As members of the religious Society of Friends (Quakers) we have a deep and abiding concern for social justice and racial equity. Values such as community, equality, and harmony are central to our approach and advocating for social justice in the greater community is an important expression of our values. This project grew out of a series of discussions focused on becoming antiracist in the fall of 2020.
What is the Social Justice Enrichment Project?
Participating teachers are given a set of children’s books that focus on the development of social justice values in children ages 4-8. Teachers join us in teams from schools in the Durham Friends Meeting catchment area. They are able to use the books to enhance their social studies and language arts curriculum as they chose. Support is provided through periodic meetings with teaching teams and educational sessions focused on child development and creating inclusive anti-bias classroom.
What are the project goals?
The books will help the children:
- Gain understanding and appreciation for diverse peoples and ways of life
- Build an empathic way of viewing life situations
- See the value of working collaboratively for the benefit of all
- Learn about people who work non-violently for justice and equity
- Learn the importance of appreciating and caring for the natural world
- Learn some history of the Wabanaki peoples of Maine and other Indigenous people
- Learn some African-American history, including stories from the struggle for civil rights
- Find acceptance of themselves and others by seeing representation in books
- Learn that every family is different and all families support their children in different ways
Why a focus on young children?
Children in the early elementary grades are developing the values that will guide their behavior throughout their lives. They are focused on fairness and learning to play games with winners and losers as well as working together collaboratively. They are participating in group settings which require rules to function smoothly and equitably. Some Maine children are participating in school communities that are increasingly diverse, but at the same time see mostly white people in positions of power. Other children have no diversity in their community. In preparing our children to be part of the global economy we want them to have familiarity with people from backgrounds different from themselves. When diverse cultures are not represented in the classroom, children’s literature offers experiences of other cultures and ways of life, past and present.
Thanks to the work of Black Lives Matter, The 1619 Project, Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Wabanaki Reach, The Anti-Racist Movement and many others, publishers have begun to produce many new social justice books for young children. New publishing houses are also emerging to meet the demand. It is now easy to find diverse 21st century families portrayed realistically in children’s books. We have chosen books that are:
- Developmentally appropriate for 4 to 8-year-olds who are in public Pre-K, Kindergarten and Grades One and Two.
- Wonderful children’s literature; often Coretta Scott King, Ezra Jack Keats, Caldecott or Newberry Award winners. The authors will be from the group represented in the story, for example Ambreen Tariq, Hena Khan, Jerry Pinkney, etc.
- Aesthetically engaging and illustrated by members of the group being portrayed in the story, for example Floyd Cooper, Mehrdokht Amini. Maine illustrators are sought, e.g. Daniel Minter, Ashley Bryan.
- Reflect social justice issues which Maine children experience, for example: friendship, civil rights, homelessness, immigrant, refugee and asylee welcome, anti-bullying, water rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights, Indigenous People’s rights, climate change, Wabanaki history, African-American history.
We buy hardcover books whenever possible, ensuring their longevity in the classrooms. Teachers comment on how rare it is for them to have beautiful hardcover books. We have benefited from a 20% discount at Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick.
New Mainers –We have also given books to the Angolan and Congolese children who came to Brunswick and Bath in 2019. This project has its own booklist.
Our work group is Margaret Leitch Copeland, Cindy Wood, Wendy Schlotterbeck, Jeanne Stinson, and Ingrid Chalufour. We are grateful to the Durham Friends Meeting for funding this important work. If you have further questions you can contact Ingrid Chalufour at email@example.com.