What Is Fair? Books That Help Children Understand Diversity
Hasegawa, Jack, New England Reading Association Journal
What is fair?
Books that help children understand diversity
Accommodating diversity in literacy instruction through interactive writing
English language literacy: Motivating culturally diverse students to improve reading and writing skills
Finding ways to jumpstart early literacy
Managing and monitoring the rest of the class during guided reading: Three literacy educators share their stories
Writing in the elementary school: The missing pieces
It is tempting to think that young children are free of bias and that race doesn't matter to them. Parents are often surprised and mortified by their children's responses to differences. Little children sometimes begin pulling up the corners of their eyes, or throwing karate kicks, or suddenly begin speaking in a weird singsong gibberish upon seeing my Asian American face. Horrified mothers in supermarkets grab their kids and hustle down another aisle, whispering furiously. One young father brought his teary five-year over to apologize. When I've visited schools, teachers have taken giggling pupils into the hall for some quick instruction on diversity awareness.
An acquaintance recently told me that his six-- year old daughter had announced one night that she hated Black people. When he asked why she hated them, she answered, "because they are mean". He described his efforts to get her to remember that she had a good friend at school who is Black, and that her friend is not mean. He was quite pleased with the result of his efforts, since he felt that he had helped his daughter to see that there were good people and bad people of every color. "You see," this proud papa said, "I taught her that they're not all bad. Some of them are ok!"
When children respond to racial and perceived cultural differences at an early age, the question is not how to suppress their attempts to explore these differences. It is also not enough to demonstrate, however lovingly, that there can be particular exceptions to stereotypes, especially when the child ends up with a clear sense that her friend's goodness is an exception!
The real question is how we can help children acquire emotional and intellectual information about people who are different from themselves. Trying to make your eyes slanted or inventing sounds that sound like a foreign language are ways that children have of trying to see what it feels like to be someone else. Overgeneralizations and stereotypes provide easy answers when children struggle to place people with unfamiliar skin color or cultural identifiers like headscarves or turbans into their developing sense of the social universe. The child's universe of social meaning can be complicated by parental hostility toward African Americans or endless news coverage of the danger posed by terrorists in turbans.
Books by and about people of color are one important resource for nurturing children's understanding of America's diversity. Reading and being read to are powerful ways to help children make sense of their experiences and observation, even in this age of television and video games. In fact, books that explore the experiences of minority groups in America can provide a more leisurely, imagination-stimulating counterpart to television and video games. Those media most frequently heighten stereotypes - Black tap dancer, Asian Kung Fu fighter, Latino bandito, and Indian chief. Black, Asian, Hispanic and Native Americans are mostly seen on television as exotic enemies, and our most popular video games and computer games mainly teach kids how to kill those enemies!
Today's children (and their teachers) have a wonderful and growing array of books that provide deeper and richer explorations of the lives of a wide variety of Americans. They range from stories that focus on ethnic experiences and others which tell stories in which race is not a central factor, even though the protagonist in these books is a child who happens to be Black or Asian or Latino or Native American. …