Thank you for your very thought provoking post. I am a professor of education and a former preschool teacher. I also work with the East Side Institute, a not for profit research and training center that works to develop more humane, progressive, and developmental approaches to human development. As I preschool teacher in a predominantly white and middle to upper class preschool I also found the response to suddenly talking about segregation and racism on MLK Day disturbing and unhelpful and I began having more open and honest conversations all year long.
And yes these conversation are messy and I would add that they are assumption filled--as adults (of any race) we assume we know what children mean by the words they are saying and we tend to respond to them as if they have had the same life experiences we have and therefore mean the same thing by the words. I think the messiness (and power) comes in working with the children to create the conversation/the environment where we can, together, discover what a conversation about race is like between very young and not so young people in this moment in this context.
I remember an African American girl in my class (Eupha Jean) who went around saying she wished she were white and the work I did to not deny her feelings about that but to explore with her why she might feel that way and to not just assume I knew what she meant by that and to also giver her that it made me sad that she felt that way. The conversations required me being open and honest with her instead of politically correct.
This post reminded me of a workshop I led over ten years ago for a preschool in New York City. My colleague and I (both of whom were white) were called in to work with the parents and teachers of the children in the 4 year old class because, as the director said, there had been "a number of racist incidents among the children." An African American colleague urged us to help people to see that a 4 year old saying something about "the black kids" did not have exactly the same meaning to either the white children or the black children that it had to the adults and that responding to it as if we knew what it meant would shut down the conversation with the kids, rather than open it up.
Thanks for the chance to respond.
I liked the link to math instruction, although we both know that math isn't taught very well either, but I know what she means. Its a challenge to the hypocrisy and dichotomy between color blindness as a politic and the politic that is taught around the history of racism.