Archives For Inclusivity

Transforming Your Space

after the Class Room Audit

So you’ve read your classroom for the silent messages that your room is sending. ( see here for how to do so)    You’ve determined how welcoming a place it is for multiple identities. Now what?

Here’s the fun part. Think about one thing you can add to your space that will make it a more inclusive environment?

Does that seem overwhelming?

Don’t worry, I’ve tried to make it easier for you.

I’ve  compiled  a sampling of diverse and inclusive resources to provide your students or your own children with mirrors that reflect and validate their own identities and windows that allow a view and an appreciation for identities different than their own. I have tried to provide a variety of materials in various disciplines that would be appropriate for a preschooler to a middle schooler. Click on the picture for my pinterst board of resources and enjoy celebrating all identities.

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 10.12.17 PM

After window shopping and gathering inspiration and ideas, fill out your wish list here.

 

 

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A Non-Judgmental Class Room Audit

Without a word, classrooms send messages about what identities are valued and celebrated. In a diverse society many biases, conscious and unconscious exist. If we don’t resist them we support them by our silence. So take a moment to “read” & reflect on the messages your space is sending?

  • Who is reflected and validated by seeing a mirror in a poster, a dramatic play item, or a book on the bookshelf and so forth?
  • Do those items match the community you serve?
  • Does your space showcase the diversity of society at large?
  • What windows are you providing that will help your community see and appreciate identities different than their own?
  • Whose voices are missing?
  • How might you address your non-judgmental observations about this space?

As an example: Here’s a snapshot of my library audit as it stands at this moment. I haven’t finished decorating but I know what posters I own. I have put books on display about the beginning of school but I know what other books I work hard to have in my collection. However, what non-verbal messages I am sending is what counts. I know I value an inclusive world, but do those who walk into my space know that? I find it valuable to reflect on that as I set up my space for the new year.

Identity Group Who’s on the Walls/ in materials? Who’s missing? Reflections/Notes
Ability Only abled people

On walls – more differently abled people are represented in a scattering of books – El Defo new graphic novel comes to mind

Non-hearing, blind, wheel-chair bound – basically all categories While I have some books about this I don’t have enough in the collection – need to make sure I have some images and work on the books – I know some of the books exist but do I send an obvious message to those who walk in the library that this identity is valued by me?
Age
Ethnicity
Family Structure
Gender Call me Tree A gender-neutral book – how do I convey this in images?
Geographic Region Maybe add blocks for maker space that reflects different cultures
Race
Religion I need to examine this category more closely – don’t know what I have or don’t – certainly don’t have images
Sexual orientation

Take a moment to jot down your own reflections about the journey that you are on and the one you want to provide your students. Feel free to share you observations in the comments below.

 

You may have heard about the Lego debateor the mixed reviews  about Goldieblox or most recently the up and coming “design and engineer your own dolls house”,Roominatewhich, while brilliant in concept, still panders to the marketing of “girl colors.” And then of course, there’s the maelstrom that erupted when journalist Peggy Orenstein published Cinderella Ate My Daughter

All these are examples of attempts to look at what “stories” or messages we are giving children. 

And I say children deliberately. Much of the focus in these discussions is appropriately about what role models, stereotypes, and gender identity constrictions we are giving girls. But these not so conscious but conscious prescriptions also perpetuate a particular world for boys.

When Jean Kilbourne pointed out the advertising messages I was consuming about what it meant to be a women back in 1983 with her first Killing me Softly, I never saw the world the same again. I am deeply and eternally grateful to  her for making  the smog I was breathing obvious. But I abdicate how to fix the world of media messaging to the likes of her and Peggy Orenstein.  I also I leave the valiant attempts to encourage girls and women in STEM to the likes of the female engineers of Stanford such as the creators of Goldieblox’s, Debbie Sterling and Roominate’s Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen.

But I won’t let those who interact with children off the hook.

I challenge you to ask the following questions when you pick up a book for your self, for your child or for your students. These questions are geared to picture books but with imagination can be adapted to any story or message you or the child in your life is consuming.

I also challenge you to think about your reaction to the fact that I wrote this post in pink! Did it bother you if so why?  Feel free to share your gut reactions if you have managed to ignore the color and read this far!

When you read a book take a few minutes to ask yourself or the child you are with these or other questions about gender roles. Pay attention to what difference it makes to your experience.  Should you be asking yourself these questions all the time now that you have started to pay attention? 

  • What do the women/girls look like?
  • What kind of work /activities are the women/girls doing?
  • What objects/toys etc are the women/girls playing with interacting with
  • What do the men look like?
  • What kind of work /activities are the men doing?
  • What kind of work /activities are the men/boys doing?
  • How do women and men interact with each other?
  • What sort of emotions do you see expressed on a woman’s/girl’s face?
  • What sort of emotions do you see expressed on a man/boys face?
  • What messages do you think the book is sending about the gender roles of men and women?

In honor of Presidents’ Day this week, I thought I’d share some quotes about difference and commonalities from various presidents through the ages.

Abraham Lincoln 16th U.S. President (1809-1865)

“Accustomed to trample on the rights of others, you have lost the genius of your own independence and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises among you.”

John Fitzgerald Kennedy 35th U.S. President (1961-1963)

 “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”

 

Hubert H. Humphrey 38th U.S. Vice-President under Lyndon B. Johnson (1965-1969)

 “Fortunately, the time has long passed when people liked to regard the United States as some kind of melting pot, taking men and women from every part of the world and converting them into standardized, homogenized Americans. We are, I think, much more mature and wise today. Just as we welcome a world of diversity, so we glory in an America of diversity — an America all the richer for the many different and distinctive strands of which it is woven.”

Jimmy Carter 39th U.S. President (1977-1981)

“We are, of course a nation of differences. Those differences don’t make us weak. They’re the source of our strength.”

Bill Clinton 42nd US President (1993-2001)

 “Justice may be blind, but we all know that diversity in the courts, as in all aspects of society, sharpens our vision and makes us a stronger nation.”

Barack Obama 44th US President  (2009–)

“What the American people hope -– what they deserve -– is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories, different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared: a job that pays the bills; a chance to get ahead; most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.” State of the Union Address, Jan. 27, 2010

“We can’t expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question somebody’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism. The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things.” Remarks at University of Michigan, May 1, 2010

I wanted to include this last quote even though it is not from an American President because if we all follow the advice, I believe the world could be a better place.

Andrew Masondo, African National Congress, Freedom Fighter, survivor of
Robben Island imprisonment along with Nelson Mandela

“Understand the differences; act on the commonalities.”

Read more at http://www.notable-quotes.com/o/obama_barack.html#mATJmI3mptUmu4hW.99 or http://thinkexist.com

Call me naive. But I just don’t understand why people are so threatened by a book that can expand a child’s understanding of the world. I am talking about the hullabaloo surrounding the magnificent picture book, Golden Domes, Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors.  domesWhile I am late to the controversy, I want to add my two cents to the conversation. Mainly because the whole brouhaha is a perfect example of why we MUST give children all sorts of windows and mirrors. If we do not share stories from a range of multiple perspectives, then fear will flourish and people will wage war rather than create connections.

If, like me, you are just discovering that there was both a twitter battle and a parent who returned the book in disgust, you might be imagining a very toxic book. However, Hena Khan’s powerfully simple, rhyming text merely shares with the reader traditions and colors of Islam. The artwork by Mehrdokht Amini bathes the reader in the beauty of this way of being in the world.

Yet certain “gatekeepers” feel like it is their obligation to protect children.

But what could be possibly threatening about a culturally specific example of the universal concept of helping those in need?giveneed

I can only imagine the fear that makes someone react to a recommendation or purchase of the book with the stance that “Islam is dangerous” (part of the twitter battle with author/ former educator Kate Messner) or  “I don’t want this culture around my children,…Learn to read and write before we start teaching (about) the fanaticals.” (Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – Father upset after child finds Muslim book at school fair.)

While there are individuals in any group who may have extreme views or behaviors if we as the adult “gatekeepers” don’t expose children to multiple stories about multiple ways of being, we are accomplices in perpetuating intolerance and terror.

Who knew trying to find a set of state books could prove so disappointing. But  as I mentioned in my previous post , a promising candidate did not meet my standards so it won’t live on my shelves anytime soon. In other words, it failed the anti-bias test. Especially when I examined the visuals for stereotypes, tokenism or invisibility.

Two photographs out of nine were of African-Americans. They were both in the Jazz chapter. This struck me as cause for concern. If a child’s only association with the African-American population of Louisiana is with jazz, it can lead to stereotyping, or at best limiting one-dimensional view of their experience.

I want a child to appreciate the wonderful contributions that the African-American community has made to music.  But I want a more complex presentation so readers can understand and appreciate the diversity of African-American heritage.

In fact, I was also shocked that there were no photographs of Hurricane Katrina. A natural disaster, and the failure of government and its social structures can be a complicated topic to introduce to young readers. But omitting it is whitewashing a disturbing history from which we can all learn. And  those in the 9th ward who are still suffering must feel a state of disequilibrium when such a life-changing event is ignored in a possible text-book.

I worry about another unconscious message that a young reader can absorb. All the images in the chapter about playing are of white people. Why not have more visual diversity that reflects the actual population shown at play?

I hope the state books published in 2015 will do a better job of an equitable presentation of the richness of all life experiences.

It is embarrassing to confess that my school library collection has state books that are twenty years old. But I am more willing to admit that my collection is woefully out of date because publishers are still publishing books that are filled with bias.

If in 2014 I can’t find an updated series that is inclusive in its representation and history, I’d rather keep my old ones.

lousiannaDuring my recent search for new state books, I was at first seduced by Children’s Press’s (an imprint of Scholastic) Blast Off Readers. It offered some compelling features for the budding researchers in my school. I liked that it had:

  • A table of contents
  • An index
  • Useful and interesting topics including history, the land, landmarks, wildlife, food, festivals, work, play, and fast facts
  • An up-close map of the state, with some major cities, and surrounding states
  • An insert map of where the state is located within the U.S.
  • Attractive photographs
  • A clean and simple appealing lay out (so many books have confusing or cluttered design.
  • It had a nice balance of text to visuals.
  • Clearly presented text which wasn’t so simple that it didn’t say much and not too complex for my younger students.

I was ready and excited to blast off with the series. But then I was saddened and even a bit disgusted to I realize the series did not stand up to the anti-bias test.

In fact, I hadn’t even officially run it through my checklist. Yet flipping through the Louisiana book I was struck by how few photos of African Americans were included.

Louisiana’s population is approximately 60% white so having 2 photos of African Americans out of 9 photographs or drawings of people is almost not egregious. However, one of the two photos is a small insert (eve though the caption does give credit to Louis Armstrong for being one of the most famous jazz musicians of all time).  The other photo of a jazz band in New Orleans has some of the African American musicians but several of them are in the gutter of the book and therefore the visual focus of the photo is of the Caucasian audience.

Why is this a big deal you make ask?  Because I worry about what conclusions children are unconsciously drawing. I am guessing that they are probably picking up some of the same messages the publishers, designers, writers etc. are unconsciously perpetuating.

(At least I hope they are unaware of the impact of their choices.)

So I started to closely examine the book and put it through my anti bias check list.  Such scrutiny is more than one posting so I will share my findings on Thursday.

In a few days my students will tumble through my library doors after a summer of reading stories elsewhere. Like many others I am eagerly preparing for a fresh new year.

I dust the library shelves, create book displays about sustainability, and finalize lesson plans for creating a second grade research project on bento boxes.

Then there is one more important step before I feel ready.  I pull out and study a checklist that I created for myself based on and inspired by the work I so admire at EdChange: Building Equitable and Just Schools, Communities and Organizations through Transformative Action.

So far, I haven’t been able to check anything off the list.  And I don’t expect to. This work is ongoing, though some of it is getting easier.

  1. Do I learn to pronounce each student’s full name correctly? No one should feel like they have to change his or her name to make it easier for me.
  2. Do I continually assess my bias, prejudice and cultural upbringing and how they influence my teaching practices and relations with my colleagues, students and their families?
  3. Do I consciously pay attention to my language and not use expressions which originated from inequities of power?
  4. Am I using materials that are unbiased? If not, do I use it as a teaching tool to help students analyze and recognize it?
  5. Do I help my students unpack the myth of color-blindness? Do I discuss why it is important to acknowledge differences, and not deny another person’s experience that has been shaped by their skin color?
  6. When an issue such as racism or classism comes up in the classroom, do I address it or shy away from it out of fear or ignorance? Neither is a good reason.
  7. Is my curriculum inclusive of a wide range of multiple perspectives all the time or just a token gesture especially during special months?
  8. Do I work toward equity for ALL underrepresented groups? Or for example do I strive for gender equity but not racial equity?
  9. Do I work towards equality or equity?  Do I try and give everybody the same thing which may not be what everyone needs or do I try and change the disparity in access for an underrepresented or disenfranchised person?
  10. Am I constantly working towards understanding my whiteness and the privileges it gives me?

Wish me a good fall and support in accomplishing these goals. May they be useful to you too.

A mentor, who’s taught me much about multiple perspectives, has often told me, “unmentionable becomes unmanageable.” So when faced with an awkward conversation about race, I try to forge ahead despite my fear. I do worry that I may say the wrong thing but I’d rather start a dialogue than miss an opportunity.

According to Pro Bronson (see this post) ,many white parents and educators don’t find these race conversations easy. I am no different. But if I’m not willing to engage, then I’m responsible for making the unmentionable unmanageable.

12danceprincessA library class with lots of five year olds clamoring for books was one such occasion when I felt out of my depth but obligated to speak. A girl requested a “princess book”. I handed her Rachel Isadora’s stunning version of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. When she replied, “no, I want a pretty one,” I had two choices.

I could find another book.  Or I could find out why a classic fairytale set in Africa was not acceptable. Obviously, she couldn’t  articulate that she had been indoctrinated by Disney’s values of beauty, princesses and fairytales.

I had five minutes left of class and was at a loss for words.

As my mentor said, “just start the conversation. You don’t have to finish it.” So I told my student, that Isadora’s version was beautiful. However, it sounded like she was looking for a specific type of book that was of a different style. I showed her a Disney style fairytale she left happy.

I may not have said the right thing.

She may not remember the conversation.

I may not have shifted her thinking.

But.

I feel better for trying, in my awkward, off-guarded attempt, to interrupt her unconscious, internalized racism. I, at least, acknowledged the unmentionable to myself.

I hope she heard, so  that one day it won’t be unmanageable for her.

  Windows and mirrors can change your life. Yes, mirrors can show you the sDSC_0950pinach stuck in your teeth. And the breeze wafting through your window can cool a stuffy room. But I mean something more profound. Something that can knock down limiting walls and expand your horizons. What in the global world am I talking about?

The conceptual framework conceived by Emily Styles as part of the national SEED project. (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity)  Mirrors are stories that reflect your culture/reality and help you understand yourself.

Windows are books, movies, art, etc thaDSC_0990t offer you a view into someone else’s experience. We all need both in our lives. 

When you just have mirrors, your world view lacks the beauty of a wide range of perspectives. When you just have windows you feel like you don’t belong. But when you see life through this lens, and make room for both windows and mirrors, a rich, diverse, global world reveals that there are multiple ways of being.

To learn how to use this inclusive concept to educate children to be empathic citizens check out this post