The Foundational Principles of Anti-Racist Early Childhood Education
For children to have an anti-racist early childhood education, many steps must be taken by parents and educators. Some of these steps occur before children even set foot in school. From equal access to quality education to the language surrounding how children speak about race and culture, here are a few foundational principles of creating an anti-racist early childhood education.
- Equal access to quality education
All children do not have the same levels of access to high-quality education, daycare, and after-school programs. For the most part, children of color, children who do not speak English as a first language, special needs children, and children who live in poverty don’t have access to the same quality of educational programming as their middle- and upper-class, white counterparts. Ensuring equal access to quality childcare and education is the first foundational principle of anti-racist early childhood education.
- Equal access and treatment within educational programs
Just because equal access to daycare or educational programs is enforced doesn’t mean children are treated equally or have the same access to education once they are enrolled in a program. For example, it’s a known fact that black children are punished more frequently and more severely than white children. Studies show that black preschoolers are nearly four times more likely than white children to be suspended, despite black children comprising significantly less of the total student population than white children. Educators must strive to treat all students equally regardless of race.
- Promote every child’s racial and ethnic self-worth
Some parents and teachers may be uncomfortable with the idea of their young children discussing race and ethnicity in the classroom. The most common argument against this style of classroom learning is that children are too young for these types of lessons or conversations and that kids don’t recognize racial differences. But research shows that even infants can recognize differences in skin tones, and by the time they are toddlers, they can group people by physical characteristics.
By age five, when many children are in daycare and kindergarten, children have already been introduced to cultural and racial stereotypes and are capable of aggressive behavior against others who are not within their racial group. Educators need to structure lessons, activities, and guided conversations around race and ethnicity that affirms each student’s identity and promotes self-worth.
- Challenge Eurocentric curriculum by recognizing silenced groups
Western history has a harmful tendency to “whitewash” lessons that paint European and white historical figures in a flattering light while silencing or negating the contributions of people of color. An anti-racist education must include the full stories of all historical figures without bias based on skin color and should pay special attention to promote previously neglected social groups.
- Recognize children’s ability to discuss race and work to deconstruct any racist teachings
Again, research proves that children can recognize and learn beliefs about race at a very young age. Anti-racist early childhood education requires having open conversations about race and culture and working to dismantle any learned racist behaviors or beliefs.
If racism is learned, then it can be unlearned as well. Instead of learning racism, children can be taught inclusivity and a strong sense of self-worth from a racial standpoint at an early age. With these guiding foundational principles of anti-racist early childhood education, future generations may have a different outlook on race, both for themselves and others.