Opinion | Susan Knopf: Equity education begins at birth | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Susan Knopf: Equity education begins at birth

I’ve been listening to the conversation about “don’t say gay” and the anti-critical race theory concerns.

I’ve been cogitating. These weren’t the focal issues when my kids were in preschool or elementary school.

We sent our kids to a Montessori, partially because the school promoted diversity. Both faculty and students represented diverse groups. There were several Indian teachers and students. Everyone studied and participated in Diwali celebrations.

I confess, despite my California roots, I was not excited about the Day of the Dead activities. I’m still not a fan of all the mainstream art with skulls. I don’t find that aesthetically appealing. It’s not something I want to wear on a T-shirt or hang up in my home. Just saying.

All these diverse activities helped my children to grow their sense of the world. They now enjoy a far more diverse circle of friends than I had growing up.

I can still remember a former college roommate talking on the phone about her new Jewish roommate: me. She was using a public phone. Back then, we didn’t have cellphones in our pockets. She faced into the phone booth with her back to me. When she walked into our new shared dorm room, I recognized her immediately. She was the one who just said, “No, I’ve never met a Jew either.”

I was defensive. I said, “Do you want to see where they cut off my horns?” It wasn’t an auspicious start, but we became friends, and I later stayed with her and her husband in their home, long after graduation.

The bottom line is that teaching diversity, experiencing diversity is a community good — even if you don’t think so. Such study and experiences take us out of our comfort zones.

Ever see the meme showing a little bubble called “comfort zone,” and there’s a bigger bubble right next to it called the “learning zone?”

One thing we all need to learn – young children are the perfect age to begin their educational journeys – is to embrace all our neighbors: those who speak another first language at home, those whose skin is a different color, those who have two dads or two moms and those who may choose to identify as a different sex than the one printed on their birth certificates.

Upper Blue River Elementary Principal Robyn Sutherland wrote me in an email, “We are a ‘No Place for Hate’ school where we teach students to be kind to one another, accept one another’s differences and do what is best to meet the needs of all students.”

The National Association for Education of Young Children favors equity in educational opportunities and diversity promoted in the classroom. They advocate this for children from birth to age 8.

The association website states, “Advancing the right to equitable learning opportunities requires recognizing and dismantling the systems of bias that accord privilege to some and are unjust to others. Advancing the full inclusion of all individuals across all social identities will take sustained efforts.”

For the record, Summit School District shares these concerns and is working to promote:

  • Representation: Amplifying multiple points of view, primary sources, authors and characters of color and other systematically marginalized identities
  • Justice orientation: Curriculum will acknowledge historical and current bias within the content and history of the field and aim to engage students in critical thinking in the service of creating a more equitable and just world.

I think a lot of people have a hard time accepting the idea of white privilege. Look around: We experience privilege. We are privileged to live in a land that has not been wracked with war. When I was in college, my friend Vi, a woman of color, told me about her childhood in inner city Baltimore. I knew at once I experienced a childhood of privilege, even though I had never felt privileged growing up. Privilege comes in many forms and often is unacknowledged.

When we begin to acknowledge this privilege, this luck of birth, we can begin to feel empathy for someone who may not have been so lucky. We can begin to repair the world, as we Jews say, Tikkun Olam. We begin to repair what is not working and lean in to create a better world that works for all people regardless of race, religion, sex, economics, place of origin or sexual orientation.

We can do this. It can be painful to admit that we have not always done this, but our past does not define us. We can still create a better tomorrow, a better today.

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