Keeping Pace with Diversity in 2017

By Phoebe Search

Our youngest students are living at an incredibly exciting time; many of their first memories are formed living in a country where, not only can an African-American man be elected president, but a woman stands a fighting chance at attaining the highest office in the United States. No matter your political affiliations, there is little doubt that the winds of change have blown strong and swiftly toward a world that is ever-evolving.

Given the pace of this change, we parents and teachers are often unsure as to how best proceed, in terms of our personal growth, what we feel children can handle, and how to address what it is they truly want to know. Added to this is the pressure to inform ourselves and kids “the right way,” that somehow there is a single path toward expanding children’s horizons, as well as our own.

As is true in every area of human development, the path to understanding the complexities of identity and their identifiers (race, gender, class, sex, ethnicity, just to name a few) is not linear. There will be inevitable missteps and unforeseeable pitfalls. No child learned to walk in a smooth progression of single steps; so it is true that we are learning (and unlearning) mostly by trial and error how people see themselves and would like you to see them.

Just as you would respond to a child’s need for extra playtime or another read-aloud book, taking cues from your children is no less true in the work of diversity and inclusion. There’s no need to address more than a child asks in the moment, but demonstrating that asking questions about appearance, lifestyle, and family make-up gives them the sense that keeping an open dialogue with you is OK.

Last but not least, give yourself the permission to not ‘know it all.” Parenting, as we know by now, is a marathon and not a sprint. There is, and will be, time for further conversations. As teachers will tell students that they would like more time to answer their important questions, parents can express to their children that they can learn more about their family’s ethnicities, racial makeup, and beliefs as time unfolds.

Our 21st century learners are part of a globally expansive community that depends on our courage and commitment to helping them know themselves, and others, as richly and deeply as possible. “Mom, Dad--what are we?” is just the beginning of that journey.