A Follow Up
After the hate crimes in Charlottesville, VA I wrote THIS POST about parenting and social justice. I’ve thought about this issue a lot since then. I want to be a person that does what I say I’ll do and acts according to my beliefs. I didn’t know what that looked like and I got a lot of feedback from friends who shared ideas and articles that I’ve slowly read through.
Before looking through those articles, I was a bit scared. Discussing our ugly past in regards to prejudice and intolerance seemed inappropriate for the innocent faces that look up at me every day. I know I have the luxury of deciding whether I want to discuss these topics because of my privileges. I also know that for many parents, the ugliness of our history hasn’t gotten any prettier. They are forced to address the topic of hate daily.
But when I saw one of the articles entitled, “Raising a Generation of Social Justice Warriors,” what I pictured in my mind, albeit extreme, was my four-year-old daughter standing on a soap box with a burning flag, leading a crowd of people in a riotous chant, and anger pouring from her heart. As much as I want her to stand up for what’s right, I also want that desire for justice to come from a place of love. Using hate to fight hate has proven ineffective and it’s not something I want to cultivate in my children.
With all of my parenting powers, I desire to raise a brood of kiddos with the fruits of the spirit guiding their moral compasses. For me, God’s love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control come way before flag-burning, marching, sign-holding, chanting, rioting, and petitioning.
That’s not to say that all of those things are bad and haven’t done some major good in the past. It’s just that I don’t believe they should be the starting point for parents or children.
I think the heart should come first.
So when I went to click on some of the articles my friends shared, I braced myself. What were these authors going to tell me to do? Did raising justice conscience children involve igniting an attitude of defiance? Were they going to say innocence equals ignorance and I was being irresponsible by allowing my children to view the world through rose colored glasses?
Thankfully, this wasn’t the case.
The more I read, the more empowered I felt by the ideas in the articles. I realized my children could continue to wear the rose colored glasses of childhood innocence, while understanding they could be a part of changing the world for the better. By framing these concepts in a proactive, positive light and building on the work that civil rights leaders have done throughout our history, we can encourage our children to recognize injustices and combat them with love.
The main theme throughout all the articles and websites I read was to expose children to different people and ideas, and step out of the bubble. Make space in their growing minds for both differences and similarities between families. One example was a conversation that went something like this:
“Did you notice anything different about the girl you met at the park? Did you notice anything that was the same? Yes, she has a different skin color than you have but she also has the same favorite princess as you. Do you see how every person is not like you in some ways but like you in others? Should we not like someone just because they have a different hair color than ours? No, we should love them too.”
Those are the kinds of conversations that will hopefully create thoughtful, love-minded children.
So thank you friends, my virtual “parenting village”, for sharing ideas, articles, and videos about this topic. I feel I am a better parent for reading what you sent. I’ve posted the pieces below for anyone interested and I describe the main points that hit home for me. But I strongly recommend reading through them on your own.
- Tolerance.org (shared by Suzanne Parker Miller, a true social justice warrior) – This is a website intended for educators with thoughtful information about addressing prejudice and bias within our culture. In my short time on the site, I looked through a lesson plan about teaching “Reliable Sources”. It encourages teachers and parents to introduce the idea of bias in the media and have kids start asking “who can I trust?” As an example, they have you ask the child, “who would you go to for help fixing your bike? A person who rides a bike once in a while, or a person who owns a bike fixing shop?” With how content-saturated our world is today, I can’t imagine how hard it will be to find reliable information when my kids are adults. I loved this idea of talking about trustworthy news sources. It reminded me of my assignments back in journalism school.
- THIS WEBPAGE on the Read Brightly website shares a list of books that focus on civil rights. I bought “The Other Side” by Jaqueline Woodson after reading the reviews on this site (pictured at the top of this post). I read it to Evy and could hardly read the last page because of the frog in my throat. It’s beautiful and allowed us to have a thoughtful, age-appropriate conversation about the fences people put up. I hope to find more books like this one that encourage thinking outside of our bubble. Hopefully my children will remember me in the same way my friend Jenn Smathers Coull remembers her mom. “One thing my mother always strongly believed was that empathy isn't innate; it has to be taught. So she read me lots of books when I was too young to read and I reached for them myself when I was older. Books about people with disabilities, people in situations with less, people who lived lives I never would. I know that's not entirely the answer but it's a big part. I believe it’s a good place to start.” I do too Jenn!
- THIS was my favorite article of the bunch that was shared. Mostly because it’s easy to read and gives lots of ideas for parents wondering how to take action against hate. The author stresses that staying silent about race is not the answer because children notice patterns at a young age. Without an explanation “young children infer that the racial inequities they see are natural and justified.”
- THIS article, “Raising Social Justice Warriors” that I mentioned above, was shared by Jeanne Flynn, another warrior for equality. Even though I was apprehensive to read this at first, I am so glad I did. It should be on a “must-read list” for any parent. The author challenges you to first ask yourself some hard questions. No matter how compassionate we believe we are, everyone has preconceived prejudices. We need to understand our own intolerance before we can teach tolerance to our kids.
- Please watch THIS VIDEO that Shane Bazer shared. It shows just how quickly prejudices become acceptable to children. If you think you can ignore these hard topics, watch this and think again. It’s fascinating.
- A fellow Durham mom, Autumn Boyner, shared how she resists the bubble by sending her children to public school. “And if our assigned school changes with redistricting, we plan to send our kids wherever they're assigned. So far, public school has provided us with challenges but not overwhelming ones, and our kids are finding out a little about how different (and similar, at the same time!) other families' lives are." I'll admit that education is a difficult issue though, especially where we live in Durham, NC. The schools don’t have great ratings and I understand when parents want to find something that fits their child and family. But I do agree with Autumn that the public school system would provide many opportunities for exposure to other cultures and lifestyles. It’s a tough thing for parents to decide. I met one dad that was set on putting his child in a public school, but when he toured the institution in their district, he said he couldn’t do it. “Maybe it was a bad day, but none of the teachers seemed engaged, like they were just going through the motions,” he said. I totally understand wanting to find a place that inspires your child to learn. If a school doesn’t do that, then the benefits of diversity won’t matter. We will face this decision in a year when Evy starts kindergarten and I hope we find a place that inspires her curiosity and desire to love.
If anyone has other ideas or articles to share about teaching social justice to kids, please send them my way. I plan to do more follow-ups to this follow-up because it's an issue I'm passionate about.
As always, thanks for reading.