At the Diversity Forum at Long Ridge School in Stamford, CT – from the left, William Bevacqua (ABCD), Kris Bria (head of Long Ridge School), Charles Tisdale (ABCD), Susan Snyder (Total Learning Institute).
I was part of an extraordinary panel on Diversity and Responsibility at Long Ridge School in Stamford, CT last evening. The following are my prepared comments. Also attached are links to the websites of other panelists. The topic is huge, so I hope you will contribute your perspective to the discussion.
Thanks so much to everyone for arranging this important panel, and for your welcoming invitiation.
My particular task is to identify the impact of diversity education on early childhood development. And perhaps we could look at this the other way around – how does early childhood development demand diversity education?
I work with educators, crafting curricula that are not the literacy, math, science, music, visual art and other content per se, but rather the delivery systems themselves. HOW we deliver the content is equally critical to the content itself, and it is here that education shapes children’s attitudes around diversity.
Let’s consider 3 points:
• Development: Getting ready to learn
• Learning environments that celebrate cultures of one
• Adult influence on children’s learning communities
Common thought at one time was that children were little adults. They are not. The brain is not fully developed at birth, and grows more over the first 3-5 years than the rest of our lives. What is learned first is learned best – whether right, wrong or different.
A healthy, learning brain develops when a child feels safe and valued – challenged and loved. Ed Zigler, the father of Head Start, identified the systems that impact a child’s learning – the child her or himself, the family or living group, the school and the community. When all of these surround a child, that child is ready to learn. Without them, the child cannot focus on learning.
The Learning Environment:
This child comes to school, not with a blank slate, but a as a culture of one – with all the experiences to date, as the child has processed them.
If a safe environment, with absence of threat, is a prerequisite of learning, it is HOW content is delivered as well as WHAT is delivered, that will result in learning. Diversity education is not separate from the curriculum, it is how the curriculum is delivered. How are the adults speaking to the children? Is there accommodation for differences? What is done when there is conflict, unkindness, judging, or cliques? How are groups guided to work with one another and value the contributions of each child? How are children guided to do what they know is right, and not follow the crowd? To be independent learners as well as collaborators? Do they spend enough time together in conversation to know one another?
Kids are kids, but they have many differences. Socioeconomic status, gender, culture, learning styles, aptitude, interests. Adults influence children by what they do and don’t do. Children learn to judge others sometime between 2 and 3 years old – on the playground or in the sandbox. They watch adults for cues – every gesture, expression – those things we are unaware of. A small kindness can mean the world, the smallest mean gesture can cut like a knife. In Total Learning, our professional development and parent work teaches not content, but at first how to be nice. Our culture is so uncivil, so harsh –
So we start with ‘be nice.’ That seems like the right place to start – and do it from the very start. But being nice is not sufficient – we next set the standard for how we do things in OUR community of learners. It’s not complicated – respect, kindness, engagement, responsibility –
But it does require work. And not a drive by shooting in diversity – a long-term commitment to developing relationships and maintaining dialogue around the hard, uncomfortable topics.
If it’s not done early, the damage is lasting, and today’s nasty culture is the result. This issue is not a choice; it is essential.