My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s a Tomboy.

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CreditRicardo Funari/Brazil Photos/LightRocket, via Getty Images

“I just wanted to check,” the teacher said. “Your child wants to be called a boy, right? Or is she a boy that wants to be called a girl? Which is it again?”

I cocked my head. I am used to correcting strangers, who mistake my 7-year-old daughter for a boy 100 percent of the time.

In fact, I love correcting them, making them reconsider their perceptions of what a girl looks like. But my daughter had been attending the after-school program where this woman taught for six months.

“She’s a girl,” I said. The woman looked unconvinced. “Really. She’s a girl, and you can refer to her as a girl.”

Later, when I relayed this conversation to my daughter, she said, “More girls should look like this so it’s more popular so grown-ups won’t be so confused.”

My daughter wears track pants and T-shirts. She has shaggy short hair (the look she requested from the hairdresser was “Luke Skywalker in Episode IV”). Most, but not all, of her friends are boys. She is sporty and strong, incredibly sweet, and a girl.

And yet she is asked by the pediatrician, by her teachers, by people who have known her for many years, if she feels like, or wants to be called, or wants to be, a boy.

In many ways, this is wonderful: It shows a much-needed sensitivity to gender nonconformity and transgender issues. It is considerate of adults to ask her — in the beginning.

But when they continue to question her gender identity — and are skeptical of her response — the message they send is that a girl cannot look and act like her and still be a girl.

She is not gender nonconforming. She is gender role nonconforming. She does not fit into the mold that we adults — who have increasingly eschewed millenniums-old gender roles ourselves, as women work outside the home and men participate in the domestic sphere — still impose upon our children.

Left alone, would boys really never wear pink? (That’s rhetorical — pink was for decades considered a masculine color.) Would girls naturally reject Matchbox cars? Of course not, but if they show preferences for these things, we label them. Somehow, as we have broadened our awareness of and support for gender nonconformity, we’ve narrowed what we think a boy or a girl can look like and do.

Let’s be clear: If my daughter does begin to feel that the gender in her mind and the sex of her body don’t match, I will be supportive. I will research puberty blockers and hormones (more than I already have). I will listen to her and make decisions accordingly, just as I did when she turned 3 and asked for a tie and a button-down shirt. Then she saw her father wear a blazer (for once). Her eyes rounded and she said, “What is that?” as if she were seeing a double rainbow spread across the sky.

She was in love with a look. That look evolved — sadly she moved from Patti Smith’s tie and blazer to the Dude’s stained T-shirt and sweatpants. But it has always just been a look, even if it came with a rejection of princesses (which also delighted me) and a willingness to play family with both boys and girls as long as she could be the dog or the police officer.

I want trans kids to feel free and safe enough to be who they are. I also want adults to have a fluid enough idea of gender roles that a 7-year-old girl can dress like “a boy” and not be asked — by people who know her, not strangers — whether she is one.

The message I want to send my daughter is this: You are an awesome girl for not giving in to pressure to be and look a certain way. I want her to be proud to be a girl.

And she is starting to be. She is already vigilant about women’s rights. She does not understand why there are separate men’s and women’s sports teams, why women earn less and why they don’t run our country. She identifies as a tomboy, because that’s what some kids at school told her she was, though she has also said, “Why is it a tomboy?” When kids say she’s in the wrong bathroom, she tells them, “I’m a girl,” and invariably they say, “Oh, O.K.”

The kids get it. But the grown-ups do not. While celebrating the diversity of sexual and gender identities, we also need to celebrate tomboys and other girls who fall outside the narrow confines of gender roles. Don’t tell them that they’re not girls.

My daughter is happy with her body and comfortable with the way she looks, thousands of times happier and more comfortable than I am or ever have been. She is my hero. Or rather, my heroine.

30 Inspiring Books on Girls & Women of the Civil Rights Movement

Posted on February 8, 2016 by Katherine

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From the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Greensboro sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, school integrations, the March on Washington, Freedom Summer, the Selma to Montgomery marches, we hear many stories about the pivotal events of the Civil Rights Movement, but so many are about the remarkable men in leadership positions at the time. But what of the women? What of the girls? Rosa Parks’ story is a powerful and important one, but surely hers can’t be the only story of courageous girls and women in the Civil Rights era.

In this post, we highlight numerous books for both children and teens that tell the stories of girls and women’s contributions to the monumental events of this period and to the national movement to bring full civil rights and equality under the law to all Americans. By sharing these stories of past champions of civil rights, we can inspire the current generation of Mighty Girls to be the champions of the future.

For more books about the experience of African-American girls and women throughout history, visit our African-American History & Historical Fiction collection.

HEROES OF THE MOVEMENT: BIOGRAPHIES

From Ruby Bridges, a 6-year-old child who desegregated the first elementary school in the South, to Rosa Parks, whose refusal to switch seats on a bus is only one example of her devotion to civil rights causes, there are many Mighty Girls and women who contributed to the Civil Rights Movement. These books will teach children and teens about these heroes and their dedication to justice.

I Am Rosa Parks

Written by: Brad Meltzer
Illustrated by: Christopher Eliopoulos
Recommended Age: 4 – 8


When kids hear about Rosa Parks’ defiant refusal to move seats, they may think that it takes special courage to take that big a step — but the reality is that ordinary people can do incredible things! This title from Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change The World series shows how Parks’ willingness to stand up for justice began with small moments from childhood, but became a driving force in her life that made her a major figure for the Civil Rights movement. For more books about Parks, visit our Rosa Parks Collection.

The Story of Ruby Bridges

Written by: Robert Coles
Illustrated by: George Ford
Recommended Age: 4 – 8


To kids today, the idea of a child having to be escorted to school by armed guards to protect her from an angry mob is shocking, but 6-year-old Ruby Bridges faced exactly that in 1960. After a judge ordered that Ruby should attend the previously all-white William Frantz Elementary School, parents withdrew their children and held angry protests in front of the school. This compelling depiction of the child who became a civil rights hero just by attending first grade is now available in a special anniversary edition. For more books about Bridges, visit our Ruby Bridges Collection.

Child of the Civil Rights Movement

Written by: Paula Young Shelton
Illustrated by: Raul Colon
Recommended Age: 4 – 8


Paula Young Shelton, the daughter of Civil Rights activist Andrew Young, grew up in a world where everyone she knew was dedicated to the fight for equality. Even children knew the injustice of segregation — she recalls crying loudly when owners of a restaurant refused to seat her family in “my very first protest, my own little sit-in.” And as she grew, her understanding of her father’s cause grew, until it became her own and she too marched from Selma to Montgomery. In this unique child’s eye view of the Civil Rights struggle, Shelton balances honesty about the struggles her father and his friends faced with the sense of hope that drove them forward.

Coretta Scott

Written by: Ntozake Shange
Illustrated by: Kadir Nelson
Recommended Age: 4 – 9


Many people know her only as Coretta Scott King, but she holds her own place in Civil Rights history for her work both before and after her husband’s death. In this poetic picture book, Ntozake Shange captures her childhood — including defining moments like walking five miles to the colored school while the white kids’ bus showered her with dust — to the marches at Selma and Washington, and ends with stirring images of protesters set to lines from the gospel song “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round.” A prose biography at the end encourages kids to learn more. This evocative book is a powerful way to introduce this key figure of history. Kids can learn more in Coretta Scott King: I Kept On Marching (ages 7 to 10). For more books about King, visit our Coretta Scott King Collection.

Ruby Bridges Goes To School

Written by: Ruby Bridges
Recommended Age: 5 – 8


In this book, Ruby Bridges tells her own story in simplified text for newly independent readers! With carefully chosen vocabulary suitable for developing readers, Bridges provides a clear explanation of segregation and how it affected everyone, including school children, in the 1950s. Historical photographs of Bridges herself, as well as signs for segregated restaurants and protest signs objecting to desegregating schools, bring the topic to life. Kids will be amazed to imagine that Bridges was learning to read — just like them — when she had to walk past those angry mobs to go to school. For more books about Bridges, visit our Ruby Bridges Collection.

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged

Written by: Jody Nyasha Warner
Illustrated by: Richard Rudnicki
Recommended Age: 5 – 8


It wasn’t just the US that wrestled with segregation and civil rights; Canada has its own civil rights heroes, among them this savvy businesswoman who found herself the center of the fight for equality when she sat down in a movie theater. When Viola Desmond bought her ticket in 1946, she was arrested after refusing to move from the main floor to the balcony. The varying perspectives in this book capture the emotional intensity of Desmond’s trial, and Richard Rudnicki’s illustration depict her as a confident woman who was determined not to give way.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist

Written by: Cynthia Levinson
Illustrated by: Vanessa Brantley Newton
Recommended Age: 5 – 9


Audrey was only 9 years old, but that didn’t mean she didn’t listen when the grown-ups talked about wiping out Birmingham’s segregation laws. So when she heard them say that they were going to picket those white stores! March to protest those unfair laws! Fill the jails! — she stepped right up and said, “I’ll do it!” This newly release picture book biography of the youngest person to be arrested for a civil rights protest in Birmingham proves that there’s no such thing as being too young to make a difference.

Through My Eyes: The Story of Ruby Bridges

Written by: Ruby Bridges
Recommended Age: 6 – 12


It’s one thing to hear Ruby Bridges’ story in the third person, but in this remarkable book, you get to hear her story through her own eyes. In simple language, Bridges recounts the experience of simultaneously knowing that she was part of a bigger era in history, yet still being a child who didn’t fully understand why people were so angry at her. With additional material including photographs, sidebars about Bridges’ influence in popular culture, and an update on her later life and civil rights work, this volume creates a newly complex portrait of this iconic figure. For more books about Bridges, visit our Ruby Bridges Collection.

Who Was Rosa Parks?

Written by: Yona Zeldis McDonough
Illustrated by: Stephen Marchesi
Recommended Age: 8 – 12


The “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” gets her own entry in the popular Who Was…? biography series! This accessible biography introduces the influences in Rosa Parks’ life that led her to devote her life to the cause of civil rights. Useful sidebars and timelines help kids understand both Parks’ work and the overarching progress of the Civil Rights movement. Engaging and accessible, it’s a great way to introduce middle grade readers to this inspiring figure. For more books about Parks, visit our Rosa Parks Collection.

Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters

Written by: Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by: Stephen Alcorn
Recommended Age: 8 – 12


Ten women who contributed to the fight for equal rights, from Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman during the time of slavery to Rosa Parks and Fannie Hamer during the Civil Rights era, each get their own profile in this inspiring book. Andrea Davis Pinkney’s text bursts with admiration for these dedicated campaigners for abolition, desegregation, and women’s rights, while her use of colloquialisms and vivid description will have kids flipping the pages to find out what happens. Each profile is accented by a dramatic, stylized portrait from Alcorn. This lively book will bring history to life for young readers.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

Written by: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by: Ekua Holmes
Recommended Age: 9 – 12


“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired”, Hamer once famously proclaimed, and that sentiment drove her to be a champion of civil rights for over two decades. Her booming oratorical voice and her signature song “This Little Light of Mine” became a key part of the movement, including the Freedom Summer of 1964; her speech at the Democratic National Convention aired on national news despite interference from President Johnson and spurred people to action. Told in the first person, this book’s lyrical text and collage illustrations depict the perseverance and courage of this heroic woman.

Little Rock Girl 1957: How A Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration

Written by: Shelley Tougas
Recommended Age: 9 – 12


When the Little Rock Nine defied their state’s governor to integrate Central High, Elizabeth Eckford didn’t get the message to meet the group — so she faced entering the school alone. A local photographer snapped an iconic photograph of a girl jeering at Elizabeth as she stoically walked through the protesting crowd, and that photograph focused the world’s attention — and disapproval — on Little Rock’s resistance to desegregation. Shelley Tougas’ tale of determination and bravery ends with an important postscript to the story: decades later, Elizabeth and Hazel Bryan Massery, the screaming girl in the picture, met and achieved a reconciliation. Touching and heartwrenching, this book captures the power of a single person’s photograph to bring change.

Rosa Parks: My Story

Recommended Age: 9 – 13


Tweens can learn Rosa Parks’ story in her own words in this compelling autobiography! Parks’ word provide a fresh take on both her famous act of defiance on a Montgomery bus and the many other contributions she made to the Civil Rights movement. In her stirring story, she tells of a childhood listening warily for members of the Ku Klux Klan in the night; time as a secretary for the NAACP; and the experience of becoming a symbol to a nation-wide movement. This book provides a more complex picture of both Parks herself and of the Civil Rights movement as a whole. For more resources about Parks, visit our Rosa Parks Collection.

The Voice That Challenged A Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights

Written by: Russell Freedman
Recommended Age: 9 and up


Marian Anderson never intended to become a symbol of equal rights; she just knew that she had to sing. But in the 1920s and 1930s, social constraints limited the careers of black performers. Anderson’s voice, though, could not be silenced and she achieved international acclaim despite segregation in the arts. But thanks to the help of influential admirers — including Eleanor Roosevelt — her landmark concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 signaled a change for this history of art. This well-researched and expertly told book includes a bibliography, a discography, and an excellent examination of the cultural and social context of Anderson’s life turned her into a civil rights icon.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice

Written by: Phillip M Hoose
Recommended Age: 10 and up


Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin did the same — but instead rather than receiving support, she found herself shunned by classmates and dismissed by community leaders. And yet she remained determined to effect change, and a year later, she challenged Jim Crow laws again by becoming one of the key plaintiffs in Browder vs. Gayle, a landmark court case. This National Book Award winner shines a light on an important but little-known figure from Civil Rights history.

Turning 15 On The Road To Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March

Recommended Age: 12 and up


Lynda Lowery was the youngest marcher in the 1965 Selma protest, but her youth never protected her; she had been arrested eleven times, and sent to jail nine times, before her fifteenth birthday. This gripping memoir captures the experience of being a teenage protester in Selma, from the constant threats of violence to the inhumane “sweatbox” steel cell where she and twenty other girls were imprisoned until they all passed out. And yet, Lowery’s memoir is one of home and optimism: while she doesn’t shy away from the realities of what protesters faced, she highlights that she suffered these ordeals in order to change American history for the better.

Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High

Recommended Age: 12 and up


Melba Patillo turned sixteen in 1957, the same year that she became an unwitting warrior for desegregation. As one of the Little Rock Nine, she faced a firestorm of opposition as she entered the previously all-white Central High. In a harrowing ordeal, Melba faced everything from taunts to threats to an attack with acid that injured her eyes, but she never gave up her courage or her dignity. “Searing” is exactly the right description this affecting story of friendship, faith, and personal commitment.

FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE: HISTORICAL FICTION

In order to understand the impact the Civil Rights Movement has had on American history, kids need to learn what life was like before these hard-fought changes. These works of historical fiction depict life during segregation, as well as the fierce resistance that civil rights campaigners and groundbreakers faced every day.

When Grandmama Sings

Written by: Margaree King Mitchell
Illustrated by: James Ransome
Recommended Age: 4 – 8


Belle is looking forward to an exciting summer: Grandmama Coles is touring the South with a swing jazz band, and Belle gets to come! But while the places she visits are new, some things are just the same… like the segregation Belle and Grandmama face at every stop. When Grandmama sings, though, everyone comes to listen, and Grandmama says she can see a day when people are united all the time. “That’s the kind of world I want for you,” she tells Belle. This book doesn’t shy away from the realities of segregation, but the optimistic tone highlights the power of art to bring people together.

Freedom On The Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins

Recommended Age: 5 – 8


When Connie and her mother go shopping at Woolworth’s, they can have a soda as a treat — but they have to drink them standing up, since African Americans aren’t allowed at the lunch counter. In fact, all over town there are signs telling Connie where she can’t go. Then, one day, her father says that Dr. King is coming to town, and soon Connie gets to see her older brother and sister joining the sit-in protests, in hopes that someday, anyone can sit down where they please. Carole Weatherford perfectly captures a child’s perspective, but still conveys an important message about the power of peaceful protest.

The Other Side

Written by: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by: E. B. Lewis
Recommended Age: 5 – 8


Clover’s mother has always warned her against crossing the fence to the side of town where the white people live. But when she’s intrigued by Anna, her free-spirited white neighbor, the two girls come up with the perfect solution: neither of them has to cross the fence if both of them sit on top of it. Soon, all the children are gathering to play together, resting on top of the fence, and agreeing that “Someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down.” This poetic story celebrates the power of children to look past prejudice.

A Sweet Smell of Roses

Written by: Angela Johnson
Illustrated by: Eric Velasquez
Recommended Age: 5 – 8


A little girl and her sister sneak out of the house, down the street to where men and women are gathering for a protest march. In the air is the sweet smell of roses; in their minds, the sweet hope of justice and equality. Inspired by the many children who also participated in protests and marches, Johnson has written a poetic tribute to the spirit of optimism that pervaded the Civil Rights movement, perfectly accented with Velasquez’ charcoal illustrations, where small pops of color illuminate key details like the ribbon on a teddy bear, the roses, and the American flag.

Lillian’s Right To Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Written by: Jonah Winter
Illustrated by: Shane W. Evans
Recommended Age: 5 – 9


Today is election day, and nothing — not even the steep hill she has to climb to get to the polling station — will keep 100-year-old Lillian from placing her ballot. As she walks, she remembers the path through history that resulting in her path to the polls: her great-grandfather, voting for the first time after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment; her parents, trying and failing to register to vote; and her own participation, many years ago, in a protest march from Selma to Montgomery. This vivid story of one woman’s determination provides an apt metaphor for the determination of those who fought for equal rights for all.

New Shoes

Written by: Susan Meyer
Illustrated by: Eric Velasquez
Recommended Age: 5 – 9


Ella Mae is excited when she outgrows her hand-me-down shoes — for the first time, she’ll get a new pair of her very own! But when they go to the shoe store, Ella Mae and her mother discover the shop owner only allows white people to buy. Determined to fight back, Ella Mae and her friend Charlotte create their own business, gathering used shoes and repairing and polishing them to perfection. And at their shoe sale, the African American members of their community get to “try on all the shoes they want.” This story provides an introduction to the concept of segregation, but also a powerful message of optimism.

White Socks Only

Written by: Evelyn Coleman
Illustrated by: Tyrone Geter
Recommended Age: 5 – 9


In this story-within-a-story, a granddaughter listens raptly as her grandmother tells her a tale of the segregated South. As a child, she saw a water fountain labelled with a sign reading “Whites only.” Innocently, she misinterpreted the sign to mean that she could only drink if she stood at the fountain in her white socks, so she kicked off her shoes… only to get pulled away by an angry white man, threatening to whip her. However, the African American adults nearby rallied to her aid, one by one kicking off their own shoes and taking their own deep drinks from the fountain. The depiction of segregation in this story is simplified to make it more accessible to young readers, but the message is clear: judging people by the color of their skin is as silly as judging them by the color of their socks.

Ruth and The Green Book

Written by: Calvin Alexander Ramsey
Illustrated by: Floyd Cooper
Recommended Age: 6 – 9


After lots of hard work, Ruth’s family have bought a car! Now they can take an adventurous journey from their home in Chicago to grandma’s home in Alabama. But the roadtrip becomes more difficult than they expected when they discover that many gas stations, hotels, and restaurants won’t serve black people. Fortunately, a kind gas station attendant introduces them to The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook listing places across the country where their family will be welcomed. With The Green Book in Ruth’s hands, the family can finally look forward to the joyful reunion. This fascinating and little-known piece of history makes a unique subject for a picture book; an endnote includes more information about The Green Book.

Ruby Lee and Me

Written by: Shannon Hitchcock
Recommended Age: 8 – 12


There’s talk in town about the new sixth-grade teacher at Shady Creek. Word is spreading quickly — Mrs. Smyre is like no other teacher anyone has ever seen around these parts. She’s the first African American teacher. It’s 1969, and while black folks and white folks are cordial, having a black teacher at an all-white school is a strange new happening. For 12-year-old Sarah Beth, there are so many unanswered questions. What is all this talk about Freedom Riders and school integration? Why can’t she and Ruby become best friends? And who says school isn’t for anybody who wants to learn — or teach? In a world filled with uncertainty, one very special teacher shows her young students and the adults in their lives that change invites unexpected possibilities.

With The Might of Angels: The Diary of Dawnie Rae Johnson, Hadley, Virginia, 1954

Recommended Age: 8 – 12


With the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, Dawnie’s world is turned upside down. Now, she has to attend a previously all-white school — alone, without her friends beside her — and face the harsh realities of angry reactions to enforced integration. Dawnie struggles to prove that she deserves the opportunity for a good education, but when her father loses his job and her brother is bullied, she questions whether it is all worth it. Fortunately, Dawnie has the determination to face these challenges head on, in hopes that others won’t face them in the future. This book from the popular Dear America historical fiction series captures the reality of what many students faced every day on the journey to school integration.

Remember: The Journey to School Integration

Written by: Toni Morrison
Recommended Age: 8 – 14


On the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that ended legal school segregation, this astounding book was published in remembrance of the struggle to achieve this milestone of civil rights. Acclaimed author Toni Morrison uses archival photographs as the inspiration for a fictionalized account of the lives of children during the time of “separate but equal” schooling. By focusing on ordinary people, including children, and their roles in ending school segregation, Morrison has created a much needed reminder of the importance of this moment in American history.

Glory Be

Recommended Age: 8 and up


Glory has always looked forward to celebrating her July 4th birthday at the community pool. But in 1964, the summer she turns 12, that proves to be complicated. The town is in an uproar: Yankee “freedom people” are insisting that the pool be desegregated, and in response, the town has closed the pool “for repairs” indefinitely. As the conflict continues, and Glory comes of age, she begins to look beyond her own situation and see the closure of the pool in the context of the broader world. This memorable story captures the thoughts and feelings of a girl caught on the cusp of adulthood and facing true injustice she had never noticed before.

The Lions of Little Rock

Written by: Kristin Levine
Recommended Age: 10 – 13


It’s 1958, and twelve-year-old Marlee struggles at school, friendless and shy to the point of silence outside of her own family… until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Fearless and determined, Liz knows just what to say to quiet the resident mean girl and to encourage Marlee to find her voice. Then, one day, Liz is gone; rumor has it that she was only passing as white. But Marlee decides that she doesn’t care: Liz is her best friend, and Marlee will do anything — even face the danger that comes with standing up against segregation — to have her friend back by her side. Heartfelt and satisfying, this story of friendship and the fight for justice will make young readers cheer.

Fire From The Rock

Written by: Sharon Draper
Recommended Age: 12 and up


12-year-old Sylvia is an honor student who is both thrilled and scared to be selected as one of the students to integrate Central High School in 1957 Little Rock. Unlike her older brother, she doesn’t want to be a hero; she just wants a chance to learn. And as the racism in Little Rock explodes — and even members of Sylvia’s own community speak out against integration — Sylvia starts to wonder if she would be better off in the black-only school, focusing on getting to college instead of changing the world. With an ending that will surprise young readers, this book is sure to prompt discussion, beginning with the question, “What would I have done?”

Teaching Young Children About Bias, Diversity, and Social Justice

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When my daughter was three years old, I taught her the word “stereotype.” She was just beginning to string words together into sentences, had determined that pink was definitely not her favorite color, and asked (demanded, actually) why all the “girl stuff” was pink and the “boy stuff” was blue. Because there’s no three-year-old version for a word describing why colors are gendered in our society, I figured that planting the seed might yield fruit soon enough. And somewhat surprisingly, I was correct.

Who’s Different and What’s Fair

As a society and within our educational institutions, discussions about bias, diversity, discrimination, and social justice tend to happen in middle and high schools. We’ve somehow decided that little kids can’t understand these complex topics, or we want to delay exposing them to injustices as long as possible (even though not all children have the luxury of being shielded from injustice).

However, young children have a keen awareness of and passion for fairness. They demand right over wrong, just over unjust. And they notice differences without apology or discomfort.

Racial identity and attitudes begin to develop in children at a young age. Two- and three-year-olds become aware of the differences between boys and girls, may begin noticing obvious physical disabilities, become curious about skin color and hair color/texture, and may also be aware of ethnic identity. By the time they’re five and entering kindergarten, children begin to identify with an ethnic group to which they belong and are able to explore the range of differences within and between racial/ethnic groups. In terms of bias, by age three or four, white children in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe show preferences for other white children. Further, current research suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to prejudice and racism, tend to embrace and accept it even though they might not understand the feelings.

The good news is that bias can be unlearned or reversed if we’re exposed to diversity in a positive way. Harnessing young children’s desire for fairness and using it as opening to discuss bias and discrimination is not a hard leap, but one that needs to be made explicitly and with instruction. They are also not afraid to comment on observed differences. Decades of research indicate that even if parents and adults are not talking about race or other differences, children still notice differences and prejudice. If we choose not to teach or talk about it, children’s notions about race and differences will go unchecked and likely become further entrenched in their minds.

It’s also important that adults in children’s lives do not perpetuate the idea that we should be “colorblind” to racial differences or shush them when they notice someone with a disability. Sometimes adults do this out of their own discomfort with talking about differences, or because they think noticing differences somehow makes you biased. We want to encourage children to notice differences because they do so naturally, yet at the same time, honor people’s identities without judging or discriminating based on differences. In other words, noticing people’s differences is natural, but when adults assign judgments or value to these differences, bias can develop in young children.

5 Elementary Strategies

Elementary school is a time ripe for these discussions. Provided that teachers have the right tools and resources and use developmentally appropriate language and activities, teaching about these concepts can be rich and engaging for children, laying the groundwork for more sophisticated understanding when they move into the tween and teen years.

Here are five concrete ways of bringing discussions about bias and diversity into the elementary classroom:

1. Use children’s literature.

There’s a wealth of children’s books that can be read aloud and independently to approach the topic of bias, diversity, and social justice. Whether it’s about people who are different than your students (window books), an affirmation of their identity (mirror books), or one that exposes bias or shares stories of people who stood up to injustice, reading books is a core part of the elementary classroom curriculum and therefore a seamless way to address the topic.

2. Use the news media.

Find topics and news stories that bring forth these themes, discuss them in the classroom, and build other reading, writing, social studies, and math lessons around them. Relevant news stories that highlight bias and especially those where someone stood up to it and justice prevailed — like the nine-year-old boy who was banned from bringing his My Little Pony backpack to school because it was the source of bullying, or the story ofMisty Copeland becoming the first African American appointed as a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater in its 75-year history — are terrific teachable moments.

3. Teach anti-bias lessons.

We know that all educators face a plethora of daily demands. But because children’s social and emotional development is a key part of the elementary curriculum and because much of the teasing, name-calling, and bullying is identity-based, it’s helpful for the classroom climate to set aside a time every week for an explicit lesson on this topic. Social and emotional skill development lessons are the foundation, and then teachers can move to lessons on identity, differences, bias, and how bias and bullying can be addressed individually and institutionally.

4. Give familiar examples.

Take advantage of children’s interest in books, TV shows, toys, and video games, and use them as opportunities to explore diversity, bias, and social justice. Whether it’s about toys and gender stereotypes, a New Jersey girlwho was tired of seeing books only about white boys and dogs, or discussing a new line of dolls with disabilities, you can provide openings for children to see how bias takes place in media and the everyday objects that they use.

5. Explore solutions.

Re-think the concept of “helping others” (through service learning projects or other volunteer opportunities) to include discussions with children about the inequities that contribute to the problem and consider actions that can address it. For example, while it’s useful to provide food to homeless people, we want to deepen the conversation to convey a social justice perspective and a wider lens with children. Therefore, discuss the stigma and stereotypes of homeless people, learn about unfair housing policies, and reflect on solutions that will reverse the problem in a lasting way and encourage students to take action.

Start Early

Recently, several prominent national education organizations (including theNEA, AERA, AFT, and NCTE) have called for addressing equity in schools and society, specifically recommending that we need to highlight the “systemic patterns of inequity — racism and educational injustice — that impacts our students,” and that educators and school leaders “receive the tools, training, and support they need to build curricula with substantive exploration of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination.”

We need to begin this process with our youngest hearts and minds in order to have a lasting impact. What are your thoughts? How do you approach social justice issues with elementary students? Please share in the comments section below.

When Black and White Children Grow Apart

The Atlantic
Research shows that interracial friendships decline as kids enter adolescence—and that teachers may play a role.

MELINDA D. ANDERSON JUN 14, 2016

The image of black and white children hand-in-hand is possibly the most well-known and most often quoted line from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Over the years, black and white youngsters playing together has evolved from a civil-rights leader’s vision of racial equality to a clothing retailer’s marketing campaign, and in the process spawned a cultural meme—signaling everything from innocence and hope to a world free of interpersonal racism. Yet black and white childhood friendships, an inspiring notion, rarely happen organically.

According to a new study of elementary- and middle-school students, teacher behaviors may shape how students select and maintain friends and affect the longevity of interracial friendships. The study, led by researchers with New York University’s Steinhardt School, finds that as students move through a single school year, from the fall through the spring semester, their number of cross-racial friendships decreases. What’s more, students’ perceptions of their teachers—who may treat children in the same class differently, for example—influenced the rate of growth in same-race friendships from the fall to the spring.
Elise Cappella, an associate professor of applied psychology at NYU and the study’s lead author, said the group started out with a common understanding, supported by popular wisdom and established research, that as young people approach and enter adolescence, their likelihood of forming friendships across racial and ethnic groups decreases. “We wanted to try to understand what might be influencing that change … and we wanted to go beyond simply understanding the opportunity piece [greater numbers of diverse peers] to understanding what parts of this social process or the teaching practices might make a difference in the changes that occur.”

Access to diversity is only the first step, not the destination.
The research is drawn from a longitudinal study of the school experiences of 553 black and white students in a racially diverse, middle-class, and suburban unidentified district. That study, the Early Adolescent Development Study, collected detailed self-reported surveys during the 1996-97 school year from children ages 8 through 12 in grades three through five: 61 percent white, 39 percent black, with equal numbers of male and female students.

It’s a notable data set for a couple reasons, Cappella said, emphasizing that in the age range studied “children still form most of their friendships in classrooms and in schools. That was the case in 1996, and that’s still the case in 2016.” The data in the Early Adolescent Development Study is also particularly useful for analyzing interracial friendships because it was conducted in a school district that at the time had relatively low levels of tracking and high levels of integration—an unusual combination—facilitating an analysis of factors such as cross-racial friendships. Further, because the composition of the class and the actual teacher didn’t change, “if there were changes in cross- and same-race friendships [during] that year, we can isolate the effect [to] some aspect of that classroom.”

After calculating the racial composition of the students’ classes, the study’s authors used an index to measure how many same-race friendships would be expected if friendships were randomly distributed. Despite the district’s high level of racial integration, researchers found that the number of same-race friends grew for both black and white children over the school year, with white and older students showing the largest increases.
In the fall of the third grade, black students had 15 percent fewer same-race friendships and white students had 2 percent more same-race friends than would be expected by random chance. By the spring, black third-graders had 5 percent fewer same-race friendships than would be expected by random chance and white third-graders had 6 percent more. Among fifth-graders, black students started out with 2 percent more same-race friends than expected, and white students started out with 23 percent more. By year-end, fifth-grade black students had 10 percent more friends of the same race than expected and white students had 33 percent more.

As the argument goes and studies prove, children of all backgrounds benefit from diversified classrooms and schools where they can interact with peers of different races and ethnicities. Teaching Tolerance, an educational project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, concluded in a comprehensive review of research on racial and ethnic diversity in schools that “a racially integrated student body is necessary to obtain cross-racial understanding, which may lead to a reduction of harmful stereotypes and bias.” But access to diversity is only the first step, not the destination, said Cappella, noting that the study points to the need for teachers to create classrooms where interracial friendships can develop and grow.

The influence of teachers on students’ cross-racial bonds manifests itself in two key ways. Researchers found smaller increases in same-race friendships from the fall to the spring in classrooms where student perceptions of teachers’ warmth, respect, and trust—“My teacher pays attention to my feelings” and “My teacher helps children feel good about themselves”— were rated highest. And black children were more likely to make friends with white classmates during the school year in classrooms where teachers received high rankings on differential treatment—the survey asked children to rate their teacher’s behavior toward a hypothetical high- or low-achieving peer.
While the study did not establish that teachers were favoring one racial group over another, researchers theorized based on prior evidence that black children choose to befriend more white peers “as they begin to internalize the higher value their teachers place on the white students.” A study from Johns Hopkins University published in March also confirmed the comparatively low expectations white teachers have for black students.

How parents arrange get-togethers outside of school can “deepen friendships while allowing others to flounder.”
Jennifer Orr, a white elementary-school teacher in northern Virginia, said she was fascinated on a personal and professional level by the study’s analysis. Her oldest daughter, now in seventh grade, attended Annandale Terrace Elementary, a highly diverse school, from grades kindergarten through 5. “Her close circle [of friends] included a Korean girl, a few Latino girls and boys, and at least one girl from the Middle East, [but] she has only kept up with two friends from there: another white girl and a white boy.” As a parent, Orr offered a caveat to the study’s findings, bringing the role of parents into the picture. “The immediate thing that came to my mind … was how much parents may play a role” with race or ethnicity shaping how parents arrange get-togethers outside of school that can “deepen friendships while allowing others to flounder.”

From her vantage point as a former teacher at Annandale Terrace for 16 years, Orr said she strived to create a classroom environment that fostered friendships across races and ethnicities through activities and lessons. When assigning class projects she encouraged diverse groupings of fourth- and fifth-graders to solidify existing friendships, adding “that’s what strikes me the most from this study: The idea that friendships narrow during this age range.” Orr also turned to literature, using books with interracial friendships “to help kids see these friendships as normal and good.”

Keffrelyn Brown, an associate professor of cultural studies in the education college at the University of Texas at Austin, upholds the idea that teachers are fundamental to leveraging the promise of integrated schooling. Brown, who was a classroom teacher before becoming a researcher and teacher educator, stressed that “integration cannot only occur at the surface level. It must be seamlessly found across all [parts] of the … teaching and learning processes.”

The creation of schools with racial and socioeconomic diversity must be complimented by classrooms that affirm all students, Brown said. “It’s about cultivating a community of learners who are invested in the well-being of the community,” she explained, envisioning a learning space that is keenly attentive to issues of justice, fairness, and equity.

As validated by the study, children’s perceptions of teachers’ traits are very important—and unlike curriculum decisions and other pressures, it’s the one aspect that teachers can control. Cappella, the NYU researcher, said it’s the daily interactions that teachers have with their students in the classroom—modeling how you treat one another and how you listen to one another—that can bolster the likelihood of interracial friendships enduring.

“When teachers [show] that everyone is valued … that everyone deserves warmth and support, then that trickles down to the students, particularly at this age,” she said. “Those [actions] are the most salient and potentially the most powerful for influencing students in a more implicit way.”

Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework

The Atlantic
And other insights from a ground- breaking study of how parents impact children’s academic achievement
DANA GOLDSTEIN APRIL 2014
One of the central tenets of raising kids in America is that parents should be actively involved in their children’s education: meeting with teachers, volunteering at school, helping with homework, and doing a hundred other things that few working parents have time for. These obligations are so baked into American values that few parents stop to ask whether they’re worth the effort.

Until this January, few researchers did, either. In the largest-ever study of how parental involvement affects academic achievement, Keith Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a sociology professor at Duke, mostly found that it doesn’t. The researchers combed through nearly three decades’ worth of longitudinal surveys of American parents and tracked 63 different measures of parental participation in kids’ academic lives, from helping them with homework, to talking with them about college plans, to volunteering at their schools. In an attempt to show whether the kids of more-involved parents improved over time, the researchers indexed these measures to children’s academic performance, including test scores in reading and math.
What they found surprised them. Most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire—regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education.

 
Do you review your daughter’s homework every night? Robinson and Harris’s data, published in The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education, show that this won’t help her score higher on standardized tests. Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down, an effect Robinson says could be caused by the fact that many parents may have forgotten, or never truly understood, the material their children learn in school.

Similarly, students whose parents frequently meet with teachers and principals don’t seem to improve faster than academically comparable peers whose parents are less present at school. Other essentially useless parenting interventions: observing a kid’s class; helping a teenager choose high-school courses; and, especially, disciplinary measures such as punishing kids for getting bad grades or instituting strict rules about when and how homework gets done. This kind of meddling could leave children more anxious than enthusiastic about school, Robinson speculates. “Ask them ‘Do you want to see me volunteering more? Going to school social functions? Is it helpful if I help you with homework?’ ” he told me. “We think about informing parents and schools what they need to do, but too often we leave the child out of the conversation.”
One of the reasons parental involvement in schools has become dogma is that the government actively incentivizes it. Since the late 1960s, the federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on programs that seek to engage parents—especially low-income parents—with their children’s schools. In 2001, No Child Left Behind required schools to establish parent committees and communicate with parents in their native languages. The theory was that more active and invested mothers and fathers could help close the test-score gap between middle-class and poor students. Yet until the new study, nobody had used the available data to test the assumption that close relationships between parents and schools improve student achievement.

While Robinson and Harris largely disproved that assumption, they did find a handful of habits that make a difference, such as reading aloud to young kids (fewer than half of whom are read to daily) and talking with teenagers about college plans. But these interventions don’t take place at school or in the presence of teachers, where policy makers exert the most influence—they take place at home.

What’s more, although conventional wisdom holds that poor children do badly in school because their parents don’t care about education, the opposite is true. Across race, class, and education level, the vast majority of American parents report that they speak with their kids about the importance of good grades and hope that they will attend college. Asian American kids may perform inordinately well on tests, for example, but their parents are not much more involved at school than Hispanic parents are—not surprising, given that both groups experience language barriers. So why are some parents more effective at helping their children translate these shared values into achievement?
Robinson and Harris posit that greater financial and educational resources allow some parents to embed their children in neighborhoods and social settings in which they meet many college-educated adults with interesting careers. Upper-middle-class kids aren’t just told a good education will help them succeed in life. They are surrounded by family and friends who work as doctors, lawyers, and engineers and who reminisce about their college years around the dinner table. Asian parents are an interesting exception; even when they are poor and unable to provide these types of social settings, they seem to be able to communicate the value and appeal of education in a similarly effective manner.

As part of his research, Robinson conducted informal focus groups with his undergraduate statistics students at the University of Texas, asking them about how their parents contributed to their achievements. He found that most had few or no memories of their parents pushing or prodding them or getting involved at school in formal ways. Instead, students described mothers and fathers who set high expectations and then stepped back. “These kids made it!,” Robinson told me. “You’d expect they’d have the type of parental involvement we’re promoting at the national level. But they hardly had any of that. It really blew me away.”

Robinson and Harris’s findings add to what we know from previous research by the sociologist Annette Lareau, who observed conversations in homes between parents and kids during the 1990s. Lareau found that in poor and working-class households, children were urged to stay quiet and show deference to adult authority figures such as teachers. In middle-class households, kids learned to ask critical questions and to advocate for themselves—behaviors that served them well in the classroom.
Robinson and Harris chose not to address a few potentially powerful types of parental involvement, from hiring tutors or therapists for kids who are struggling, to opening college savings accounts. And there’s the fact that, regardless of socioeconomic status, some parents go to great lengths to seek out effective schools for their children, while others accept the status quo at the school around the corner.

Although Robinson and Harris didn’t look at school choice, they did find that one of the few ways parents can improve their kids’ academic performance—by as much as eight points on a reading or math test—is by getting them placed in the classroom of a teacher with a good reputation. This is one example for which race did seem to matter: white parents are at least twice as likely as black and Latino parents to request a specific teacher. Given that the best teachers have been shown to raise students’ lifetime earnings and to decrease the likelihood of teen pregnancy, this is no small intervention.

All in all, these findings should relieve anxious parents struggling to make time to volunteer at the PTA bake sale. But valuing parental involvement via test scores alone misses one of the ways in which parents most impact schools. Pesky parents are often effective, especially in public schools, at securing better textbooks, new playgrounds, and all the “extras” that make an educational community come to life, like art, music, theater, and after-school clubs. This kind of parental engagement may not directly affect test scores, but it can make school a more positive place for all kids, regardless of what their parents do or don’t do at home. Getting involved in your children’s schools is not just a way to give them a leg up—it could also be good citizenship.
DANA GOLDSTEIN is a staff writer at The Marshall Project. She is the author of the forthcoming book The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession.

7 cultural concepts we don’t have in the U.S.

Perhaps one of these ideas will inspire you to think differently in your day-to-day life.

Exploring other cultures helps us learn more about ourselves — and perhaps find a new celebration or concept that speaks to us. (Photo: Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock)

From the end of October through the New Year and onto Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to forget that the holidays we celebrate are simply cultural constructs that we can choose to engage in — or not. The concepts and ideas we celebrate — like our spiritual beliefs and daily habits — are a choice, though sometimes it feels like we “have” to celebrate them, even if we don’t feel like it.
Culture is ours to do with as we choose, and that means that we can add, subtract, or edit celebrations or holidays as we see fit — because you and me and everyone reading this makes up our culture, and it is defined by us, for us, after all.
If you want to add a new and different perspective to your life, there are plenty of other ways to recognize joy and beauty outside American traditions. From Scandinavia to Japan, India and Germany, the concepts below may strike a nerve with you and inspire your own personal or familial celebration or — as is the case with a couple of these for me — sound like an acknowledgement of something you have long felt, but didn’t have a word for.
Friluftsliv
friluftsliv
Photo: Shutterstock
Friluftsliv translates directly from Norwegian as “free air life,” which doesn’t quite do it justice. Coined relatively recently, in 1859, it is the concept that being outside is good for human beings’ mind and spirit. “It is a term in Norway that is used often to describe a way of life that is spent exploring and appreciating nature,” Anna Stoltenberg, culture coordinator for Sons of Norway, a U.S.-based Norwegian heritage group, told MNN. Other than that, it’s not a strict definition: it can include sleeping outside, hiking, taking photographs or meditating, playing or dancing outside, for adults or kids. It doesn’t require any special equipment, includes all four seasons, and needn’t cost much money. Practicing friluftsliv could be as simple as making a commitment to walking in a natural area five days a week, or doing a day-long hike once a month.
Shinrin-yoku
forest bathing
Photo: Semmick Photo/Shutterstock
Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that means “forest bathing” and unlike the Norwegian translation above, this one seems a perfect language fit (though a pretty similar idea). The idea being that spending time in the forest and natural areas is good preventative medicine, since it lowers stress, which causes or exacerbates some of our most intractable health issues. As MNN’s Catie Leary details, this isn’t just a nice idea — there’s science behind it: “The “magic” behind forest bathing boils down to the naturally produced allelochemic substances known as phytoncides, which are kind of like pheromones for plants. Their job is to help ward off pesky insects and slow the growth of fungi and bacteria. When humans are exposed to phytoncides, these chemicals are scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress and boost the growth of cancer-fighting white blood cells. Some common examples of plants that give off phytoncides include garlic, onion, pine, tea tree and oak, which makes sense considering their potent aromas.”
Hygge
hygge and cozy winters
Photo: Shutterstock
Hygge is the idea that helps Denmark regularly rate as one of the happiest countries in the world — Danes have regularly been some of the most joyful in the world for over 40 years that the U.S. has been studying them — despite long, dark winters. Loosely translated at “togetherness,” and “coziness,” though it’s not a physical state, it’s a mental one. According to VisitDenmark (the country’s official tourism site): “The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family — that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking — preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life.” Hygge’s high season is winter, and Christmas lights, candles galore, and other manifestations of warmth and light, including warm alcoholic beverages, are key to the concept.
Still a little confused and wondering how you could cultivate hygge in your life? This Danish NPR commenter sums up some specifics: “Hygge is a deep sense of cosy that can originate from many different sources. Here is a good example from my life : a cloudy winter Sunday morning at the country house, fire in the stove and 20 candles lit to dispel the gloom. My husband, puppy and I curled up on our sheepskins wearing felt slippers, warm snuggly clothes and hands clasped around hot mugs of tea. A full day ahead with long walks on the cold beach, back for pancake lunch, reading, more snuggling, etc. This is a very hyggligt day.” Now that sounds do-able, doesn’t it?
Wabi-sabi
patina and the concept of wabi sabi
Photo: markuliasz/Shutterstock
Wabi-sabi is the Japanese idea of embracing the imperfect, of celebrating the worn, the cracked, the patinaed, both as a decorative concept and a spiritual one — it’s an acceptance of the toll that life takes on us all. As I wrote about it earlier this year, “If we can learn to love the things that already exist, for all their chips and cracks, their patinas, their crooked lines or tactile evidence of being made by someone’s hands instead of a machine, from being made from natural materials that vary rather than perfect plastic, we wouldn’t need to make new stuff, reducing our consumption (and its concurrent energy use and inevitable waste), cutting our budgets, and saving some great stories for future generations.” We might also be less stressed, and more attentive to the details, which are the keys to mindfulness.
Kaizen
kaizen or continuous improvement
Photo: Santiago Cornejo/Shutterstock
Kaizen is another Japanese concept, one that means “continuous improvement,” and could be taken to mean the opposite of wabi-sabi (though as you’ll see, it depends on the interpretation). It’s a very new idea, only coined in 1986, and generally used in business circumstances. As this tutorial details, “Kaizen is a system that involves every employee, from upper management to the cleaning crew. Everyone is encouraged to come up with small improvement suggestions on a regular basis. This is not a once a month or once a year activity. It is continuous. Japanese companies, such as Toyota and Canon, a total of 60 to 70 suggestions per employee per year are written down, shared and implemented.” These are regular, small improvements, not major changes. Applied to your own life, it could mean daily or weekly check-ins about goals, as opposed to making New Year’s resolutions, or a more organized path based on small changes toward weight loss, a personal project or a hobby.
Gemütlichkeit
Gemütlichkeit is a German word that means almost the same thing as hygge, and also has its peak usage during the winter. In fact, some linguists posit that the word (and concept) of hygge likely came from the German idea. Blogger Constanze’s entry on the German Language Blog for “Untranslatable German Words” describes how the word means more than just cozy: “A soft chair in a coffee shop might be considered ‘cosy’. But sit in that chair surrounded by close friends and a hot cup of tea, while soft music plays in the background, and that sort of scene is what you’d call gemütlich.”
Jugaad 
jugaad or ingenuity
Photo: Michal Zieba/Shutterstock
Jugaad is a Hindi word that means “an innovative fix” or a “repair derived from ingenuity,” — think a jury-rigged sled for snowy fun, or a bicycle chain repaired with some duct tape. It’s a frequently used word in India where frugal fixes are revered. But the idea has further merit beyond figuring out solutions to get by with less. It also encapsulates the spirit of doing something innovative. As the authors of Jugaad Innovation write in Forbes, they see jugaad in many other places than the repair shop: “In Kenya, for instance, entrepreneurs have invented a device that enables bicycle riders to charge their cellphones while pedaling. In the Philippines, Illac Diaz has deployed A Litre of Light — a recycled plastic bottle containing bleach-processed water that refracts sunlight, producing the equivalent of a 55-watt light bulb — in thousands of makeshift houses in off-the-grid shantytowns. And in Lima, Peru (with high humidity and only 1 inch of rain per year), an engineering college has designed advertising billboards that can convert humid air into potable water.”
Jugaad’s idea of frugal innovation can definitely be applied in the individual life — what about setting aside a half a day twice a year where everyone in your family fixes something that needs repair? You’ll save money, spend time together, test problem-solving skills, and get a sense of accomplishment from repairing instead of buying new.
I’d like to integrate some of these ideas into my own life. Over the last few years I have dropped Christmas and Easter (I’ve been an atheist for over 25 years now) and replaced them with a Solstice celebrations; I have remade New Year’s into a quiet, reflective time (the antithesis of a party); and have incorporated an appreciation and gratefulness aspect into my almost-daily meditation routine. I’ve kept Thanksgiving, though mine is vegetarian, so the focus is on the harvest and thanks and not killing a turkey. And I celebrate Halloween some years, when I feel into it, and not if I don’t. And forget Valentine’s Day!
Because I don’t love some of our existing holidays, I’d like to add celebrations to my list — luckily I need not come up with them by myself, but can look to other cultures for inspiration. I actually started practicing hygge last winter and I felt it really helped me through the darkest days of the year. I may formalize it a bit by creating a “start” and “end” date to the practice. Wabi-sabi is also very appealing to me, as I tend towards perfectionism (which also tends to make me miserable), and it’s an idea that seems like it might become part of my seasonal cleaning and organizing time (along with Jugaad).
Have any of the above ideas inspired you to try something different or add a new celebration day to your life?

Struggling With Privilege

The Harvard Crimson

The late historian and professor Tony R. Judt once told Historically Speaking that our task “is to tell what is almost always an uncomfortable story and explain why the discomfort is part of the truth we need to live well and live properly.”

While Tony Judt certainly was not talking about college life, his message seems to extend to us here at Harvard.

Just listen to the newly minted Dean of the College, Rakesh Khurana, speak about the college experience he hopes each student will get at Harvard. You will hear him talk about “transformation,” and his idea of a “transformative” college experience is deeply rooted in embracing discomfort. Real growth, to Dean Khurana, stems from branching out and exploring this sort of uncomfortable new territory.

Discomfort at Harvard comes in many different forms. But the main source of my own has come from class, privilege, and wealth.

It’s no secret that a good chunk of the Harvard population is unusually wealthy. In fact, according to Walter Benn Michaels, author of the polemic “The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality,” roughly 75 percent of Harvard students’ families have incomes over $100,000 per year, while only 20 percent of American families have incomes that high.

But what’s more troubling than these statistics alone is the fact that, once the most wealthy and privileged come to Harvard, they tend to stick together.

Here’s an example: When I first arrived at Harvard, I ran into someone from back home in New York City. She invited me to dinner with “a few other kids from New York.” Hers was an innocent display of kindness, and yet she was precipitating an insidious phenomenon—the rapid formation of the New York City “clique.”

So why do the New York City (and LA, and Greenwich, and so on) “elite” coalesce into these groups? This is where discomfort comes into the picture.

Yes, people do tend to find friends who have similar backgrounds and beliefs. That’s the easy answer. But in my experience, when it comes to the particularly privileged, there’s something more at play.

Unlike our different cultural or religious backgrounds, privilege is not a source of pride or a difference from our classmates that we choose to celebrate. Instead, privilege—and more importantly what privilege says about each of our characters—makes us uncomfortable. Our privilege forces us to question our worthiness and our merit, two of the things most highly valued at an institution like this one.

I find myself asking: If I got here because of the advantages afforded me by my background (a fact that is almost irrefutably true), then what does that say about my worthiness? What about my classmates who have made it here without any of the opportunities that I had? How do I reconcile my own desire to succeed with the guilt that I can’t help but feel about having had a leg up in the first place? What am I, or where would I be, without my privilege?

These questions are tough to ask and even harder to answer. The natural reaction to these questions, questions that inspire self-doubt, is to insulate ourselves from ever having to confront what it is that makes us so uneasy.

It is possible to avoid them altogether: by surrounding ourselves with friends who grew up the same way. We can avoid situations that bring these questions to the surface and then go about our college lives in bubbles of comfort.

But while avoidance is certainly possible, it’s far from right. If we experience college with social blinders on, we miss out.

In the words of Harvard’s mission statement, “Education at Harvard should liberate students to explore, to create, [and] to challenge.” It’s the last word that matters most. Forcing ourselves to challenge our beliefs, our upbringing, and the way of life that we may have experienced for our first 18 years is undeniably difficult. But it’s also essential to what Harvard seeks to accomplish with each of its students: a broader understanding of the world, and personal growth.

Failure to confront discomfort now leads to an equal inability to confront it later. If our awareness of our classmates of different socioeconomic backgrounds exists purely in the realm of abstraction, then we have failed not only to undergo Khurana’s “transformative” college experience, but we have also failed in making ourselves socially responsible citizens.

 

Nick F. Barber ’17, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Mather House.

Parents Should Coach Academics as Seriously as They Do Sports

The New York Times, Motherlode Blog

By JENNIFER ARROW

 

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

It sometimes seems that the American success ethic stops at the schoolhouse door. We encourage ambition in youth sports and entrepreneurial enterprise, but our families are often suspicious of the value of scholastic competition.

If you told your neighbors you had little Seymour in gymnastics with an eye to the 2028 Summer Olympics, they’d likely laugh but agree it was important to start early with a lofty goal like that. Were you to tell the neighbors that Sofia was doing abacus training as preparation for the 2028 International Math Olympiad, conversation might simply stop, because, well, who does that?

We should. Quanyu Huang, a professor at Miami University of Ohio and the author of the new book “The Hybrid Tiger: Secrets of the Extraordinary Success of Asian-American Kids,” argues that a subtle shift in mind-set transforms the study hall from a demoralizing workhouse to sweaty training gym, where hours of toil pay off during the big fight. If to be a student is to be a warrior (not a prisoner or a victim), suddenly a million familiar sports metaphors apply: free throws and math problems become interchangeable signifiers of a rigorous and inherently worthy training regimen. And a great coach, either at home or at school, is a beloved ally rather than an suspect adversary.

Dr. Huang’s book asserts that Asian families begin with the end in mind, that the progression from preschool to graduate school is perceived as not dissimilar to the hero’s journey of monomyth, and that culturewide certainty of purpose is fundamental: “Education is a life-or-death struggle,” he writes. “Education is a battle of elimination won through selection and competition. … For Chinese and Chinese-American children, their introduction to education is the beginning of a lifelong battle that they must win at any and all costs.”

“Can you think of the last time someone told you a story that made studying long and hard seem heroic?” 

Practically, “Hybrid Tiger” suggests that Chinese-American families are structured so that the children are considered star academic competitors and the parents have a significant but clearly secondary role as their devoted trainers.

Dr. Huang describes touring colleges with his son and observing unencumbered Chinese kids trailed by parents “loaded up like pack mules … allowing [the kids] to wander about entirely unburdened.” (One is reminded of Rocky Balboa in the ring, shrugging off his robe and handing it back to Mickey.)

Amanda Ripley’s book “The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way” had a similar observation about the role of parents in promoting academic success:

Coach parents … spent less time attending school events and more time training their children at home: reading to them, quizzing them on their multiplication tables while they were cooking dinner, and pushing them to try harder. They saw education as one of their jobs. This kind of parenting was typical in much of Asia — and among Asian immigrant parents living in the United States. Contrary to the stereotype, it did not necessarily make children miserable. In fact, children raised in this way in the United States tended not only to do better in school but to actually enjoy reading and school more than their Caucasian peers enrolled in the same schools.

Khan Academy’s founder, Salman Khan, writing in One World Schoolhouse, also found power in the idea of coaches:

Have you ever noticed that some kids tend to loathe and detest their teachers but worship and adore their coaches? … I believe that a big part of the reason kids revere and obey their coaches is that the coaches are specifically and explicitly on the student’s side. Coaches are helping them be the best they can be, so that they can experience the thrill of winning. In team sports, coaches inculcate the atavistic spirit and focus of a hunting clan. In individual sports, the coach stands tall as the main if not the only ally. When kids win, coaches celebrate along with them; when they lose, the coach is there to comfort and find a lesson in defeat.

“Hybrid Tiger” itself is shot through with the kind of inspirational aphorism familiar to anyone who follows Dwayne Johnson, better known as the Rock, on Facebook: “Happiness is always connected to competition,” and “In order to win, one must be able to withstand suffering.” Dr. Huang also lays this on us: “Here are two ancient stories all Chinese children know: A man, whose name was Sun Jing, tied his hair on the beam that ran through his house when he studied, so that he would wake painfully if he began to fall asleep while studying. Another man, whose name was Su Qin, jabbed his hip with a needle to keep himself awake while he studied.”

Can you think of the last time someone told you a story that made studying long and hard seem heroic?

Dr. Huang’s thoughtful book makes a persuasive argument that, in light of the demands of our current cutthroat global economy, American parents may do well to think of themselves as cognitive coaches for their kids. We should look at the homework spread across the dining room table playing field and say with all appropriate gusto: “Game on.”

Jennifer Arrow is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer who blogs about preschooling, afterschooling and children’s literature at Post-Apocalyptic
Homeschool
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Dalton School Apologizes for Screening Slavery Satire

The New York Times

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The Dalton School, one of New York City’s most prestigious private schools, has apologized after screening a satirical movie about a world in which the South won the Civil War.

The film, titled “C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America,” was shown to sophomores at a presentation of history projects on Monday. Its edgy and comical treatment of slavery quickly led to complaints, and on Wednesday, the school met with students and parents to apologize.

“C.S.A.,” released in 2006 and directed by Kevin Willmott, an associate professor at the University of Kansas, is presented in the style of a documentary, nearly 150 years after Ulysses S. Grant surrenders to Robert E. Lee, following the film’s conceit.

The movie is a hodgepodge of commentary by fake historians and altered footage, including an image of a Confederate flag on the moon. It freely uses racial stereotypes, with the not-so-subtle message that attitudes toward black people in the real world are not so far off from the imagined 21st-century Confederacy.

Some of the most provocative moments come during its spoof advertisements. One ad promotes Confederate Family insurance. “For over 100 years, protecting people and their property,” a narrator says as a slave smiles at the camera. Another markets a tracking device called the Shackle, a “revolutionary new way of servant monitoring.”

In interviews, Dalton students said that some felt the film was insensitive to the struggle of blacks and made light of slavery.

In a statement on Wednesday, Dalton’s leader, Ellen C. Stein, pledged to redouble efforts to speak with students and staff members about race.

“We believe in the highest levels of respect and sensitivity for the diverse nature of our student body and community,” she said in a statement. “Monday’s screening should not have taken place and we sincerely regret that the film was shown.”

Earlier this month the school wrestled with another racially sensitive work,overhauling a production of the musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” over concerns about the show’s use of Asian stereotypes and references to a slavery ring in China.

Professor Willmott said the school had misinterpreted his film, noting that several of its most controversial ideas are borrowed from history. The movie ends with footnotes.

“This, in essence, is the American problem in race,” he said. “The minute that things become real, the minute that you get close to the edge, everything shuts down.”

He added, “This was an opportunity for dialogue in the school setting.”

“C.S.A.” opens with a quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw: “If you’re going to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh; otherwise they’ll kill you.”

Alex Vadukul contributed reporting.

Black Boys Have an Easier Time Fitting In at Suburban Schools Than Black Girls

The Atlantic

Minority young men are considered by their white peers to be cool and tough; minority young women, on the other hand, are stereotyped as “ghetto” and “loud.”
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Ted S. Warren/AP Photo

Though I’m sure my name was a hint, I happen to be black. My parents are West African (Mali and Senegal to be exact), and I was born and raised in France. When I was 13, my family and I moved to a suburban community outside of Atlanta. The school I attended, though relatively diverse for Georgia, was majority white. I had an easy time there. I made friends quickly, a lot of them white. To this day, more than ten years later, my friend circle is still very much white, populated by the people I met at my mostly-white high school, or at my mostly-white university, or in my mostly-white neighborhood. I have always attributed my ability to fit into both multicultural and white environments to my personality and my immigrant’s need to adapt to whatever environment I’m in.

But recent research published in the American Sociological Association’sSociology of Education journal shows that my gender (male) was one of the determinative factors in the relative ease of my social integration. In an articlepublished last year, Megan M. Holland, a professor at the University of Buffalo and a recent Harvard Ph.D., studied the social impact of a desegregation program on the minority students who were being bussed to a predominantly white high school in suburban Boston. She found that minority boys, because of stereotypes about their supposed athleticism and “coolness,” fit in better than minority girls because the school gave the boys better opportunities to interact with white students. Minority boys participated in sports and non-academic activities at much higher rates. Over the course of her study, she concluded that structural factors in the school as well as racial narratives about minority males resulted in increased social rewards for the boys, while those same factors contributed to the isolation of girls in the diversity program.

Another study looked at a similar program, called Diversify. Conducted by Simone Ispa-Landa at Northwestern University, it showed how gender politics and gender performance impacted the way the minority students were seen at the school. The study shows that “as a group, the Diversify boys were welcomed in suburban social cliques, even as they were constrained to enacting race and gender in narrow ways.” Diversify girls, on the other hand, “were stereotyped as ‘ghetto’ and ‘loud’”—behavior that, when exhibited by the boys in the program, was socially rewarded. Another finding from her study was that because of the gender dynamics present at the school—the need to conform to prevalent male dominance in the school—“neither the white suburban boys nor the black Diversify boys were interested in dating” the minority girls. The girls reported being seen by boys at their schools as “aggressive” and not having the “Barbie doll” look. The boys felt that dating the white girls was “easier” because they “can’t handle the black girls.”

The black boys in Ispa-Landa’s study found themselves in peculiar situations in which they would play into stereotypes of black males as being cool or athletic by seeming “street-smart.” At the same time, though, they would work to subvert those racial expectations by code-switching both their speech and mannerisms to put their white classmates at ease. Many of the boys reported feeling safer and freer at the suburban school, as they would not be considered “tough” at their own schools. It was only in the context of the suburban school that their blackness conferred social power. In order to maintain that social dominance, the boys engaged in racial performance, getting into show fights with each other to appear tough and using rough, street language around their friends.

In the case of the girls, the urban signifiers that gave the boys so much social acceptance, were held against them. While the boys could wear hip-hop clothing, the girls were seen as “ghetto” for doing the same. While the boys could display a certain amount of aggression, the girls felt they were penalized for doing so. Ispa-Landa, in an interview, expressed surprise at “how much of a consensus there was among the girls about their place in the school.” She also found that overall, the girls who participated in diversity programs paid a social cost because they “failed to embody characteristics of femininity” that would have valorized them in the school hierarchy. They also felt excluded from the sports and activities that gave girls in those high schools a higher social status, such as cheerleading and Model U.N., because most activities ended too late for the parents of minority girls. Holland notes that minority parents were much more protective of the girls; they expressed no worries about the boys staying late, or over at friend’s houses.

Once minority women leave high school and college, they are shown to continue to struggle with social integration, even as they achieve higher educational outcomes and, in certain locales, higher incomes than minority men. Though, as presaged by high-school sexual politics, they were still three times less likelythan black men to marry outside of their race.

For the second time in as many sessions, the Supreme Court heard a case about affirmative action last Tuesday. Following last year’s Fisher v. Texas non-decision, the court will now be deciding whether states can ban the consideration of race in college admissions through ballot initiatives as the Michigan did in 2006. Based on the tenor of the oral arguments, some court watchers have predicted that the court’s conservative majority will now take the opportunity to further limit the use of affirmative action in admissions across the nation. As Garrett Epps noted last week, it is nearly impossible to have a measured conversation about affirmative action, an issue that splits even the most ardent liberals. However, there appears to be a general consensus that minority populations benefit from these programs. But very rarely do commentators stop to consider the diversity of that minority population, and even fewer consider what impact affirmative actions programs have on the disparate, intersecting groups who participate in them.

A couple of months ago, Ebony.com editor Jamilah Lemieux started the Twitter hashtag #blackpowerisforblackmen to discuss the little-talked about but deeply-felt existence of black male privilege. Tweets like “#blackpowerisforblackmenbecause the Black men’s problems are the community’s problems” and “#blackpowerisforblackmen bc although black women played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement, we’re only told about MLK&other blk men” speak to a history of minimizing of the experience of black women. The hashtag, which attracted no small amount of blowback from black males, revealed the dilemma that many black women face: having to combat both racism and sexism. Like the research about the diversity programs, the conversation showed that what we sometimes instinctively think of as “the black experience” is complicated by gender. The ostensible purpose of affirmative action is to increase the presence of minorities in colleges and universities. But as the Supreme Court considers further limiting the scope of such programs, it is important to remember that unless cultural expectations about race and gender change, full educational integration will remain a pipe dream.