Growing up a Puerto Rican girl in the Bronx, I never noticed the curriculum I was being taught wasn’t diverse. We had text books written in flat factual voices. My teachers were mostly white, and for the most part, seemed to enjoy the topics they were teaching. I didn’t hear about Latino contributions to our society but occasionally I would hear about Civil Rights and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I moved south later in life and still didn’t think much about it. I decided to become a teacher of young children. I enjoyed how young children thought outside the box and would freely share their thoughts on any given subject without much filter.
During my student teaching, I chose to read Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Bill Martin. It’s pretty much a classic in early education classrooms. Afterward I planned to have the students retell the story and work on sequencing skills.
Most of the students could tell me what came after the bear…the bird… etc… then came one little girl. She knew which animals came next without any prompting by me. But when we got to the Purple Cat, she couldn’t recall what came next. Finally I gave her a hint. “It was white …” She finally had a look that said I know ! And said, “the teacher!”
She was a four year old child of color and that’s what she recalled.
That was my first awakening of the need for diversity in what we present to our students. I thought back. Did I present anything to these kids that reflected them? Gave them hope to aspire to be great influencers in our world? Was I given that in my own education? Sadly, no.
I recently visited a school that does diversity well. The head of school told me, “We don’t strive to be diverse simply to check off a box. We strive to be diverse because we believe it is the best education for all students. When we have diverse points of views, it makes our students think and reflect on their own opinions – it expands their thinking and that makes for the best education for all of them! When we talk about civil rights with a classroom full of white students we cannot grow in our appreciation and understanding of that in the same way we would if we had the voices of Black students included.”
Now I want you to think back on your own education. How old were you when the hero of a book you read was Black? Latino? Asian? Native American? Have you read any books that reflect this diversity to your own students?
I’m currently teaching in a public Prek classroom. It’s a program run by the state for children who are mostly considered at risk. They can’t afford your typical private prek and if they don’t have any opportunities to catch up now to their four year old peers, the chances are low , they ever will. All of my students are Black.
Like most prek classrooms, we cover topics like Weather, Trees, Inventions, Space… We just finished our study on Space. To begin with we taught them about the moon, stars, astronauts, planets … they made their own constellations
They chose their favorite planet to paint:
And spaceships …
“When I grow up I want to go to Space like Mae!” one of them said to me. Who is Mae? Before I answer that I need to tell you how I approach our lessons and how I am now purposeful in what I choose to read. During this study we had books already on the Sun, Earth, planets and Astronauts- but we had none that reflected the community of my students – so I searched and then I found it!
This book was perfect for my young learners! It wasn’t just a book about the first female African American to go to Space but it began with her as a young child- looking up- dreaming – and despite what others said- she listened to her parents tell her – If you dream it, believe in it, and work hard for it, anything is possible.
It takes time to find just the right books to include in your most likely already set curriculum- but it’s so needed. Not just for children who never get to see themselves as the heroes, but for all children to see that anyone can achieve – anyone can strive – anyone can be the hero!
Each of us, from every culture, are so unique – with so much to offer. Isn’t it time we celebrate that in our classrooms?
If you’re on social media – consider following the tags #diversebooksmatter #weneeddiversebooks #diversebooksforkids