“Our Anti-Bias Curriculum,” by Ingrid Chalufour

Ingrid Chalufour brought the message at Durham Friends Meeting on February 4, 2024

Today I bring good news. Your money for children’s books is well spent. The 7 teachers who worked with us this fall have completed a process of using books to help them create an anti-bias classroom community. Basically, we have layered an anti-bias approach onto what they already do to create community. A definition:

“Anti-bias curriculum is an approach to early childhood education that sets forth values-based principles and methodology in support of respecting and embracing differences and acting against bias and unfairness.” From Teaching for Change

Note that we not only introduce injustice but we let children know they can do something about it.

The teachers received books about kindness; books that elicited empathy including topics such as homelessness and bullying; books that introduced all kinds of diversity (race, ethnicity, family structure, gender). They wrote reflections for us about the use of the books and the children’s responses. In conclusion, they wrote reflections about the impact of the whole unit. Their stories have provided evidence that the books do have an impact on children’s learning and on the teachers as well. I will share a few quotes:

Jeanne, who teaches a combined 1st-2nd Grade wrote, “I see that my work has had an impact this year because… my students feel comfortable asking questions and sharing ideas about the similarities and differences between us. I think the sense that any of these topics (race, ethnicity, language, religion, other aspects of culture…) are open for discussion and wondering is a key aspect of the anti-bias classroom. The other key component is the idea that we can each make a difference…. We all have such a long way to go but pure curiosity, without judgement, in a space of caring is how we start the journey.”

Aja, a PreK teacher wrote, “The books and conversations we had helped create a safe space where our ideas are not right or wrong but used to build knowledge from one another. We found joy in our physical differences and people colors are now widely used and discussed in the classroom. Children went home and talked about learning about melanin. We challenged some biases around gender stereotypes, abilities, and family and home structures. The kindness book was a wonderful book to read over and over and was such a simple yet helpful book in establishing a caring classroom community.”

From Emma another 1st-2nd Grade teacher, “I believe that because I made an effort to have open and honest conversations about identity, the children became more comfortable talking about the different ways they identify and the different ways people in their community identify. We spent time defining words like ‘empathy’, ‘race’, ‘diversity’, ‘community’. I know the majority understand these words because when I first asked what they meant, few students raised their hands and their answers were off-base; now when we have conversations revolving around those topics, it’s clear that we don’t need to define them because they are either a) using those words, or b) able to answer the questions I pose that contain those key words. I think in these early stages of language acquisition, this is a critical piece.”

Finally, from Kate a Kindergarten teacher, “Adding this layer has made me look more closely at the curriculum in order to figure out where could I weave in these books, so along with content students are experiencing, accepting, celebrating differences.”

We, the work group, are continually learning from the work of the teachers and from the consultants who are informing our journey. The teachers work this fall has taught us that spending time on creating an anti-bias classroom community is an essential foundation to the social justice work that follows which is exploring the Black experience in America and Wabanaki studies, with attention to care of the environment.

As we move from creating community to this new work about People of Color, we are introducing racism. Some ask why do you introduce 4- to 8-year-old children to racism. A primary reason is that small children are keen observers of the world. They are noticing similarities and differences and forming opinions, making judgements. When their judgements are made in the white dominant culture, they can begin to discriminate. At the same time these children are very quick to see unfairness. It is the perfect time to introduce the unfairness of racism. The question we have tackled recently is how do you do this. Young children are concrete thinkers so you must scaffold the message, moving from experiences the children can identify with to more abstract concepts like race. It is also essential to our approach that introducing any injustice is accompanied by the idea that you can do something about it.

Recently I happened upon a book at Curtis Library that does all of this. It is just the perfect book as our teachers transition to their new topic this winter and spring so we bought one for each of them and I will share it with you now: Our Skin, by Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli and Isabel Roxas.

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