I can still see the giant smiles on my students’ faces as I snapped their pictures on the playground equipment with a couple of giant, bright green and blue, polka dotted balloons. They were more than happy to spend their normal class time making silly faces and pretending to fly up into the sky with the balloons—their contributions to our classroom door’s decorations for Read Across America Week.
My students loved this week, probably because they were encouraged to come to school in themed costumes celebrating the characters and stories of Dr. Seuss.
My theme, year after year, was inspired by Oh The Places You’ll Go. And, if my students are anything besides silly and fun—they are readers. It’s been seven years since I decorated my portion of an elementary school hallway for Read Across America Week, and it will be another three before I do it again. I hate to state the obvious, but a lot will have changed by the time I return my post as a classroom teacher.
The biggest change? I am now the mother of three Afro-Latina girls and therefore even more passionate about diversity and inclusion in the school setting than I was before.
Please don’t misunderstand me—I have always advocated for diversity and inclusion, but having children of your own changes everything. The idea of sending my own children into another teacher’s classroom, full time, five days a week has intensified the sense of urgency I feel to do my part in supporting teachers as they teach diversity in the changing social landscape.
Another change? Read Across America Week has distanced itself from Dr. Seuss.
There is no way to put this delicately, but a closer examination of the author our culture has lifted up for decades shows blatant racism. The more aware our society becomes of racial bias throughout our country’s history and it’s persistence into this very day—the more often we are going to have to answer some questions about what matters most.
For this educator, what matters most is equality and justice.
This means, that when issues of racism in texts and teaching come up, we have to be willing to go there. They have to be acknowledged for what they are so that we can all move forward and do better. As painful as it may be, these issues will continue to come up, because education is a social institution that continues to be impacted by our country’s regrettable history around race.
And when such issues do arise, a question worth asking is, How can we do this better now?
Read Across America seems to have found an answer—it appears they have moved away from celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday in March and instead shifted to a year long reading campaign around the theme Create and Celebrate a Nation of Diverse Readers. I’m here for it.
If you are a parent or educator who is excited about creating and celebrating a nation of diverse readers, but not sure how to begin—you’re in the right place!
I have a few ideas to get you started, and I am committed to teaching about diversity in the classroom and out, to kids and grown ups alike. I am excited to both share what I know from my personal experiences in a multiracial/multicultural family and learn alongside you going forward.
Suggestion Number One—Go, and listen to new voices.
I mean that literally, you should definitely listen to stories about diversity with your children. Bookmarks on Netflix is a fabulous option (my girls love this show). There is also KidLitTV which offers podcasts and read alouds for kids, many of which feature diverse authors and characters.
Suggestion Number Two—Go, and get friendly with your librarians.
We are on a first name basis with our librarians. Ms. Nicole, Mr. Travis, and Ms. Corinna have read stories to our girls pretty much their entire lives, and they are always happy to help with a book recommendation.
Our local library does a phenomenal job highlighting diverse authors, illustrators, and characters, but in case yours doesn’t, here is non-exhaustive, short list of awards given out for diverse children’s literature. Pro-tip: If you find a title that you would like to read, but your library doesn’t have it, ask your librarian how to make a purchase request.
- The American Indian Youth Literature Awards
- Coretta Scott King Awards
- Pura Belpre Award
- Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature
- Middle East Book Awards
- Lambda Literary Award (LGBTQI literature)
- Schneider Family Book Award
- Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards
Suggestion #3—Go, and let the children in your life see what it looks like to be a lifelong learner.
This is one of the most powerful things you can do to create and celebrate a nation of diverse learners. As grown ups we are always modeling something for our future leaders to learn. Let’s make it something meaningful. If you haven’t already tried this with reading, writing, piano practice, etc., you will be surprised at how quickly kids catch on and join in!
The best educators, whether professional or parental, are reflective practitioners.
That means they are constantly asking themselves hard questions like,
- Where are we going?
- What is most important?
- How can we do that better next time? And,
- Are diverse voices represented in our reading?
I am committed to supporting parents and educators like you figure out how to teach diversity so our children can go places where they can lead with understanding and respect for those who are different from them, even when it’s hard.
If there are specific questions you have, resources you need, or problems I can help you solve, please let me know in the comments or send me a message!