Published In

Wow Stories

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2017


Children's Literature, Education -- Research -- Methodology


As an educator, I often hear teachers suggest that young children are not “ready” to tackle controversial topics such as race, racism, and racial identity. Reasons are oftentimes stated, such as “that’s not developmentally appropriate” or “they’re too young to understand that concept.” In direct contrast, the last sixty years of educational research indicates that children do understand the concept of race at a very early age (Clark, 1988; Derman-Sparks & Ramsey, 2011; Goodman 1952; Katz, 2013; Proshansky, 1966). Yet often adults, including parents and educators, do not recognize children’s ability to understand race. Most teachers--particularly White teachers--have difficulty talking to children and educators about race and racism (Copenhaver, 2000; Glazer, 2003; Lewis, 2001; Pollock, 2004; Willis, 2003). As a result, many educators have adopted a color-blind mentality-- denying or minimizing the impact of race on an individual’s experiences--believing this is the most effective way to deal with race, racial inequities, and racial diversity in schools (Bakari, 2003; Banks, 2006; Husband, 2012; Milner, 2010; Modica, 2015). So why does the silence around race in education matter? Although color-blindness might appear positive on the surface, in reality it has negative consequences for students when their racial, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic differences are widely ignored (Hawley & Nieto, 2010; Sleeter, 1996; Tatum, 1992). Further, since the 2016 presidential election, hate violence, as well as incidents of harassment that are racial in nature, are on the rise. The Southern Poverty Law Center (2017) refers to this rise in racially charged events as the “Trump Effect.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (2017), 867 hate incidents were reported just in the first 10 days after the election, of which the majority occurred on university campuses or in K-12 schools. Pollock (2008) argues that educators need to talk directly with students about race and racial disparities-- specifically causes and solutions-- to eliminate disparities altogether. As a result, I became curious about how elementary students experience lessons on race, racism, and racial identity. Using the children's books The Colors of Us (Katz, 2002), Shades of People (Rotner, 2009), All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color (Kissinger, 2014), and Skin Again (hooks, 2004), I engaged firstgrade students in conversations about defining race, racism, and their own racial identities. The literature was used as an entry point for engaging in the taboo topic of race. Steele and Cohn-Vargas (2013) point out that literature can be a means for providing an entrance for talking about all kinds of differences and creates possibilities for open-ended discussion about race and culture.


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