Before midwinter break, our Early Childhood teachers attended a wonderful conference by the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America, entitled:
TOWARD A KINDER, MORE COMPASSIONATE SOCIETY: Black Lives Matter in Waldorf Early Childhood Classrooms and Communities.
The theme was especially relevant in light of events of the past year, and as Black History Month reminds us all to intentionally & thoughtfully take action towards racial equity, recognition, and affirmation year round. And while DEI work is ongoing at our school, the feedback from our teachers after this learning experience shared a common thread: we must do more.
Since our full faculty did not participate in the conference, we asked the EC teachers to share their impressions and reactions from the weekend.
What did this learning experience mean to you?
What was the most impactful moment?
What was a new piece of awareness you gained?
Why is it important to you that your classroom is diverse & affirming for all?
How do you hope to see our school grow in DEI work?
Or anything else you’d like to share!
Below are some of these reflections in their own words, that we felt should be heard by our entire school community:
From Teacher Sarah Fox
“I would like to see more visual examples of BIPOC around our school, in our libraries, and grow a community where they feel welcome. Mostly I feel a new responsibility to educate and talk with our white students about race and gender.
[This is] a letter I wrote to the Sunflowers group. I was so inspired by the conference that I wanted to pass on my enthusiasm right away.”
“Dearest Sunflower Parents,
This past weekend the other early childhood teachers and I had a wonderful opportunity to tune into the WECAN conference titled “Toward a Kinder, More Compassionate Society: Black Lives Matter in Waldorf Early Childhood Classrooms and Communities”. The keynote speaker, Laleña Garcia, a beautiful, brilliant and compassionate Kindergarten teacher in New York City, works with her class “helping young children think about big questions like “What is equity?” “How do we take care of each other?”
There were many rich take-aways from this weekend but perhaps the most notable for me is the concept of “implicit vs. explicit”. Put simply, children begin to learn about race and gender roles when they are as young as 3 months old (see graphic below) and continue to grow and learn about race and class systems by reading the environment around them implicitly. By not talking to our children about race we are reinforcing the dominant narrative that white is the normal and that talking/learning about race is taboo or uncomfortable. Instead we need to explicitly talk with our children about race. It’s not enough to stay silent; we need to teach them how to become anti-racist.
As a cis-gendered white woman who grew up in Washington and has lived in predominately white cities and towns, I did not get the opportunity to talk or learn about race through my environment much. Does that make me feel qualified to talk about race now? No! Does that mean that I should avoid the topic with our children? No! This work is hard stuff. Examining our own experiences and beliefs calls for us to dig deep. But just like learning to do anything new it takes practice. Laleña encourages to start simply. Here are a few ideas…
- Talk!!! If you see your child looking at someone who is different from them you could say “I see you noticing that person. I love your curiosity! Their skin is brown; isn’t it amazing how skin can be so many different and beautiful colors!
- Books!!! Reading or letting a child explore books that feature children and families of different colors or genders can open a window for them. Here are a couple websites where you can find more diverse books: Where are the books about Black Kids in Nature; Wee Read Diverse Books
- Color!!! Add some new skin tone crayons to the set…. Beeswax Skin Tone Crayons
Since February is a month about celebrating and sharing love I could not think of a better moment to share these thoughts and ideas with you. May we all work together to build a world where everyone feels loved and accepted. As Steiner has said “Receive the children in reverence, educate them in love, and send them forth in freedom.”
From teacher Mary Corcoran
“[Keynote Speaker] Laleña Garcia posed a question to us that has really been resonating with me:
How can I as a WHWS community member better support BIPOC families and children entering our school? And before they enter? I would also extend that to gender diversity as well.
This question will never have a final answer. It needs to be on a sticky note on the bathroom mirror and reflected upon then acted upon everyday. My first step will be to take an inventory of my classroom. How does it feel to walk into it now…?
From the workshop I took, How Do We Walk In The World: Reconsidering the Good, Beautiful, and True, 3 Seeds for Thought were offered:
- Anthroposophy (The spiritual science of Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogy that brought forth Waldorf Education) is not the last book you read. Anthroposophy is the next person you meet. Carry the realization that everything I have come to so far is the result of an encounter with another person. Anthroposophy is about the social realm.
- There is no such thing as other people’s children. This includes the children who are not in front of us as well.
- Two quotes to reflect on: “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…. This is the inter-related structure of reality.” - Martin Luther King from the Birmingham jail, 1963
- “I am no longer interested in guilt. Guilt is a luxury we can no longer afford.” - James Baldwin
I also wanted to share a couple things that would be (I think) awesome for a grade school class. If I had known that this conference was going to be as potent for all teachers, not just EC, I would have surely sent you all the registration form…
- Have the children in your class do an inventory of the books in your room, even our library. How many show people of color? Other gender identities?
- Have a discussion with your students. How do you think things could be more fair/equitable?
It seems to me that individually we need to be literally awestruck by the truth, beauty, and goodness beyond ourselves to come to the universal reality of truth, beauty, and goodness that surrounds us. It’s then that we can be ambassadors of this reality for children or anyone else we meet. This is as crucial in our work today as it has always been. Yet I feel the urgency a little more intensely now.”
We are grateful to our colleagues for engaging in this important work with open minds & loving hearts, and for sharing these often difficult truths. As a faculty, we continue to examine our role in perpetuating and dismantling social & institutional inequities, and we are always seeking ways to make our classrooms antiracist. Throughout the school year, we will be sharing the various ways in which these commitments are put into action.
If you have input or ideas to share, we welcome your voice! Please reach out to our Care & Commmunity Committee.