Teaching Young Children about Bias and Social Justice
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Every person born into humanity has rights. Teaching young children about bias and social justice is one way we can change the future to ensure everyone has basic human rights.
Social justice is a problem that we should all care about. It takes all of us working together to ensure that everyone has rights as a human being. The world is deeply entrenched in hate, and that’s not the way it was intended to be. But what can we do about it?
I am white. I was raised by a racist and a non-racist. I have always prided myself in being colorblind and not being a racist, but as I matured, I was shown that I did have some bias in my thinking. I was well-intentioned, but I had to know better to do better. So, let’s start with us.
Social justice issues for kids
No one should be discriminated against for race, gender, age, orientation, religion, nationality, education, or mental or physical ability. No matter where they fall in any of these areas, every American has the right to vote, get healthcare, have equal pay for equal work, have food security, and be treated with equality.
We are all born free and equal. We are all unique and allowed to have our own ideas. We all have the right to life, and to live in freedom and safety. We all have the right to be treated fairly by the law. No one has the right to unfairly detain us. We all have the right to a trial. We are all innocent until proven guilty.
We all have the right to privacy, to travel and go where we wish, and to seek a safe place to live. Each of us has a right to belong to a country. We all have the right to marriage and a family. We have the right to own things and think freely. We have the right to express ourselves.
Everyone has the right to public assembly. The right to democracy. The right to affordable housing, medicine, education, and childcare. We have the right to do a job for a fair wage and join a union should we so choose. We also have the right to rest from work and relax.
We have the right to food and shelter. We have the right to an education. We have the right to protection of our intellectual property, such as art or writing. We have the right to a fair and free world. And we have a responsibility and duty to others to protect their rights and freedoms.
If you have been denied any or all of those rights, you can relate to why it’s important to teach others that we all have these rights. They were brought about in America by the Declaration of Independence and they should be protected.
There have been decades and decades of housing laws that prevented minorities from having access to homes. In addition, employment laws protected white people more than others. For these same decades, there have been differing educational access, meaning someone like me had access to opportunities others didn’t. In addition, the stereotyping and profiling meant that I experienced safety that others didn’t.
And that’s not okay with me.
I have privilege as a white person because I do all of these things without thinking twice:
- Go jogging
- Relax at home
- Ask for help after a car wreck
- Carry a cellphone
- Leave a party
- Play loud music
- Walk to the store
- Go to church
- Hold a hairbrush as I leave a party
- Go to parties
- Get a traffic ticket
- Carry a weapon
- Have my car break down
- Read a book in my car
- Ask a police officer a question
- Cash a check
- Get my wallet
- Ask someone to put a leash on their dog
- Buy gas late at night
- Drive a nice car that I bought with the earnings from my job
- Be arrested without fear of being murdered
This doesn’t mean I’m guilty, but it means my reality is different than that of some other people. I have a status I did not earn. And I have a special duty to consider others with different experiences. It also doesn’t mean I believe police are bad. I believe most of them are trying to protect and serve.
But I also believe that bad people like to get into positions of power over others so the police force is a place they want to be. I hate that. And I hate that the things bad officers do make all the good ones look bad too. I can relate to that being a daycare provider. Many people think we are all bad, but I am doing an awesome job providing wonderful care.
It’s up to us to speak out against the bad things we see.
Social justice for kids
I run a home daycare, so besides my responsibilities to society and others, I have also responsibilities to teach my children these things. But they are very young. So how do I teach them? It can be confusing to figure out the right thing to do or the right way to go about it.
For young kids like preschool and toddler age ones that I teach, social justice is mostly about teaching kids kindness. We need to celebrate differences with them. Not teach them to be color blind, but to appreciate the uniqueness of each people group. We can teach them compassion and tolerance for others on the daily.
Young children don’t need lectures. That is not age-appropriate. But if they see something scary that has happened, we can explain it to them. You could say, this person must be so angry to do that but they should have used their words to express themselves. This could help them to gain some understanding. But they must be taught racism is wrong! White silence says so much to people of color when racism occurs. We cannot be silent.
Remember, it’s not a holiday event, it’s an all the time event. Your classroom should reflect all kinds of people.
Mr. Rogers was a great example to all of us of tolerance and love. He handled tough subjects without any hint of hate or misunderstanding. I learned a lot from watching him as a child and I’m grateful.
Being silent about social injustice is not the answer. We can’t turn a blind eye and kids are watching us. Are we willing to stand up for what is right? Or do we ignore it? “When bad men combine, good men must organize.” “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Those are quotes of Edmund Burke. They still ring true today.
We can write letters to legislatures and business leaders asking for change because speaking up is how changes are made. When we see good policies being made, we can write again to support them. Keeping leaders accountable is key.
When children see hate and have questions about it, we need to be open to explaining it and answering their questions. We can find ways to help them relate to the people involved. And we also always need to teach them, if you see something, say something. Speak up when you see injustice.
What else can we do to change how people see others they are biased against? We can teach kids from a young age that differences are good.
There are plenty of activities you could do with toddlers and preschoolers that can help them see cultural diversity and know that it’s good.
What about doing a march for civil rights?
Check out these multicultural crafts that show different kinds of people.
You could spend a few weeks studying Martin Luther King Junior with these I have a dream activities for kids.
This post has 4 great activities that will help kids understand inequality a little better. I love the lemon peel one.
What about using art to learn about social advocacy?
For some great discussion questions about diversity to use with preschoolers, check this article out.
Make some fun cheerios self-portraits using all the different colors of cheerios available. All the colors are good for cheerios, and they are good for people too.
Teaching tolerance has some great ideas using photographs to teach about racism that could be tailored to younger kids.
Rabekah Gienapp has some great suggestions for teaching kids to seek justice. And shows the difference between fighting for justice and charity.
Speaking of fighting for justice, I’ve been using our superhero theme to show kids diversity AND talking to them about standing up for what’s right. You can find ways to add it in everywhere if you’re eyes are open for opportunity.
Multicultural classroom books
Great books that help kids learn tolerance for others are plentiful. I think it’s important to include many books that show diverse populations of all kinds in your kid’s bookshelf. I have a ton of great books that just tell stories, but the people in the stories are all different colors, genders, and ages.
Two of my favorites are Bright Eyes, Brown Skin by Cheryl Willis Hudson and Bernette G. Ford. It tells all about four black children showing all the wonderful things that make them unique and wonderful. And Families by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly that shows different families and how they are all awesome, no matter how different they look.
There are more great books for young children that show cultural diversity in this post from Honestly Modern. This post shows classroom books as well that celebrate black boys from No Time for Flashcards. Since black men are the most racially oppressed people group, it’s good to show children their goodness. Here are 50 more multicultural children’s books to help you fill your classroom with diversity.
Thank you to my friend Sharica that helped me edit this article. This is a quote I’d like to share from her. “We have so much more in common than we realize, we just have to be open to stand in the space that allows us to care about others that don’t look the same on the outside.”
I have her to thank for a lot because she is one of the first people who lovingly helped me open my eyes to see things as they really are. Others helped too, but my love for her kept me wanting to know more of the truth. She inspires me every day.
Take some time to think about the way you see things that don’t affect you and the truth that really might be there. Sometimes we just have to look a little harder.
I hope this inspires you to make some changes in the world around you today.
Want to do more? Check out these things white people can do to help.