Hearing a child’s unfiltered comment about race and religion directed at another child in her class, Nadia Jaboneta was momentarily stunned:
“I thought of the dozens of anti-bias trainings and workshops I had been to, and the anti-bias workshops that I had facilitated with my colleague, Brian. During all of these trainings, we’d explored how young children learn about race. We practiced ways that we could respond to children when comments about race or other differences came up. But this wasn’t a workshop; this was real life, with real children with real feelings about their family and cultural identities. I wasn’t practicing now, and I wanted to get it right. But here I was, at this crucial moment at the lunch table, tongue tied from nervousness!”
With deep reflection, Jaboneta pursued courageous conversations about race, racism, and religious diversity with children, parents and colleagues and ultimately crafted a learning story as a starting point for further conversations. In it, she writes,
“In the Coyote classroom, we value celebrating diversity, traditions, and holidays. Educators and parents have learned that, between the ages of three and five, children begin to develop stereotypes about themselves and others. Children are influenced by everything that they see around them (television, books, advertisements, adult behavior, etc.). As the adults in these children’s lives, it is our responsibility to help children respect each other, themselves, and all people.
Jaboneta’s account and the entire learning story are included in the short book You Can’t Celebrate That!, part of the Reimagining Our Work (ROW) book collection. Join Jaboneta and co-hosts Sara Gilliam and Kirsten Haugen in a live online Engaging Exchange exploring themes from the book on November 29, 7-8:30 PM US Eastern time.
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Absolutely, Francis. Reading beyond what's quoted above, Jaboneta relied, in part, on schema theory to help the children's parents understand what happened, the very over-generalization you mention. The whole book revolves around not what the children did but how the adults responded. I admire Jaboneta's commitment to grounded reflection which enabled not only the children but the parents and her colleagues as well to grow through her response to one child's snack time remark.
The article says that children between ages 3 and 5 begin to develop stereotypes about themselves and others. Actually, all preoperational children (2-7 years old) use what is called schemas to begin to make sense of the world - everything they are exposed to. Initially, ALL of these schemas are stereotypical and over-generalizations, not just those about race and diversity. Children develop more accurate schemas as they are continually exposed to concrete examples of the phenomenon or construct that they are trying to learn. From my experience raising four multiracial children, the biggest problems were not from other children, but from teachers and other experts who themselves did not understand the dynamic and complex nature of race in the US and racial identity development.