Teacher Attitudes Toward Immigrant Students and Families

Hooray!!! It’s Real World Wednesday again! This week we have the pleasure of learning from and with Molly McManus.Slide1

Molly is a doctoral student studying educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on early school experiences of young children from immigrant and/or marginalized families and immigrant and/or marginalized parents’ experiences supporting the development, education, and well-being of their young children. Molly also holds a BS and teaching credential from California Polytechnic State University and an MA in Human Development, Culture, and Learning Sciences from UT Austin.

Before her graduate studies, Molly worked as a Spanish-English bilingual second grade teacher in Oakland, California. One of her favorite parts of teaching was working with the families of her students and learning about their hopes and dreams for their children. It was in Oakland that she witnessed and began to understand the challenges that immigrant and other marginalized families face early on in the US education system.

In the current political climate, Molly is particularly concerned about potential negative effects of anti-immigrant and deficit attitudes towards immigrants on young children and their families. We asked her, “How do school and teacher attitudes towards immigrant students and their families affect the well-being and academic performance of young children?”

Here’s her answer:

Experiences in early education programs are foundational for all children, and young children of immigrants are no exception. In these programs, children begin to develop beliefs about themselves as learners and as members of their new community. When their formative early years are influenced by experiences of discrimination and/or negative, unwelcoming attitudes from teachers and schools, children’s academic, emotional, and developmental well-being can be compromised.

The degree to which young children of immigrants are welcomed, or not welcomed, into their new schools and programs is also known as their context of reception. Negative contexts of reception have been shown to result in lower motivation and lower academic achievement among immigrant students. Unwelcoming environments can also keep immigrant parents of young children from engaging with teachers and schools and hinders their ability to make the educational decisions that they believe are best for their children.

Alternatively, when young immigrant children enter positive environments they benefit from positive outcomes across multiple domains. These positive contexts of reception include valuing children’s contributions, offering them intellectual, creative, and culturally responsive learning opportunities, and authentically caring about their and their family’s well-being. In these welcoming environments, children are more likely to create positive connections to their surroundings, are more engaged with curriculum, and are more likely to achieve academic success later in their educational careers.

In our current political climate, there seems to be more concern about the damage immigrants can inflict on our schools rather than the ways that schools are capable of harming immigrant students. But the truth is, research shows that immigrant students and young children of immigrants do not have negative affects on our schools systems.

Unfortunately, the opposite is not true. Teachers and schools have the power to create negative, restrictive environments that limit children’s learning and future opportunities. But they also have the power to welcome young children of immigrants into creative and caring environments that value them for the beautiful diversity they bring to our classrooms, schools, and communities.

Thank you so much, Molly!  Such important information!

Welcoming gender non-conforming children

Happy Real World Wednesday! This week we get to hear from Sarah Meytin!!!Slide1

Sarah is an ordained rabbi with an MSW. She has been in early childhood education since 2009, currently serving as assistant director of a Jewish preschool in Washington, DC. In 2013 she earned a National Director’s Credential from the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership. She has also completed the Jewish Early Childhood Leadership Institute (JECELI) In 2010, Sarah founded Rockville Open House, a safe space for LGBTQ Jewish teens and their friends/allies, which meets monthly at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington.

We asked her: What can early educators to do make preschools welcoming for gender non-conforming children?

Here’s her insightful response:

A person’s gender or gender identity is their understanding that they are a boy, girl, man, woman, etc.. One’s gender identity is something known instinctively and may or may not “match” a person’s external genitalia, chromosomes, or what the doctor wrote down on their birth certificate. Children as young as 18months know their gender identity, and may understand their identity to be different from the gender they were assigned at birth. Gender expression is what we call the outward manifestation of gender, and is culturally determined. Gender expression includes the clothing, hair styles, personal preferences, and other “stereotypes” we associate with a particular gender identity.

The terms gender non-conformity or gender variance indicate that one’s gender expression does not match exactly, or at all, with the expected, or stereotypical, expression expected for one’s gender. In young children, this may include young girls who refuse to wear dresses or cut their hair very short, or boys who dislike sports and are more inclined to draw butterflies and rainbows than dinosaurs and trucks.

Creating Safe Spaces

To get you started creating safer and more welcoming early childhood programs for gender non-conforming young children, here are some tips:

  • Educate yourself about gender identity, gender development, and sexuality.
  • Allow each child to self-identify, including using their preferred pronouns, gender identification, and name preference
  • Help parents to understand that most gender variant young children will outgrow this identity by the time they reach puberty, but some won’t.
  • Expand assumptions of the gender-variant child and others: Remind them that they are “a different kind of boy (or girl)” and that there are “different ways to be a girl (or boy).” Be sure to educate other children, staff, and the parent community as well.
  • Provide social support, including with other staff, parents, and other kids in the class
  • Do this by emphasizing diversity and inclusiveness of all kinds, and with everyone in the community.
  • Have gender neutral bathrooms/changing rooms.
  • Avoid dividing children by gender – instead use birthday month, clothing color, letters of first/last name, etc.
  • Provide resources, including books, that show diversity of families as well as gender expressions

To learn more, we recommending checking out the resources below and consider attending Sarah’s session, You Belong Here: Welcoming gender non-conforming children, at this year’s NAEYC Annual Conference.

Important Reads

Resources for Classrooms

Same-sex parents

  • King & King by Linda de Haan
  • Two Dads: A book about adoption by Carolyn Robertson
  • Daddy, Papa and Me by Lesléa Newman
  • Mommy, Momma, and Me by Lesléa Newman
  • And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
  • The Family Book by Todd Parr

Gender Variance

  • My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
  • The Different Dragon by Jennifer Bryan
  • Jacobs New Dress by Sarah Hoffman
  • It’s OK to be Different by Todd Parr
  • Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
  • Be Who You Are by Jennifer Carr (for elementary school children)

Wow!  This is fantastic!  Thank you Sarah!

From fear, shame, and silence to courage, love, and voice

This week on our Facebook page we shared links to a number of videos and resources to inspire us to shift from fear, shame, and silence to courage, love, and voice.  Enjoy!

Sunday

“Let me tell you what we think about children. They’re hardwired for struggle when they get here. And when you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, ‘Look at her, she’s perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect — make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh.’ That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say, ‘You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.’ That’s our job.”

Monday

“We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don’t”

Tuesday

“the moment I realized something was different about me was the exact same moment that I began conforming and hiding.”

Wednesday

For the full talk, click here.

Thursday

“The most important thing that you’ve got to do is remember the difference between the ‘what they did’ conversation and the ‘what they are’ conversation.”

Friday

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.”

from The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action (excerpt) by Audre Lorde

Saturday

“Each day, my Black skin feels a bit thicker and even more beautiful. I am growing more confident in using my words as a weapon to fight the fear that used to steal my voice on dark days. I am sharpening my tongue, as Black women have done for generations before me, because I refuse to be rendered voiceless in the face of state apparatuses that seek to destroy Black bodies and lives.”

from For Black Girls Who Are Trying To Find Their Voices by Maya S. Zeigler

Real World Wednesdays: Nominate Yourself!

Every week on our Facebook page, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)’s Diversity & Equity Education for Adults Interest Forum features the1237573_1665296367093424_4950231286415187138_n work of an outstanding member of our community to highlight salient “real world” issues at the intersection of early childhood, diversity and equity.  What we learn from these conversations is then posted to our Blog, allowing us to continually build our body of collective wisdom.  We call these segments Real World Wednesdays.

Our growing community is full of so much collective wisdom and experience! Please consider sharing your perspective in an upcoming Real World Wednesday segment.

You can this form to nominate yourself or someone you know:

2016 NAEYC Annual Conference: Call for Proposals!

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 1.50.00 PMDear Diversity & Equity Education for Adults (DEEA) Interest Forum Members and friends,

Proposals for the 2016 NAEYC Annual Conference & Expo in Los Angeles are due this Friday (1/15) and we’d love to see a robust offering of sessions related to diversity & equity issues in early childhood care and education.  Information about how to submit a proposal can be found here.
Let us know what you’re submitting, and we’ll do our best to promote your work!

What is Christian hegemony?

It’s Real World Wednesday and this week we get to learn from both Talia Cooper & Hadar Harris!!

Talia has been working as a Jewish youth educator and organizer for the past nine years, first as the executive director of Jewish Youth for Community Action, and now as the program director for Ma’yan and a youth trainer for Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. 1929869_1659933880963006_4840128724977366613_nShe is currently reading Paul Kivel’s book “Living in the Shadow of the Cross” and is excited to share some of her learnings about Christian hegemony and how it connects to our work with youth.

Hadar currently works as the Executive Director of the Northern California Innocence Project where she works to to create a fair, effective and compassionate criminal justice system and to protect the rights of the innocent. From 2002 – 2015, she was the Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law. She is also the mom of two young boys.

This week, we asked them: What is Christian hegemony? How does it show up in schools? How does it impact kids? And what can teachers do about it?

Here are their incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking responses:

Hello awesome people. My name is Talia Cooper.

So what is Christian hegemony? It’s a fancy sounding term that basically means Christianity is considered the norm while all other religions and peoples are, well, other. Christian hegemony is also the larger term that encompasses anti-Semitism, islamaphobia, and the oppression of other religious minorities. Note that a person doesn’t have to be a practicing Christian to still benefit from the bigger system.

Christian hegemony says things like, “Christmas is a normal, American holiday.” (Christian hegemony is also intertwined with white supremacy, which would say, “normal Americans are white.” Paul Kivel goes into more detail about the connections between Christianity and whiteness). I brought up Christmas because it’s often easiest for people to notice Christian hegemony during this time of year. But the reality is that Christian hegemony runs much deeper, affecting each and every one of us year-round, both institutionally and interpersonally, all the way down to our core psyches.

So how is Christian hegemony showing up in schools & affecting kids? Some examples include: requiring kids to make Christmas ornaments and sing Christmas songs, having no school on Christian holidays, giving tests and quizzes on other peoples’ religious holidays, and having SATs on Saturdays.

But it’s even more complex than that. Here’s one way Christian hegemonic thinking shows up in schools:

It is a Christian ethic that hard work is good and will be rewarded (and conversely that laziness is bad and will be punished). This ethic in Christianity often refers to the afterlife, but in a secular Christian culture the concept shows up as reward and punishment in this life (we see this in political rhetoric all the time, like with the notion of “welfare queens” being lazy good-for-nothings). In my Jewish culture, for example, we believe that there is inherent goodness in all people and no one needs to work hard to prove this. I should say that I know plenty of Christians who also believe this, but what I’m talking about now is the dominant Christian narrative that has invaded all of our institutions and thoughts—not individual Christians. (I’m really not trying to get down on Christians here, and neither is Paul Kivel).

Paul Kivel always used to say to me, “Hard work is just hard work. It’s not inherently good.” Dictators work hard. Donald Trump works hard (sometimes). Oil companies work hard. So are they doing good things for the world? No.

And yet we continue to teach kids the virtue of hard work.

Does that mean that we should instead teach them to do hard work that is actually good for people and the planet?

I suppose that would be an okay next step.

But for me, I believe that people inherently want to work hard and contribute to their communities. This is because doing nothing is boring. Being connected to people, deepening those connections, and finding our strengths and passions—now that’s a fun life!

I don’t think we have to drill it into our kids that they have to work hard, because most people are capable of figuring out on their own how to lead an engaged life. My friend, Megan Madison, reminds me that she has never seen a lazy baby; young ones are constantly squirming around, making eye contact and engaging with their environment.

But we don’t foster this. Instead we latch on to the dominant Christian ideology that hard work is good and should be rewarded. Then we administer rewards and punishments as needed. Kids who don’t fit the education system are told it is their fault and are punished. Kids who do succeed work themselves tirelessly. This is a disservice to everyone.

Here’s an example of how “hard work” plays out in our education system: a kid who does lots of community service and volunteering is rewarded in the college admission process. A kid who really focuses on taking care of their health and on building amazing friendships will not be rewarded in this process (and likely punished for not having extra-curriculars).

So what can we do about it? Well, big picture, I think we need to reshape the entire education system, from pre-K through graduate school so that we’re not simply producing hard workers, but instead fostering connected, curious, loving, liberation-minded beings. Let’s work together towards that!

whiteness7

And in the meantime, here are two other things we can try:

  1. Take out the morality and talk about logical consequences. There are different outcomes for different choices we make. For example, if we don’t brush our teeth in the morning, this does not make us a bad person worthy of punishment. Instead, not brushing teeth has the possible short-term outcome of stinky breath, and dental health issues in the long-term. The outcome of being mean to a kid in a classroom is that that person will feel hurt and it might take away from your own learning too. The outcome of having unprotected sex is that you could get very sick and/or pregnant (again, these are not punishments for being a sinner, they are just outcomes). Does that make sense? Take out the moralistic thinking. Just assume that people are inherently good and awesome, and that they might need help thinking through possible outcomes.
  2. Encourage rest and play. In addition to the regular subjects, be sure to include games and creativity as well! Teach kids to notice when their bodies need rest. Teach that playing games, making friends, creating art, and taking care of our bodies are things we get to do the rest of our lives. Teach these as highly important topics.

Start or keep doing these two things and you’ll be on the team of liberation and ending Christian hegemony.

Wow!  Thank you, Talia!  Here’s Hadar’s take:

It’s Not a War on Christmas – It’s a Campaign for Diversity!

My children were born in Washington, DC and they grew up in a “very Jewish” community for their first 7 and 8 years, respectively. Jewish day school.  Kosher markets.  Shabbat dinner with friends and family every Friday night. Even “Sunday Little League” so as not to interfere with Saturday synagogue time.   That said, they had non-Jewish friends and lived in the larger world, but life was definitely on a Jewish schedule.

This past August, we moved to the Bay Area.  I moved back to the Bay Area (I grew up here) but the boys moved here.  And while Leo started second grade at a Jewish day school, Adam started third grade in a small school for bright kids with learning differences.

It is a great school that has been transformative for his learning, but it has also been transformative in other, unexpected ways.  Mostly, his awakening recognition that he is a Jew, living as a minority in broader American culture.

Adam easily found good friends in his class of twelve boys and the transition was remarkably easy for him, but as winter break approached, we had a tearful bedtime discussion (when most important conversations seem to take place).  He was agitated about the school “Holiday Extravaganza” concert and oddly, asked me if he could stay out of school “for a week or so after break.” I asked him what he meant since Christmas would be over by then, and he launched into an apparently long pent-up monologue.  I posted on Facebook that night as my heart broke for him.

Here we go: Nine year old boy experiencing his minority religious status for the first time. Painful, heartfelt weeping about feeling excluded and judged because he does not celebrate Christmas (he is the only Jew in the class). Significant fear of being ridiculed because he will not receive Christmas presents (and everyone is already comparing notes about what they will receive – apparently some nasty comments have already been made). Frustration and annoyance of feeling invisible at a time where everything is focused on a set of traditions he does not observe (I offered to go into the class to talk about Hanukkah but the teacher never scheduled it). That said, no request to actually celebrate Christmas (good, since we don’t). No begging for a Christmas tree (unlike some family members who shall remain nameless…) There were real tears in this conversation. Another hard moment when childhood confronts reality and the world becomes a little bit harsher and more complicated…

That night I also emailed his teacher and the top school administrators, describing Adam’s reaction and concerns.  The response was swift but somewhat unsatisfying, particularly in light of the fact that I had already asked the teacher if I could come in and share our Hanukah traditions with the class (to which I had had no response). His teacher (who is wonderful in so many ways), assured me of her efforts “to remain “holiday neutral” in the classroom.”  She told me that the “Holiday Extravaganza” concert “will not be simply a celebration of Christmas. The class numbers are all about the “winter season” (lots of snow stuff)…”

And yet when I walked into the school the next day, I saw the overwhelming evidence of Adam’s feeling of “otherness.” The teacher had put “The 12 Days of Room 3” on their classroom door.  Against a red backdrop, she had made twelve windows, like an Advent Calendar, representing each of the 12 boys in the class.  Each day, they opened another window as they counted down to winter break with a short poem about each boy (they were all boys) and a picture of the kid with his favorite Star Wars or Minecraft or other figure.  At the bottom of the door it said “Happy Holidays” and there was a picture of a Christmas tree – and a menorah. It was cute – but it was clearly Christmas.  In addition, the school’s main office was decorated with snowmen dressed in red and green, poinsettas, and a banner saying “Merry Holiday.”  All week before the break, teachers were dressed up with reindeer headbands and ugly Christmas sweaters. It may have been cloaked in snowflakes and the non-denominational classic “Jiggle Bells” but it was 100% Christmas.  Let’s be honest: we don’t have snowmen or reindeer in Palo Alto – even in the era of climate change…

Further explaining her curricular efforts at “holiday neutrality”, Adam’s teacher wrote: “All of our morning journal entries have been on topics like “tell us about a holiday tradition you enjoy with your family”, “what are you looking forward to doing over the break”, and “if you could give your parent(s) any gift what would it be”.”  I realized then, that while she felt that she had truly tried to be sensitive, the pull of “Christmas hegemony” (if not Christian hegemony), and the lack of understanding of other traditions was too strong.  She didn’t “get it” that her “neutral” questions were loaded and still marginalized or excluded some of the kids in the class – maybe most especially, mine.

That said, the same week as the Holiday Extravaganza, Adam and his classmates presented their reports on the California Missions (a rite of passage for California students). The hegemony of Christmas may have been in full force, but at least the presentations and posters acknowledged the egregious abuses against the Native Peoples by the missionaries.  That certainly wasn’t part of the reporting and research when I was growing up in California.  It gave me some hope.  I guess as much as some things stay the same (Christmas), there is hope for the recognition of diverse experiences and maybe even diverse traditions someday.

Three Quick Tips for Educators/Parents:

  1. Fried latkes do not smell the same as pine needles.  Hanukah is not the Jewish Christmas.  Neither are Diwali or Eid.  None of “us” have Christmas-substitutes.  They are different holidays with different traditions and different stories underlying their creation
  2. “Holiday Neutral” Doesn’t Mean Adding Menorah Clip Art. To truly be “holiday neutral,” the central holidays of all students’ religious (or non-religious) traditions should be equally observed, discussed and respected.  These may not all occur in December (indeed, they don’t).  For the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah (usually at the start of the school year) or Passover (in the spring) are much more important holidays than Chanukah. Purim (with hamentaschen and costumes) is much more fun! Other religions have holidays like Diwali and Eid which are wonderful, tradition-rich holidays enabling true sharing of values, beliefs and traditions (not to mention (more) great food!) Valuing the key holidays of all religions enables more neutrality than simply creating Christmas add-ons to make the non-Christian kids feel a little better. Also, by highlighting other traditions before Christmas, that may sensitize the Christian children to a broader diversity of traditions (and might inspire them to be more tolerant) before the overwhelming Christmas-Is-Everywhere month of December begins.
  3. Schedule the “Winter Concert” for Actual Winter.  There is no reason that the Winter Concert needs to take place before winter break.  Indeed, winter doesn’t technically start until after the December 21 solstice – and by that time schools are usually on holiday (they were this year!)  By scheduling the concert before Christmas, there is pressure (perceived or real) to perform “holiday” (i.e. Christmas) music which will inevitably exclude – or essentialize – someone.  It’s still winter in January. Schedule the damn concert after break!

From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU, Talia and Hadar!