Key Points for Talking About Class & Race with Children
1. Be welcoming, open & inquiring
Children's comments, questions and experiences (including the things we wish they wouldn’t say) are opportunities to talk, listen and learn. The goal is to find out what children are thinking and to give them permission and language to voice their ideas and impressions.
2. Be concerns-based
As with all conversations with children, developmental and emotional readiness should determine what we do and don't say - what's appropriate and what's effective. Our responses should be tailored to the particular child/ren and particular situation.
3. Be empowering
Conversations about economic and racial injustice should always include ideas about how children can respond and that adults are available to help.
The most essential teaching for children to absorb is a sense of hope and possibility. The content can be hard and heavy, but we can address it lightly. Provoking guilt or fear does not empower young people to tackle the challenges of prejudice and injustice.
4. Be inclusive
Class and race should be framed as about “all of us,” not through the majority group lens of “Us/Them.” Though our experiences may be very different based on the groups we belong to, everyone has a class and racial identity and everyone’s life is affected by class and race, whether we are aware of it or not.
5. Address systems, social roles and power
Classism and racism are not the same as "being mean." Prejudice based on economic status, and on skin color and racial features, is a universal human tendency, but classism and racism are not just personal, they are collective and institutional as well. In order to process their own experience and to develop effective skills, young people need age-appropriate information about how U.S. society advantages upper income and white people, and disadvantages lower income people and people of color.
If the adults caring for them do not offer concrete, direct, and bold language, guidance and models for counteracting the dominant culture's messages about class and race, children's attitudes and behaviors will be formed by these influences, and they will act out the class and racial roles that society has assigned them.
6. Offer ourselves as role models.
In order to lead these conversations, we adults must be willing to challenge and shift our own attitudes and behaviors, and offer our process of examining class and race in our own lives as a model that children can look to and learn from.
- Teaching for Change - Building Justice Starting in the Classroom: Teaching for Change encourages teachers and students to question and re-think the world inside and outside their classrooms, build a more equitable, multicultural society, and become active global citizens.
- "A World Full of Color" - resource library of books featuring people of color
- “An Updated Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children's Books” by Louise Derman-Sparks