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Teaching Children About Social Equity

group of diverse school kids

I am writing this on Martin Luther’s King Day. It is a day where our country pauses to think about the civil rights movement. I just ran across an article from PBS about this idea and thought it contained some good historical references that we all can remember and reflect upon.

In his stirring “I Have a Dream Speech” at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin…” At the time, his four little children were 7, 5, 2, and 5 months old. King, and his wife Coretta Scott King, were activists who led from their ethical and spiritual beliefs, as well as from their experience and dreams as parents.

In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King wrote about the moment their eldest daughter, Yolanda, asked to go to a local amusement park: “You suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your 6-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes that Funtown is closed to colored children.” In explaining to their young daughter why they could not take her to the amusement park, they also reiterated the importance of their activism: “You’re not able to go now, but Daddy’s working on it, and one day we will be able to go.”

In some ways, we’ve had positive developments on issues like going to a theme park. Yet we have a long way to go when we think about how we think about other ethnicities. I think of the discord we have all over the world and in our country where acts of bias and violence are continuing to occur on so many levels politically, socially and practically. This has effect to children and families that are sometimes devastating. As we know, this kind of bias and violence so influences our children in how they perceive their world and how they are taught by their parents and peers.

Here are some ideas about how we can help our children become equitable.

Children should be taught to acknowledge and value differences.

Children as early as 3 take notice of skin color. They have questions as to why? Often those questions need to be answered and certainly not left unanswered. By addressing differences, adults can help affirm them and dissuade negative judgments, stereotypes, and treatment because of them. 

Children should learn fairness and sharing.

In the book, “Parenting for Liberation: A Guide for Raising Black Children,” professor and mother Tiffany Lanoix shares, “You can make any kind of conversation about equality more relatable … by connecting it to the idea of fairness.”

Teaching children about fairness plants a seed that can later be expanded to discuss racism, classism, and other issues of inequity.

Children should be encouraged to nurture imagination.

Parents and caregivers can provide children with tools and experiences that expand their imagination and engagement with the world around them. Read stories that reflect positive images of themselves and others and tell histories outside of their own personal or educational experiences. Create a dream with young children and reap the benefit of their vast imagination of what the world could be.

Children should be encouraged to have empathy and compassion.

Parents and caregivers can make it a practice to cultivate kindness and compassion with children. Children can also relate to caring for friends and wanting them to be treated with fairness.

As we consider social equity and have the opportunity to help our children view their world with a positive lens for others, these simple ideas could help us develop a much more equitable world even from the point of view of a child. It’s a good beginning to honor our civil rights and equitable point of view for our country and our world.

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