-Sparks & Olsen, 2010).
- ABE Goal 1: Each child will demonstrate self-awareness, confidence, family pride, and positive social identities.
- ABE Goal 2: Each child will express comfort and joy with human diversity; accurate language for human differences; and deep, caring human connections.
- ABE Goal 3: Each child will increasingly recognize unfairness, have language to describe unfairness, and understand that unfairness hurts.
- ABE Goal 4: Each child will demonstrate empowerment and the skills to act, with others or alone, against prejudice and/or discriminatory actions.
Sources of anti-bias curriculum topics can come from the children, families, teachers or historical and current events. Implementation of anti-bias curriculum takes place with a focus at three different levels: individual children and families; specific classroom topics; and school-wide themes.
Teachers, working in partnership with families, start by creating a classroom environment that represents the children and families within the classroom, as well as and the diversity of people in their world. Songs and books, in languages that are spoken by families in the classroom, are often used as a starting point. Children and families also participate in learning and sharing about their own identities through activities such as making self-portraits with materials that match the colors of their skin, hair and eyes; experiencing stories about different types of families; and participating in "share days" for each child and family. Classroom materials such as books, dolls, play props, puzzles, music and images on the wall reflect people from various racial and cultural groups, gender roles and differing abilities.
In an effort to help children understand, respect and interact comfortably with people different from themselves, teachers discuss and plan activities that consider how we are alike and how we are different, including physical characteristics, gender, language, culture, religion, ability and family make-up. Teachers also make decisions on what to teach based on the interests, questions and issues that children show us through their play and conversations. For example, if children are excluding others based on gender, ("This is a game for boys only") discussions, books and "problem stories" related to gender differences and exclusion become part of the curriculum.
School-wide themes that focus on resisting stereotyping and discriminatory behavior take place in each classroom in different ways, depending on the children's ages and experiences. For example, stories, discussions and role-playing related to Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott lead to a beginning awareness of unfairness and power based on differences between people. The details of how this topic is addressed, however, depend on what is developmentally appropriate for each class and the individual children in it. Therefore, the specific ways in which a single school-wide theme is explored will vary greatly from preschool to 2nd grade.
Anti-bias education occurs through both proactive, planned curriculum as well as natural "teachable moments" that arise in children's social interactions, conversations, and play. Teachers also carefully think about what children need in terms of individual and group development throughout the year. Balancing these aspects of curriculum development leads to activities that integrate into the classroom's daily schedule, as well as with the social, emotional, cognitive, motor, and academic goals that we have for the children. Teachers develop activities that support many learning goals at once, such as in the following examples.
- A teacher overhears children talking about their skin colors while out in the playground. Afterwards, as a literacy activity, the teacher reads a story celebrating different skin colors. During choice time, children mix their own skin colors with paint and teachers facilitate conversations about the colors with other children at the table.
- In first- and second-grade, a teacher reads a biography of special needs activist Judy Heumann, who wasn't allowed to enter kindergarten in the 1950s because her school wasn't accessible. During literacy small groups, children sequenced dates from her life on a timeline, during writing they wrote about how a school would need to be designed in order for Judy to attend, and as a special project, they toured the school to see if Judy would be able to move easily through the building at EPCS.
Three aspects inform early childhood teachers' thinking about developmental appropriateness: what we know about the individual child, the sociocultural context (such as communities, cultural, ethnic, or linguistic groups, or national context), and what researchers have learned over time about children's development. In most cases, children in our program are exposed to diversity on a daily basis from their neighborhoods, all forms of media, and schools. From infancy on, children are constantly deriving meanings from their experiences, regardless of whether adults are supporting them in this process. Anti-bias educators believe that it is the responsibility of adults to scaffold children's learning about diversity to ensure that the messages that children take away are positive and will help them develop into effective citizens in a diverse democracy (see ABE goals in question 7).
Some families may worry that talking about biases might foster bias in children and choose to avoid discussing the topic. However, studies show that tolerant children do not become prejudiced after talking about race, while prejudiced children show greater tolerance after such discussions. Moreover, children have trouble predicting adults' attitudes about diversity unless adults have communicated their attitudes directly to them.
Learning is a process. As a child learns to spell the word "school," the word may take different forms, including "s-k-l," to "s-k-o-o-l." These forms are important steps in the learning process. We would not discontinue writing instruction because a child temporarily uses incorrect spelling. Anti-bias learning is also a journey and a process, made even more complicated that society has yet to agree on all the "right answers" about how to be unified in diversity. It may appear that a child who has begun to spontaneously point out racial diversity is acquiring bias. Instead, if we view this behavior as a step in the process of learning to recognize and appreciate human diversity, we can take advantage of a teachable moment!
Yes. As with all explorations of the world, children bring themselves to their learning. This means that as we explore similarities and differences, children are quick to connect and compare images and words to themselves. As children are learning about who they are and then testing out and refining these ideas and perspectives, at times they may perceive their similarities as being "included" and their differences as being "excluded." Because our society uses distinct affinity groupings to discuss cultural identities, it is easy for a child to perceive that 'if I am a member of one group (i.e. girls) than this means that I am not a member in another group (i.e. boys).'
As children work to understand what a particular identity means to them, they may even temporarily segregate themselves into distinct groupings. This allows them to observe and test out ideas about what it means to be a 'boy' or a 'girl'. In these cases, teachers consider the careful balance between providing children space to consider and test their ideas while also asking children to expand their thinking and embrace a wider and more inclusive lens. Teachers also help children to understand the emotional impact of including and excluding, while work towards a space of respect and acceptance. They help children become better able to articulate their questions and ideas in ways that do not hurt the feelings of others.
Families come from diverse cultural, religious, socioeconomic, linguistic, and geographic backgrounds, and this wealth of diversity contributes to the overall health and vibrancy of a school. Every family offers expertise, resources, and opportunities to enrich all children's learning. Within this diversity, it is inevitable that there will be varying viewpoints, cultural conflicts, and differences in values, goals for children, and expectations of schools. People will not always agree. While anti-bias education does not offer simple solutions for when such conflicts or differences in expectations arise, it prepares us with the confidence that these conflicts are a healthy part of the process of learning from one another. Anti-bias education supports open dialogues and opportunities to engage with differences rather than ignoring or minimizing them.
Some foundational principles (or "bottom lines") guide us in our efforts to make every family feel respected, valued, and included within the school culture. We have the four goals of anti-bias education stated above; we also have the school's published philosophy, guiding principles, and commitment to inclusion. Families are always welcome and encouraged to share their experiences, questions, and concerns with teachers and administrators. These bottom lines provide the scaffolding necessary for the school and families to approach differences with mutual respect, a spirit of generosity, and trust in the process that we are partners in working for solutions that consider the needs of individual children and families as well as the good of the community.
Special education inclusion is the practice of educating children with physical and/or learning challenges together with typically developing peers. Special education inclusion is supported and regulated by state and federal laws. Anti-bias education is a voluntary approach that encompasses special education inclusion and extends it to address differences in culture, race, language, gender, economic class, and family structure. The goals of anti-bias education and special education inclusion are very similar in that they place positive value on differences and treating all people with fairness and respect.
Teachers use a variety of language to support children in learning about their own and one another's unique learning needs. Children are invited to share their strengths and expertise, as well as their challenges and skills that they are working on. Children also are exposed to the idea that "fair is not always equal." This means that what one child may need to do her best learning may be different from what another child needs. Children learn to express their own needs as well as understand and support the needs of others. In practice this may mean that some children require specialized seating, additional sensory breaks, or distinct writing tools in order to work to their highest ability. In addition, children learn that all classmates have contributions to make to the community. These contributions are acknowledged and children are encouraged to seek one another out for their strengths and contributions.
There are many ways to stay informed about ABE in your class. Some of them include:
- Most important: ask your child and your child's teacher
- Read the classroom newsletter. This will give you a regular window into the ongoing anti-bias work that occurs in your child's class. Several classrooms have explicit ABE updates in their newsletters.
- Find out about the books that teachers are using in class to address anti-bias issues. Check these books out or ask your child's teacher if you can borrow the book from the class for a night!
- Let your child's teacher know you are interested in observing anti-bias work. Find a time to observe during explicit anti-bias discussion.
- Volunteer in the classroom. Find out from your child's teacher if it possible for you to take part in an ABE lesson.
The role of the teacher is to provide an equitable education to all children, and to cause children to question and challenge exclusionary and unfair practices. This means supporting a child's identity development, pride in family and community, respect for range of human differences, ability to recognize unfairness and bias, and empowerment to speak up for what is right. Teachers do this work by not only developing curriculum, but by generating questions for themselves, their colleagues, and their students.
Teachers at Eliot-Pearson have spent many years developing their skills as anti-bias educators. Coursework, reading and ongoing discussion enable teachers to have a philosophical and theoretical understanding of anti-bias education. Teachers also develop a high level of self-awareness that informs their own practice through a cycle of questioning and discussing their own perspectives, along with those of the children and families. Teachers are actively engaged in their own on-going professional development to provide them with the knowledge and support they need to be an effective anti-bias educator.
In 1989, the Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children (NAEYC) was published. This is a seminal book that attempted to translate k-12 (and college) multicultural concepts to the early childhood (0-8) period. As such, Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves (2010) is a revision of the first book. This second book has expanded the view of diversity beyond gender and race/ethnicity, embracing language (non English speaking), economic class, abilities and disabilities, family structures, and sexual orientation. It has also adopted some of the major contemporary trends in k-12 and college multicultural education, such as critical pedagogy and social justice, with less than universally positive results.
I am a huge supporter of multicultural education in early childhood programs and k-12 schools. All children deserve maximum opportunity to succeed and fulfill their unique potential. But I believe this books does little to help achieve this important goal.
It is difficult to know how to best critique this book. I have decided to begin with the four core goals of anti-bias education, then examine areas that I view as particularly problematic: immigrants and their families (Latino), the two pages devoted to multiracial children, and the simplistic formula that considers mainstream whites the only barrier to diversity. I then discuss the unique definitions of certain words and phrases that this book has coined.
“Each child will demonstrate self-awareness, confidence, family pride, and positive social identities”. Further, this goal adds, “A basic goal of quality early childhood education work is to nurture each child’s individual, personal identity. Anti-bias education adds to that goal the important idea of nurturing social (or group) identities” (p. 4). The book defines social identity as, “compared with individual identities, this denotes membership in groups that are defined by society, are shared with many other people, and have societal advantages and disadvantages attached to them. These identities include, gender, economic class, racial identity, heritage, religion, age group, and so on” (xiii).
Clearly, reference group orientation is a significant part of each of our identities, and the identities of our children (Cross, 1987). However, there are many problems with this goal:
1) The perception that all of these social identities are homogeneous, clearly defined, unchanging, and unchangeable. They are not. We know a family can quickly drop from middle class to poverty after a divorce or the loss of a job; we know that a child’s racial/ethnic identity can change when they come to America (i.e. a Hmong becomes an Asian, a Columbian becomes a Latino), transracial and multiracial children do not belong to any clearly defined social group (and if the various tables used throughout this book are any indication, these children really don’t exist!)
2) Society does not do anything – people do! Not only does one’s group identity depend on historical, global, national, political and economic contexts, but the individual also has some say-so in their identity. It is illustrative to note that in the section of the book that describes the identities of the people who contributed to it, there is this statement: “as people chose to identify themselves” (p. viii). Parents of young children also have an impact on the identity of their children. This is particularly true of interracial children, transracially adopted children, and new immigrants, whose home country often defines them differently from the way we define them. For example, new immigrants from various African countries do not view themselves as African Americans. Further, advocates of anti-bias education insist, as they should, on challenging society’s concept of gender and to some extent, disabilities, but are wholly unwilling to challenge society’s social and political definition of race and ethnicity. This inconsistency is difficult to understand, and will be addressed later in this review.
3) Who decides the social identities of children? Who decides if a child, in fact, feels good about membership in his/her group? For example, there is considerable literature that argues multiracial children who embrace a social identity that includes their full, mixed heritage, are somehow ashamed of their black social identity (Rockquemore & Brunsma, 2010). Or what about a Mayan child from Guatemala whose social identity in her home country is the Maya, but who is expected to change her group belonging in this country to Latino/a (the group that has historically persecuted her people)?
4) Attaching societal advantages and disadvantages to children based on their group belonging is highly problematic. For example, while sociologists place men at the top of the status hierarchy, young boys as a group struggle in our early childhood programs. Further, men have very little status in the early childhood field. And, how do we evaluate the status of children from different backgrounds? For example, how do we evaluate the black daughter of a single mother who is a physician at the local university hospital, compared to a little white boy whose two parents are homeless? But the main problem with this approach is the judging of individuals by teachers based on group belonging (the kind of stereotyping we should be avoiding), and a generally paternalistic attitude.
“Each child will express comfort and joy with human diversity; accurate language for human differences; and deep, caring human connections” (p. 4). This goal is problematic from several perspectives. Let’s take each one of these three ideas separately.
Each Child Will Express Comfort and Joy with Human Diversity
Young children are learning a variety of concepts about humans. A central concept they struggle with is their own identity – gender, language, culture, abilities, etc. Thus they tend to be attracted to people – children and adults – who are like them, and who are important in their lives. For example, little girls look to their mothers as very important role models; children play with other children who enjoy the same kind of games and activities they enjoy. Thus at this age there is a natural and healthy tendency to feel comfortable around people – adults and children – who are similar to them. Only after developing a secure sense of identity can young children truly “express comfort with human diversity”.
A central dilemma with this goal is that both parents and society in general teach children the survival skills of human safety. This is represented by the “beware of strangers” campaigns. But clearly parents also want their children to be cautious and defensive around human diversity. Part of the problem here – a problem embedded throughout this book – is that a young child’s ability to discriminate anything is very immature, and thus highly stereotypical. If a parent cautions her young child to stay away from a specific homeless man with a beard, chances are the child will stay away from all men with beards.
Each Child Will Express Accurate Language for Human Differences
It is not clear to me the meaning of this goal. On a recent visit to Brazil I discovered that it is not acceptable in that country to use the term Black to describe Afro-Brazilians, yet it is appropriate to call them Negros (the accepted term). We know that the language used to describe various disabilities continues to change over time; and the language to describe children of mixed-racial heritage in this country is still up for debate. Many adults still call these children Black (or the label of the parent of color) even though the correct terms are multiracial or multiethnic. In fact, many multiracial children will tell you the most annoying part of being multiracial is the constant questioning (especially by adults), of, “well what are you, anyway”(signifying these adults really don’t know!)? Many adults still refuse to even use the terms multiracial and multiethnic.
A good example of the adult use of inaccurate language to describe human differences is using the label Latino to describe the vast diversity of the people from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America (see the later section on immigrant families).
Each Child Will Express Deep, Caring Human Connections
This goal I can totally subscribe to!
“Each child will increasingly recognize unfairness, have language to describe unfairness, and understand that unfairness hurts” (p. 5). It is important that children learn about unfairness. However, this goal is totally inappropriate for young children, to whit:
1) For children up to about age 7-8, fairness generally means what is best for them. This is the egocentric stage. There was many a time with my own four children when they declared my behavior towards them to be unfair. All parents soon learn that children will respond to a parental wish, a denial of a request, or a demand to do a chore, with the word, “unfair”. And most parents soon learn to respond with, “the world is unfair”.
2) The world is an unfair place, and, while we should all be committed to make it less unfair, a young child is in no position to do so. To use the language of the book, they have no power. For example, a child may discover that his friend from class has been diagnosed with a special need, and is consequently being removed to another classroom by the school district. The child does not want to leave, but what can his friend do? Or a child has a favorite teacher who must stop teaching to take a different job, because she cannot make enough money teaching. There is nothing the child can do.
3) I always wonder whether this goal will set up a child to fail. My son was very concerned with fairness, and struggled intensely in middle and high school. In middle school he was bullied; at high school he could not tolerate the arbitrary and autocratic rules that permeate most American high schools. He was exceedingly aware of the unfair rules of the schools and the unfair behavior of people in positions of authority (as were his parents). For example, when he was bullied he fought back, but due to one of these unfair rules, he was suspended along with the bully. Then the Vice Principal accused him of provoking the bully.
“Each child will demonstrate empowerment and the skills to act, with others or alone, against prejudice and /or discriminatory actions” (p. 5). Bullying in our schools is a major problem (Olweus, 1992). Yet, in schools throughout the world, bullying continues unabated. But its not really about prejudice and discrimination, it’s about two kinds of children (of all different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds): bullies – aggressive children who enjoy power, and victims – timid individuals who are generally unpopular. And, according to the research, bullying continues because both the bully and the victim believe adults will not intervene. And they are often correct.
So it seems to me we need to do two things to address bullying, 1) develop a school-wide approach, and 2) seriously implement this approach. While children should be involved (i.e. in learning conflict resolution skills), it is clear that adults – teachers and administrators – must take the central roles. This should also be true with anti-bias education. Recently at a conference in Brazil a multiracial adult reported about the harassment she received in school from the teachers. My own children have also experienced harassment from teachers (“you can’t be Native American, you are Black”) and administrators (“your parents are uptight about the school’s racial categories”). Thus it is the adults who must spearhead anti-bias activities in our early childhood programs and schools.
Finally, as I have already pointed out, children do not have the power to create change. Many, many unfair situations occur in the early childhood center, classroom and school. If students protest, they get into trouble (as do their parents!). A high school student in Denver protested the fact that students were required to take meaningless, high-stakes standardized tests. He was punished with the same severity as if he had brought a gun to school.
Supporting New Immigrant Children and Families
In the essay, Supporting New Immigrant Families and Children, L. A, Hernandez writes, “misinformation about immigrants is everywhere” (73). However, he does little to clarify much of this misinformation, especially about immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean (what is commonly called Latin America). This is a particularly glaring example of how American (U.S.) diversity experts view global diversity from an America-centric perspective.
Hernandez perpetuates the myth that everyone from south of the U.S./Mexico boarder are Spanish-speaking people with cultural roots from Spain. The truth is much more complex, rich and diverse. The countries that comprise Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and S. America contain as much unique diversity as exists within the U.S., if not more. Three examples will illustrate this phenomenon. The three major cultural groups in Guatemala are Maya, Latino, and Black (on the Gulf of Mexico side of the country). The Maya are divided into several groups, each with their own language. In Guatemala, the Maya are also the majority population; however historically, politically, and economically, the Latino group dominate – they are the oppressors, if you will. While Spanish is Guatemala’s official language, among the Maya many do not speak any Spanish – especially the women.
In Belize, the majority of the population is Black, with small groups of whites (including Amish), Asians (many of the shop owners) and Indians. However, there are also several official mixed-race groups. These include Carib and Creole. The official language is English, but a variety of other languages are spoken.
In Brazil, the major racial groups are Afro Brazilians (there were five times as many slaves in Brazil compared to the U.S.), mixed-race (usually African, European and Amerindian), Amerindian (several tribes that speak various languages), European (Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, English, German, Spanish, Welsh, Scandinavian), Middle Eastern, and Japanese (the largest group of Japanese outside of Japan live in Sao Paulo). The major language is Portuguese, not Spanish, and the colonial history is Portuguese (and some French, Dutch and English) but not Spanish. Brazil comprises about 50% of the landmass of S. America, and over 50% of the population.
People in the countries south of the U.S. speak a variety of languages, including English, French, Dutch, Welsh, Japanese, German, Spanish and Portuguese, along with over 40 native languages.
As you can see, describing all immigrants who come from Latin America as Spanish-speaking people with a Spanish culture is not only a gross misunderstanding; but it is tantamount to an academic and statistical hoax.
Because people who enter the U.S. from Mexico, Central and Sought America, and the Caribbean come from countries with significant African populations (most of these counties had slaves), many Latinos have some African racial heritage. According to the one-drop rule, which is still used in the U.S. to categorize race, these Latinos would be considered racially Black (Fernandez, 1996).
Supporting Multiracial, Multiethnic, and Mixed-Heritage Children and Their Families
Maybe the biggest problem with the section, Supporting Multiracial, Multiethnic, and Mixed-Heritage Children and Their Families (p.88-89) is its size (2 out of 166 pages), and the fact that it is a separate section. Both of these facts make it a classic token approach to diversity! It should be noted here that the multicultural education body of knowledge to date has not embraced diversity that is multiracial. For example, of the 49 chapters in the Handbook of Multicultural Education (Banks & Banks, 2004), only one directly addresses this population, and most of the other 48 chapters strongly support a single-race view of race and ethnicity, including reinforcement of the one-drop-rule. And throughout Anti-Bias Education for Young People and Ourselves, there is constant reference to “groups of people” and “nurturing group identities.” All these terms and the general focus of the book reinforce a single race, essentialist view of identity and racial and ethnic diversity. If this book were truly about diversity, multiracial children and adults would be embraced and included throughout. They are not.
Beyond these two glaring issues, this piece, unlike other sections of the book that are very forthright and direct (even when they are wrong), is weak, tentative, and careful not to offend. For example, while it correctly reports that multiracial families experience racism, it never points out that this racism comes equally from people of all single-race groups (teachers, parents, and students), and not just from white people. Further, while the issue of filling out federal forms is addressed, it is not addressed with the clarity and urgency required. Many multiracial families first face official invisibility or downright hostility when officials with early childhood programs and schools insist they choose a racial category for their child that does not accurately reflect their own view. Early childhood programs and schools must address this issue head on: this book must tell them how to do so!
Another problem is that the author states, “having parents look very different from each other or very different from you makes the reality of difference very present in the family early on” (p. 88). This reality seems to be presented as a negative situation, it is not: these children grow up believing difference is normal and is their reality. To them, it is the other families that are strange! This same section also states that some families “feel confused about how to deal with their child’s racial/ethnic identity” (p. 89). While there is a sidebar that encourages parents to talk to the program if they want to discuss the identity of their child (because they are confused), early childhood programs must be much more proactive in helping parents understand the value (and the mounting research evidence) of challenging the role of hypodescent, and in raising and identifying their children as multiracial. Programs must empower parents of multiracial children (both biological and adoptive/foster parents) to have the courage to withstand societal orthodoxy and celebrate their child’s full racial and ethnic identity. This book is very clear in challenging other societal issues, such as non-English language learners and gender issues; so why is it not affirmative here?
As already suggested – and further explored later in this review – this section continues to perpetuate a myth woven throughout this book: only white people (teachers, parents and children) can be racist. Multiracial children receive outright harassment, along with “invisibility”, from people of all racial groups. In fact, one of the challenges that this book does not address is when race is presented in terms of power and privilege, how does a biracial (Black/White) child deal with this apparent conflict, and how should teachers help them deal with it? According to the matrix outlined on page 31, a child whose mother is Black (i.e. a minimum of a two-time target of institutional prejudice and discrimination) and whose father is an educated white, heterosexual, male (a four-time recipient of societal advantage) experiences a very unhealthy family due to their parents’ unequal status. If teachers, other parents, and “multicultural experts” believe this, as many do, then this child and her family will not be supported in the program.
Thank God my children were never taught this, because it simple makes no sense.
Finally, instead of providing direct advice to teachers regarding this greatly misunderstood area, particularly by people who claim to be “culturally competent”, much of these two pages presents scenarios for which the reader is asked to decide “what would you do?” (p. 89). Again it seems like the author/editors are unwilling to take the kinds of affirmative positions they do in many other areas throughout the book.
Mainstream Whites are the Problem
Like other early childhood multicultural texts, this book blames all prejudice and anti-diversity on mainstream (male) white people. In the book mainstream whites are the only examples of people engaged in insensitive behaviors and non-diverse and prejudicial activities. Never is a minority child or adult shown to exhibit any prejudicial or inappropriate language or behavior. While this is a nice, neat formula, it’s neither accurate or particularly helpful to teaches and child care providers.
Here are a few examples of a more realistic view.
The first incident of racism my eldest daughter experienced was from a boy who had just come from Mexico. His family lived below us in the apartment building. In the heat of a typical childhood argument, he said to my daughter, “and, besides, you are Black and I am not”. He obviously saw this as a putdown.
My youngest daughter had an ugly incident when her Hispanic friend invited her to play in her house. Her father met them at the door, and said to my daughter, “You cannot come into my house until you wash the dirt (dark skin) from your face”.
At a family picnic I recently attended, I observed a very active 9-year-old having a great time climbing a tree. Her mother called to her to “get down from the tree”.
“Why”? I asked the girl’s mother.
“Because girls don’t climb trees”, her mother responded.
The mother and her daughter were African American.
Some years ago I received a phone-call from a distraught white mother of a biracial child in Chicago. She was upset because Black children in her daughter’s kindergarten class kept telling her daughter that her mother was a whore. The mother complained to the Black administration and teachers, but both refused to intervene.
A good friend of mine, Marta Cruz-Janzen, recalls growing up in Puerto Rico (2004). She described how painful this childhood experience was, because she is biracial (Spanish/Black), and the local fairly tales, songs, and colloquial expressions used by the other children towards her were all extremely racist.
Any adult and child from any racial or ethnic background have the capacity to be racist, stereotypical, and prejudicial. Its not just white folks!
Word and Phrase Definitions
There are several words and phrases in this book that I wish to comment on: social identify, pre-prejudice, and race.
Social Identity. This term is defined as “compared with individual identities, this denotes membership in groups that are defined by society, are shared with many other people, and have societal advantages and disadvantages attached to them” (xiii). I have already addressed the phrase in another section of this review, so I will be very short here:
• Society does not do anything.
• We all exist within multiple social contexts (West, 2001).
• Advantage and disadvantaged often change as a result of time and context.
• Each person’s individual identity is comprised of multiple interacting social identities (West, 2001).
• This definition makes multiracial children and to some extent transracially adopted children invisible. They do not belong to one social identity group “defined by society”. In fact, for major components of society, these children are still invisible – as they are in much of this book.
• While it is important to help all children come to terms with the various words others use to identity them, it is absolutely critical we help children go beyond the limitations of these identities. A central dilemma for minority children is the insistence by peers that they must continually subscribe to their own groups’ narrow norms of behavior, taste and world-view. One result of this need to define what it means to belong to a social identity group is that minority students are often accused of “being white” (acting, behaving, speaking, doing well academically, etc) by their peers. Instead of reinforcing the limitations of children’s “social identities” we should be helping children not to be defined or limited by them.
Pre-Prejudice “Beginning ideas and feelings in very young children that may develop into real prejudice if reinforced by societal biases. It may be based on young children’s limited experience and developmental level, or it may consist of imitations of adult behavior (p. xiii)
According to Piaget, young children develop biased and limited schemas about the world and how it works. Through direct experiences with the social and physical environment, children continue to refine their schemas until they come close to reality. When it comes to ideas about people (race, ethnicity, gender, occupation, disability) young children’s views are highly stereotypical – and usually incorrect. Thus it is up to adults to help children progress to a place where they can see human diversity is all of its complexity (unfortunately many adults cannot do this). But it’s wrong and silly to call this pre-prejudice, because a young child’s view of the world is pre-everything.
Race: “A social construct that fraudulently categories and ranks groups of human beings on an arbitrary basis such as skin color and other physical features…..The scientific consensus is that race in this sense has no biological basis in the human species” (p. xiii).
First race as a construct is both social and political (as is ethnicity). Thus, as the direct result of powerful political pressure, we now have Latino/a as a census category. The rest of this definition I generally agree with. But what puzzles me is that, if race is a fraudulent system that categories and ranks groups of people on an arbitrary basis, which I believe it is, and, if this book is about anti-bias education, then why does it not strongly advocate – and include activities – to eliminate racial categories?
I can see wonderful anti-bias activities to protest the use of federal forms for the USDA food program; efforts by students to eliminate racial categories used by the school or early childhood program when they hire new staff, and activities by students to make sure their school district is in compliance with the federal law that allows people to check “more than one race”.
It seems to me the authors want it both ways, 1) to show the world that they understand the racist nature of racial categories (created by the dominant groups), but also to align themselves with single-race identity politics.
You cannot have it both ways!
This review highlights some specific areas where I think this book fails. However, as I have written elsewhere (i.e. chapter 11 in my 2009 book, Approaches to Early Childhood and Elementary Education), I think its time to change the entire focus of our diversity efforts. Essentially a simple, single-group approach (i.e. race, ethnicity, gender, disabilities, etc) to diversity is now obsolete, and we need to shift to viewing diversity in all of its wonderful complexity and interrelatedness. No one is just Black, just a woman, or just an immigrant. Thus we need to look at a child in his/her totality, using Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological systems theory to understand how all the contexts of a child impact the child, those who interact with the child, along with how they interact with each other (West, 2001). And we must place the child in the center; not race, ethnicity, culture, gender and so forth.
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Fernandez, C A. (1996). Government classification of multiracial/multiethnic people. In M. M. P. Root (Ed.), The multiracial experiences: Racial borders as the new frontier (pp.15-36). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Olweus, D. 1992. Bullying among school children: Intervention and prevention. In R. D. Peters, R. J. McMahon, & V. L. Quinsey (Eds.), Aggression and violence throughout the lifespan (pp. 100-125). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Rockquemore, K. A. & Brunsma, D. L. (2010). Whiteness reconstructed: Multiracial identity as a category of new white. In J. O. Adekunle & H. V. Williams (Eds.), Color struck: Essays on race and ethnicity in global perspective (pp. 173-186). New York: University Press of America.
Wardle, F., & Cruz-Janzen, M. (2004). Meeting the needs of multiethnic and multiracial children in schools. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
West, M. M. (2001). Teaching the third culture child. Young Children, 56(6) 27-32