As a Lower School, we are committed to making Waynflete a place of belonging for all students, families, and staff. In our continuing work on anti-bias and anti-racist teaching, we know it takes intentional work to reach this goal. It requires us to uncover and challenge our own biases, and to include diverse voices in our curriculum.
We have the benefit of many resources in this work. We had some fantastic leaders in the field of educational equity work with us during our opening meetings this past August, and many teachers engaged in faculty-led work this past summer. We are continuing our own learning this school year through professional development led by both outside experts and Lower School faculty who bring knowledge and passion to our work. Our work is guided by a shared goal to raise children who are critical thinkers and problem solvers who will work to make their communities more just. We are learning that it takes more than teaching children to be kind. Using what we know about child development as a guide, we need to help children understand their own and others’ identities, teach them about the value of diversity, and help them create justice through action.
We also think about how privilege shapes our understanding of a topic. For example, someone who is financially stable may worry that learning about poverty will be too upsetting for their child. But if a child in poverty is old enough to understand what it means to not have enough, a child who isn’t living in poverty is old enough to understand that the problem of poverty exists. To work toward a world that is just for all people means that we will sometimes feel uncomfortable. Wrestling with discomfort can help propel us into action.
We know that many parents are curious about what anti-bias and anti-racist teaching look like in practice at Waynflete. Here are some recent examples from our classrooms:
An EC student asked a teacher about a family photo hanging on display in the classroom: “Is that a girl or a boy?” The teacher responded, “Have you ever heard of someone who is both a girl and a boy?” The child said no, and the teacher told him that that’s what this person is. Looking at the picture, the student said, “She looks like a girl because of her hair and face.” The teacher affirmed that we do often see girls with long hair, but that even though they have long hair, that still doesn’t make them a girl. Last, the teacher shared, “Because this person isn’t just a girl, I don’t call them ‘she,’ and because they’re not just a boy, I don’t call them ‘he.’ Instead, I call them ‘they!’” The teacher followed up with the parents of the student, sharing about the conversation so they could understand the context and be ready for any questions that might come up.
Jack Not Jackie, by Erica Silverman, sets the stage for conversations about the gender spectrum. Listening to this heartwarming tale about change and acceptance, students shared their own stories. It was clear that they are acutely aware of gender stereotypes.
Advisors embark on what they call the Identity Project, where students consider themselves and all of their unique characteristics. A display inspiredby the book Only One You, by Linda Krantz, celebrates traits that can be changed versus things that “just are.” Children are developing a sense of their own identity and engage in dialogue about what they notice about themselves. This starts them on the path to developing their own healthy sense of self and having empathy for others.
Peter Reynolds’s book Say Something! sets the stage for students to grapple with the concepts of fairness, equality, and justice. Being careful observers of the world around them, students shared examples of injustice we have seen:
- People not able to get the medicine they need
- People not being able to love or marry the people they want to
- People not treated fairly because of the color of their skin
- People not being able to get the medicine they need
Students then developed their own definition of social justice and examined connections between social justice and social action.
Hanging on the walls in a classroom is chart paper depicting the class brainstorms:
What is identity?
- What you think of yourself?
- What you want to become?
- Who you are not
- Who you are/what you like
What is bias?
- Associations/habit of mind
- Assumptions: culture, looks, gender
- Fear—the familiar and the unknown
These are the themes that launched the Immigration thematic study. The class is reading the novel Front Desk, an honest account of the ups and downs of immigrant life in America in the early 1990s through the eyes of ten-year-old Mia Tang, who fights for what is right and just, and against racism, poverty, and bullying.
The teachers are also using the book The Power Book: What is it, Who has it, and Why? to prompt discussions around the age-old questions of who has the power and what do they do with it.
Through our stories, and the stories of others, we engage with one another and strive to listen, learn, and empathize. Stay tuned as we share more about how the themes of identity, diversity, justice, and action are infused in our day to day lives and curriculum in the Lower School!