The calendar page has turned from January to February this week. For some of our young students this means the anticipation of snow or maybe boxes filled with candy, well-wishes and Valentine cards. Recent years have placed a much more important subject on the February calendar, Black History Month. Many would argue that Black History should be a topic throughout the year, as it should. However, it takes front and center for these winter weeks and acts as a reminder that we have to do a better job teaching the history of our citizens and addressing a general need for justice in the world.
Independent schools are beginning to make a concerted effort to look at curriculum and teach these important lessons throughout the school year. Not that long ago, lessons about human rights were reserved for MLK Day, a holiday here or there, or during the scheduled “character development class” we were required to have on our schedule each week. Teaching lessons on identity, differences, empathy, inclusion, fairness, and more, are now part of the new curriculum and often included in each day’s Morning Meeting. Linked below is a nice article that summarizes the need to address topics of justice, race, and identity at early ages. Children come to school, at even the youngest ages, with already preconceived notions around race and identity, and their natural curiosity creates an environment of exploration as they constantly test these theories. Our teachers inherently understand child development and know the ages that questions or comments may be part of play. We work to educate parents about the delicate and deliberate process of teaching our children to appreciate and acknowledge everyone’s differences and that it can often look “messy”. Children don’t by nature say “mean” things. They do say things to test out reactions and build on these experiences in either positive or negative ways.
Teachers in our lower school are getting training so that they can better facilitate play experiences to teach inclusion and empathy. One significant quote from the article below speaks to what we can do, as independent schools, to work for a better understanding. The author states, “Fortunately, the place where she did learn the terms “black” and “white” was a progressive school committed to empowering children to combat and undo racism. Such education aims to hold onto the child’s innate ability to see the world differently, while arming her with the historical and cultural knowledge to name injustice and fight it.”
Through our daily interaction with students, our many hours of professional development with diversity practitioners, and the introduction of our social justice curriculum, “Pollyanna”, we hope to begin combatting the misunderstanding around racism and injustice for this next generation. Black History Month may have a different context someday. For now, we celebrate the reminder that teaching history with a dedicated focus this month is a good thing for all.