Personal interest: My first awareness of racial identity and diversity occurred when I was in Year 3. Having being raised acknowledging acceptance of people of racial or cultural difference my thoughts of children of colour were positive and impartial. However, one day a boy in my class of Sri Lankan descent got into trouble with another student, but only the Sri Lankan boy was asked to go to the principal’s office. During our lunch break he came over to a group of us and told us that he thought he was the one that got into trouble ‘because he was ‘black’’.
I remember thinking to myself, ‘why would he get into trouble just because he was black? ’ It was in fact that both boys went to the principal’s office, just on separate occasions. This was my first memory of someone thinking that they were being singled out or getting into trouble due to belief of skin colour dissimilarity and racial stereotypes. I’ve been aware of racial diversity ever since. Now that I have an opportunity to be a part of children’s learning and development I want to learn more about diversity and make a difference in children’s perspectives of themselves and others. Discussion:
As educators in early childhood, it is crucial that we acknowledge and respect that children’s personal, family and cultural histories shape their learning and development. The increase in racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in educational centres is reflected in many early childhood classrooms. Although the diverse composition of early childhood classrooms may bring challenges, it also introduces many opportunities for educators, parents, and children as we need to value and appreciate difference and variety as a positive attribute in all educational and social environments (Ashman and Elkins 2008).
As adults, being ‘different’ is a decision to make a personal statement; such as deciding to change a hairstyle, get a tattoo or by wearing alternative clothing. It is one thing to be different by choice, and another for a child to discern themselves as being different based on their physical features, cultural of religious differences. One of the most stimulating aspects of early education is observing and supporting young children as they develop their individual identities.
This development takes place within different social contexts where issues relating to human diversity and difference impact significantly on children’s understandings and ways of being in the world. Arguably, our education begins when we are first able to detect causes and consequences, and continue to form the basis of our identity, behaviours and knowledge of the world around us. Glover (1991) in the early 1990s found that as 2-3 year old children became aware of difference they simultaneously develop positive and negative feelings about the differences they observe.
For example, racial awareness impacts on their perceptions of skin colour and on their preferences in the social relationships they initiate and foster with other children. An Australian study conducted by Palmer (1990) exemplifies how preschool children were able to make negative judgements based on racial characteristics of young Aboriginal children. Children were reportedly saying ‘You’re the colour of poo… Did your mum drop you in the poo?
’ This observation suggests that children as young as 2 years old are becoming aware of diversity and differences of others, and these judgements children are making are often affecting their ability to make sound judgements of others as their perceptions of reality are distorted. Although Palmers study was conducted in 1990, there has been a significant increase in racial awareness since the 1980s of the importance of early childhood education policies, practices and curriculum aiming to positively reflect the diverse cultural identities of children and their families.
Today, the embracing of children’s lives is a central focus of the different philosophies which foster early childhood education in Western society, such as the ‘anti-bias curriculum’ which emerged from the United States (Derman-Sparks and the A. B. C. Task Force, stated in Robinson 2006 p 2) and also in the perspectives of Reggio Emilia. In Australia there has been a broadening of cultural influences which has been referred to by Ashman (2008) as ‘the cultural mosaic’, which refers to those who have migrated maintain their homeland traditions while embracing the new norms, values and practices within the country.
Furthermore data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008) show that around 25% of Australians were born in other countries, nearly half the population has direct links with relatives born overseas, and over 2. 5 million people speak a language other than English at home, which should clearly illustrate to educators that learning developmental experiences need to be appropriate for multicultural children to be involved in. As stated by Robinson (2006), the early childhood years are fundamental years in the growth and development of a child’s cognition, language, social, emotional and physical competence.
Early childhood educators are in an ideal position to make a positive difference in the lives of children and their families. My emerging philosophy would be to teach children to be critical thinkers specifically about prejudice and discrimination to encourage children to develop the skills to identify when something they have said or done is unfair of hurtful to another. Also to model the behaviours and attitudes I would want children to develop, particularly in situations that can either promote prejudice or inhibit a child’s openness to diversity.
Furthermore, I would aim to expose children to role models from their own culture as well as to those from other cultures to encourage appreciation of their own cultural identity, as well as different cultures. As professionals who work with families, our willingness to talk openly about identity and to help foster a positive sense of self in children can make an enormous difference in affirming the rich diversity within our community and help children form bridges across cultures and traditions.
The more that children have a solid grounding and understanding about who they are and where they came from, the more they learn to value differences of cultures different from their own, and the closer we get to building a world of respect of multicultural differences. Ashman, A F, Elkins J 2008, ‘Education for Inclusion and Diversity’, 3rd edn, Pearson Education, Frenchs Forest, NSW. Davis, B M 2009, ‘The Biracial and Multicultural Student Experience: a journey to racial literacy’, Corwin, Sage Ltd, USA.
Glover, A 1991, ‘Young children and race: a report of a study of two and three year olds’, Australian Catholic University, Sydney. Pulido-Tobiassen, D, Gonzalez-Mena, J 2005, ‘Learning to Appreciate Differences’, Early Childhood Today, vol. 20, issue 3, viewed 2 April 2011, retrieved from Victoria University Database. Robinson, K 2006, ‘Diversity and Difference in Early Childhood Education’, Bell and Bain Ltd, Glasgow, viewed 1 April 2011, retrieved from Ebrary database.