“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Audre Lorde
Recognize. In order for educators to recognize how they and their students differ, as well as how their students differ from each other, work has to be done. Good questionnaires sent home at the beginning of the year can help with this, as well as making it a point to talk with families about their lives. We cannot assume that we know how people are alike and different just by looking at them and noticing the language(s) they speak. We have to do the work, or else we’re solely relying on stereotypes.
Accept. Once we have identified and recognized the uniqueness of the values and experiences of the social groups of which are students are a part, we can show that we accept those differences by incorporating our students’ cultures into the curriculum. Authentic multicultural literature used for read alouds, mentor texts, research purposes and pleasure is one easy way to do this.
Celebrate. It is only after you have taken the time to get to know your students and their families, and have put forth effort in including their cultural backgrounds into the classroom on a regular basis, do celebrations make sense. Far too often, we as educators try to use celebrations of cultural groups as the means to make apparent our acceptance of a group and to affirm our students' identities. This approach, however, is problematic, as the celebrations and holidays of a group of people tend to break away from what is normal within the group. This is why these special days are, in fact, special. I believe that showing equity in celebrations is a great way to add excitement and create rich experiences for children. However, I absolutely believe that celebrations do not affirm anyone’s cultural identity when they are done without incorporating a student’s culture into the curriculum, throughout the year. In these situations, celebrations can actually serve to alienate children that are not a part of the dominant group, as they are painted as outsiders.
Play it safe by using the community and other authentic resources as a means to plan a celebration. For more resources on building bridges in the classroom visit Teaching Tolerance.