Get Them While They’re Young: An Idea Toward Creating An Anti-Prejudice Future


The recent incident with the Arizona elementary school mural and the city councilman who hated it with his racist, racist ways got me to thinking about how it always feels to me that no matter how many minds I change via this blog or through personal interactions, it still may not be enough. There are too many people who are mired in their mindset and never have it challenged because of where they live, or who they associate with, or whatever. It might be possible to write those people off except they have children, and they teach those children either directly or by example. And the cycle continues.

So how do you combat this? One of my thoughts was that if we could teach young people about the concepts we discuss here — privilege, unpacking the knapsack, the different levels and manifestations of prejudice, bias, and bigotry — could we give them the tools to combat them or, at least, change on an individual level?

I know such efforts occur on a college level. I have a piece in a book about key debates around race (though I’m not sure when that book is coming out). Though I wonder if this is too late? Or even enough?

Kids in elementary school deal with or perpetuate bias, so shouldn’t we start with them? Of course, kids that young might not be able to fully grasp concepts of privilege (adults seem to have a hard time). What I envision is a multi-step, multi-grade curriculum designed to teach different aspects of anti-prejudice thinking and behavior appropriate to the age level. Elementary, middle school, high school, then college. You’d have two tracks — one for kids who progress from one level to the next, starting in elementary, one for kids in middle and high school who get these lessons for the first time. As far as college goes, I think every school needs to have a mandatory freshman class on Understanding the Other.

This learning scheme will not only be about race but also gender as well. And higher level materials will also include sexual orientation, class, religion, and more. And there should be discussions and lessons for kids who are likely to be the target of prejudice on how to deal with it effectively. I would also love to see materials for kids of color that specifically deals with intra-POC relations. because it’s not as if there aren’t issues there, too.

There are three aspects to this curriculum that I see as key.

  1. Books. We need different ones for each learning level as well as teacher materials and activities. While my choice would be for each child to have a book they can keep, it might be more effective to aim for each school getting books they can re-use.
  2. An online component. Since there are always new essays, blog posts, and amazing discussions online, there should be a repository for links or full text that teachers and students can also access. This way the books won’t have to be updated as often, but the curriculum can remain fresh. I feel a wiki would be the most useful in this regard, as that would make it easy to categorize posts, articles, and essays and make interconnections between them.
  3. Independent teachers. As much as I would wish that existing teacher could implement this curriculum, I know this would not always be the case. For many schools, it might be more useful if outside teachers came in and taught during one class period — perhaps for the one devoted to social studies? — for one week twice a year. Obviously the optimal situation would be throughout the year and all the time. But you have to start somewhere. The teachers wouldn’t have to be full-time in this case. Professionals who get the training necessary and could take a week off from their job or part of the day for a week to teach. I expect this would work best in any area where the program is just getting started.

To get started on something like this one would, of course, need money. We’ll need folks to come in and help design the curriculum for each age level, we’ll need folks to write, design, and print the books and materials, we’ll need teachers. And since all the news I hear about public schools is how people keep taking their money away, I assume that the best strategy for getting this into schools is to offer it at no cost. So, privately funded.

The whole time I was thinking about this, I was sure that I can’t have ever been the only one with this idea. And someone must have implemented it somewhere. i’d love to know, if anyone out there is aware of such things. I’d also like to know how they pulled it off, what the results have been for the kids.

This idea and the structure I’ve envisioned may not be perfect or exactly right. But it’s an open source idea. Build on it, improve it, whatever. What I want the most is for people to get together and make it happen. How? I am not even sure. I’m willing to have someone tell me. Or even just to go out and do it. I don’t need to spearhead.


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Get Them While They’re Young: An Idea Toward Creating An Anti-Prejudice Future

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4 Responses to Get Them While They’re Young: An Idea Toward Creating An Anti-Prejudice Future

  1. 1
    Max says:

    I’ve wanted something like this ever since I first started learning about racism, sexism, etc. My childhood education about racism was basically “everyone was stupid and mean until about 50 years ago, when MLK Jr. told them not to be”.

  2. 2
    Robert says:

    The type of anti-racism education you’re talking about is extremely politically charged. You could get a watered-down version of something like this in a few school districts. Everywhere else, it would be open parental revolt.

    Also, the public schools are (fairly or not) widely perceived as being marginally able, at best, to competently execute their core mission. The constituency willing to believe they could add another major educational mission without damaging an already-bad performance is microscopic.

    Thirdly, as you note, adults are resistant to the “privilege” concept. Children, with less cognitive competence at seeing large systems and far less background information about the world, will very largely reject privilege-based arguments as being contradicted by their own daily experiences. Middle-class white kids see their dad working on Saturdays to try to be indispensable so he won’t get laid off and their mom fretting over which bills to pay this month; the idea that these people got to this position by being the lucky privileged ones will be a hard sell to their kids.

  3. 3
    queenrandom says:

    I think it’d be a great idea – if I had children that age I’d totally sign them up for it. Sometimes it isn’t enough to be an anti-racist/anti-sexist/anti-bigotry parent, because kids pick up all kinds of crap from their social groups/teachers/coaches/grandparents (ugh) etc. and I think something that could help teach kids how to stay strong with their convictions in those situations would be really helpful. While I don’t think college is too little/too late, I do believe the majority of bigoted thought patterns are learned and reinforced much earlier than the late teens to early 20’s.

    I also had to chuckle at this: “My childhood education about racism was basically “everyone was stupid and mean until about 50 years ago, when MLK Jr. told them not to be”.” Yeah, that prettymuch sums up mine. Also “everyone was stupid and mean until about 50 years ago when women got some rights and now they’re all liberated and sunshine rainbows happiness!”

  4. 4
    Jenn says:

    I think with young children, any attempt to introduce them to concepts like privilege and -isms isn’t going to get very far. They just aren’t cognitively capable of understanding things on a systemic level like that.

    Empathy, though- that, they can understand. And that lays the foundation for actually listening to other people’s experiences and giving a crap, which is necessary before any other social justice issues can be effectively introduced. That, and basic exposure to the images and stories of people different from them from a very young age, are where I would start in the elementary and middle school grades.