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A Child’s Place in Social Justice

Classroom Development

11/18/2021 | Cindy Stansbury

As an early childhood educator, I get the opportunity to witness many interactions between parents and their children. Most of the time, these exchanges are fairly routine: 

“I love you”

“I love you too- Pick you up at 3!”

However, a little over a year ago, I had the pleasure to witness an exchange between child and adult that completely changed the way I ran my classroom. It was our carline drop-off and the parent and child were exchanging goodbyes. After the routine kiss and hug, the father earnestly grasped his son’s face between his two hands and said, “Remember, we share the world with other people.” In this quick moment, this father reminded his child of his power to positively impact the world. 

In the early childhood space, we speak a lot about the dichotomy of the being vs. becoming of educating children. When we speak of becoming, we discuss teaching to who the child will be in the distant future. When the being is referenced, we are speaking of the value of the child in their present state. As an educator and school administrator, I choose to bring social justice into my classroom as it not only aids my students in becoming civic-minded adults but acknowledges the long-forgotten value of their perspective as children in their current form, as well as their immense power to change the world today. Admittedly, this has not always been easy. Parents and prior administrators alike have questioned the wisdom 

This is a power that we as educators can unleash if we simply remind our students that “we share the world with other people.” 

This process has not always been simple.

To unlock the power of the children inside your own classroom….

Acknowledge a few hard truths...and a few even harder truths
This step brings us back to the overall theme of our curriculum, honesty. However, in this context, it is required that you as an educator be honest with yourself. In order to delve into the social justice space, it is essential that you examine the lens through which you are teaching it. What biases do you hold? How do you interpret the world? For most of us, this can be a terrifying proposition. However, the first step to changing negative behaviors is acknowledging them. I usually have my teachers accomplish this by writing a page or two about their own background and seeking out what privileges have been bestowed upon them. Honestly, the practice is normally quite jarring for the participants. It is hard to see your position in the world spread out on paper, but as they begin to discuss with their coworkers it is really a special thing to see them realize how they can be kinder people. Still, the work does not cease there.

The educator must also realize that just as they as the adult are correcting behaviors, so are the children. There is a lot that must be unlearned. Studies have shown that as early as age three, children begin to show a preference towards lighter skin, and black children begin to show signs of internalized racism. Furthermore, additional research has shown that children commonly associate their own race with happy music and other races with sad music. In order to bring social justice into our classrooms, we as educators must be honest about all that must be overcome, whether it be our own bias or that of our students. 

Encourage Pride
Allow your students the opportunity to develop the language to speak about themselves with pride! In order to have the courage and ability to stand up for someone else, children must have a love and appreciation for themselves. The varying backgrounds of your students can also be a great resource for learning about different cultures! Embrace it! Allow them to share!

Give students the language (even the words that scare you)

In order to stand for others, students must be able to recognize injustice and describe it when it's present. This entails explaining terrifying words to our students such as racism or homophobia. It involves honestly explaining to them the complexities of our society and the hate that can be present in a child-appropriate manner. In my own classroom, some of the books I have seen that walk this line best are the “Kids Book About” series which explains these loaded topics in a simple way.

Show them the Beauty in Difference

It is a beautiful thing to be an individual. Allow your students to see that. Learn about people...all people: those of differing abilities, backgrounds, religions, gender identities, and cultures. Do not limit this learning to just one day, but continue this exploration all year. Show your students the beauty of differences.

As a society, we should want our children to be well versed in social justice issues and prepared to stand for what is kind. We should want this because, in their current being, children have a unique perspective to offer us. However, we should also want this because if we begin to teach our students to exhibit this kindness now, hopefully, it will stay with them for the rest of their lives. 

Social Justice Learning Book List

For more story ideas, I recommend following the account @inclusivestorytime on Instagram

Cindy Stansbury is an early childhood educator and is currently embarking on her first year as a Staff and Curriculum Coordinator. Cindy’s background in journalism influences her work in the classroom each day as she is deeply passionate about informing our teeny tinys about and involving them in the world around us. She believes that children play a crucial role in our communities!

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