04 Aug An Open Letter to White Early Childhood Educators, Advocates, and Administrators (and anyone else who wants to read it too)
Yesterday I read this powerful and heartbreaking post by Dr. Kim Parker. Before you go any further, please go and read it.
Okay, here we go.
I read this post and my heart hurt so much for Dr. Parker and her little boy, and for every story represented by the horrifying expulsion rates of black boys from preschool. And as I read, I felt anger and concern and judgement against the teachers of that preschool. “I would never”, I think. Did you think that too?
Except, here is the thing. Those teachers are us. They are you, they are me. And if I called one of them up, I am certain they would tell me that they had reasons that it wasn’t racism, that they are a good person, that they mean well, that it wasn’t a match. We may think, “I would never” but chances are we did and we do.
No one wants to believe they are racist. No one wants to believe they are part of a racist system.
Do you teach?
You are part of a racist system.
Even if we go to work every day, love each of our kids, teach them the best we can, we are still part of a racist system, and therefore the problem.
Dr. Parker poses questions that parents should ask schools. She says,
“Call out racism and bias in preschool and early childhood education (use the resources listed above to make your case). Ask for expulsion data, disaggregated by race and gender and use it to ask probing questions of a school. If there is already a pattern of expulsion for Black boys, your child will be no different. Sorry, he just won’t. You are not the problem, and neither is your sun. Have those people who are holding you up use their own power and experiences to call out the schools and other institutions who, unless we start speaking up, get away with pushing Black boys out of preschool.”
We the white teachers, administrators and advocates, we who are the problem, have the responsibility to do this ourselves. We have to ask ourselves hard questions, we have to get past our white knuckled hold on “its not me” and realize it is. It is. It is you, it is me, it is us. Only then can we ask, “How do we change this system?” And then we must listen, we must listen to those we have failed. We have failed and we must learn do better.
Face the discomfort. Study your classroom, your school. your recess. Who ends up getting redirected? Why? Who gets sent to time out, or the peace chair, or the cool down corner (or whatever nonsense we are calling isolation and shaming these days)? Why? In what ways is our PROGRAM, our SCHEDULE, our LANGUAGE, and our EXPECTATIONS failing children? How are we recreating an environment of oppression and exclusion? Is it possible what we thing as the “right” way, may in fact, just be the “white” way? The status quo of the privileged and the powerful?
One black child expelled from preschool is an indictment on our practices. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. Dr. Parker shares an article in her post that I will quote here:
“… it was found that the three best predictors of preschool expulsion were the three B’s: “big, Black or boy.” That is, teachers are more likely to recommend preschool suspension or expulsion when the child is black, a boy, or is physically bigger than their peers.”
I do not want to say that I know this to be true, but I know this to be true. So do you. We all do.
As we start this year, I ask us, the white early childhood community to stand up and speak out. To critically examine our classrooms, to see when a child is struggling that WE are the ones that need to shift, listen, adjust and learn. Vow to break the cycle, destroy the mold, dismantle the system.
We are not the heroes here. There is nothing heroic about ending the disproportionate suspension of black boys. We need to stop being the problem, the source, and the perpetuation of the racism we hide behind when we think we are being fair. School is broken. Early childhood is broken. Only when we name that and sit with that can we even think about fixing it.
Thank you Dr. Parker for sharing your story.
White educators, administrators, and advocates, carry this story in your heart every minute of every day. This is on us.
Thanks for reading.