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Matt Allio

Talking to Children about Race

Dear Parents,

As an extremely challenging week in the U.S. drew to a close and as we enter the weekend, I wanted to reach out both as a parent and as an educator to address the ongoing public discourse and news coverage about racism and police brutality happening across America. To this, we add the ongoing backdrop of COVID, and it makes your job as parents navigating hard conversations extremely difficult. Of course, the conversations are also very important.

At our full faculty and staff meeting yesterday, I appealed to everyone – as educators – to look deeply within ourselves. To understand the impact of the past week on ourselves and the children we teach, whether the children are conscious of the impact or not.  Many of the faculty and staff are parents themselves and navigate the path with children in vital and important ways during especially acute and difficult times.

These topics are challenging enough for an adult; addressing them in a developmentally appropriate way for children of varying ages can feel incredibly daunting. Each of us also comes from a different background and brings a unique perspective on culture, racial identity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age and more.

For who may be looking to learn more yourselves, some wonderful books:

  • Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race, by Derald Wing Sue. This book addresses misconceptions about race talk, and offers concrete advice for educators and parents on approaching conversations in a new way.

  • Between the World and Me, by Te-Nehisi Coates. Through a letter to his son, Coates offers a powerful framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis.

  • How to be an Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi pushes each of us to go beyond simply “not being racist” to actively being “anti-racist,” a transformative concept that reorients the conversation about racism—and points us toward new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other.

For your children, the following resources:

  • Colette, Sue, and I are available to chat with your families about these issues should you need any support. This article from NPR also has some nice tips for parents about how to encourage discussion.

  • Mrs. Maxwell is a fountain of knowledge on developmentally-appropriate books for children, from the youngest readers to young adults. This list by the New York Times contains an expansive list of children’s books that tackle issues of race. For older, mature readers, newer books such as The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, are excellent. I can’t thank Heather enough for the role she plays in exposing our students to these issues on a regular basis. Todd Parr also has some wonderful books for young children about what makes people the same (they like to give hugs!) and different (their hair, their skin, etc).

  • Common Sense Media has lists of movies and TV that tackle issues of race (note these start around age 8, but you don’t need to wait until this age to talk about race. Many other younger TV shows, from Dora the Explorer to Doc McStuffins and Handy Manny depict people of color in empowering roles).

Practical advice for us all:

  • Encourage discussion and acknowledge differences between people. Those on the Upper Campus know that Emily Wong does a fantastic unit on “upstanding” and MLK for Kindergartners as young as age 5. So, don’t wait for your kids to talk to you – you can encourage discussion about what makes us the same and what makes us different for even the youngest children.

  • Keep all topics “OK” to discuss: even hard ones, like slavery or senseless brutality. Doing this will help your kids keep coming back to you with questions. Most museums with more serious exhibits will also have a section for kids (like the African American history or holocaust museums in DC).

  • Learn together. It’s ok to say that you don’t know the answer to a question and that as a parent, you continue to learn new things. You can reach out to Mrs. Maxwell for a book, or when COVID conditions next allow, visit the library with your child. Our Trinity teachers are excellent sources of knowledge, too.

I truly believe these conversations are part of the important work we do as an Episcopal school and that they will help our children grow into the people we want them to be. My door is open to you, and to learning together.

Matt Allio

Head of School

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