We adults and the children alike are challenged daily to think beyond our own experience and histories with the hoped for outcome to grow ever less bias in our perspectives.
The past couple of years I have committed myself to be on the lookout for the subtle versions in children's literature "picture books" and media presentations. Most recently I have committed myself to working on keeping my gender language neutral or in alliance with the gender pronouns a person explicitly requests.
Teaching tolerance is not the same as teaching inclusiveness. We are not asking ourselves to "put up" with something and get a pat on the back for it. We are challenging ourselves to embrace and accept and we'll most likely get messy while doing so. Change is challenge. Challenge promotes change.
On the preschool level, preschoolers encounter their own moments of exclusion and potential discrimination. They are at their most vulnerable stage as they begin to view the greater world outside their own familiar egocentric one. We all know how anything different can get their attention, ranging from broadcasting their observations ("Daddy, that lady has a mustache!") to intense resistance ("I only want him to help me.).
Because they are so young and impressionable, it is critical that they have adults around them who are willing to model and teach the attitudes of engagement and acceptance. Anti-discrimination teaching sounds lofty and ambitious, but it does not require tense encounters with wheelchairs or race. Listen in on they actual conversation that took place in the classroom and you'll see that it's really quite down-to-earth.
Child: She still wears diapers! Whey does she wear diapers. I don't.
Parent: She is wearing a diaper because she needs to. Do you remember when you wore a diaper?
Child: Yes, I wear pull ups at night.
Parent: And when you were ready to were underwear, you did. How do you like wearing underwear?
Child: Good, but why is she still wearing a diaper?
Parent: She's happy wearing diapers right now and that's okay. We all wear different things. It's important to be comfortable and be happy with it. Okay, we're finished (changing the diaper). Would you two like to do some art together?
Child: Okay, let's paint!
We all signed on to a huge task when we had our kids. Raising empathetic children does not happen automatically or overnight. As with everything, each child will have better days than others. I count it as a privilege to be a part of program that has this anti-bias goal as its hallmark and I'm thankful that I don't have to go it alone. It is my hope that during the few precious years that our children are at Tillamook, they'll gain the skills they need to disarm attitudes and actions of bias and discrimination, that they will accept the challenge to instill change.
As we all know, the issues will grow beyond the type of underwear someone is wearing but thank goodness we are able to start small in teaching the skills that are transferrable to bigger ones.