This post was originally published in December 2019. Links and resources have been updated.
Racism is a pervasive problem in the United States that affects children at all grade levels. It can occur in ways teachers interact with their students and in the ways that students relate with each another. It can also be evident in the educational access and funding that our English learners (ELs) have in U.S. schools. This topic profoundly affects the lives of our students; teachers of ELs need to be aware of this so that they can properly advocate for their students.
Research by Mahzarin Banaji, a renowned Harvard University racism and prejudice expert, found that “even though they may not understand the ‘why’ of their feelings, children exposed to racism tend to accept and embrace it as young as age 3.” Teachers need to expose children to learning opportunities that acknowledge race and ethnicity, and prioritize preventing racism through social justice with culturally relevant teaching. Karen Nemeth, a U.S. expert on early childhood development, remarked in an email to me that “Parents and teachers have powerful influence over the ways children learn to express judgements about other people, and reading appropriate stories can help.”
Research on Using Books With Young Children to Combat the Growth of Race and Racism
Researcher Kristina R. Olson reported in Psychology Today (2013) that “nearly all White mothers in their research study adopted a ‘colormute/colorblind’ approach when discussing a book that was either directly or indirectly about race with their 4–5 year old children; most chose not to discuss race at all.” She added that research “has demonstrated that as opposed to White parents, parents of minority children in the U.S. do talk about race and ethnicity quite regularly.”
Introduce Books on Race and Racism
The introduction of books about racially and ethnically diverse global populations can help teachers support discussions in the classroom about prejudice and stereotypes. Educators of ELs often teach those children who are targets of discrimination. It is important for them to have a list of books to recommend to classroom and subject area teachers. I would suggest books and resources from the following lists for classroom libraries. Most are marked with the age range that is appropriate for the book.
- 31 Children’s Books to Support Conversation on Race, Racism and Resistance
This children’s reading list focuses on taking action. It highlights resistance, resilience, and activism and it seeks to empower youth to participate in the ongoing movement for racial justice. These books demonstrate the diverse ways people of all ages and races have engaged in antiracist activism and highlight how race intersects with other issues, such as capitalism, class, and colonization.
- Stop and Think Reading List and Resources
This list is posted by The Brown Bookshelf is an online resource that promotes awareness of books written and illustrated by Black creators.
- Social Justice: Fifteen Titles to Address Inequity, Equality, and Organizing for Young Readers
These books elevate the voices of young activists and explain complex issues, such as racism and immigration. This list is published by the School Library Journals and is aimed at middle school readers.
- 19 Global Young Adult Novels for Class Library
The selections on this list cover diverse settings, including India, Pakistan, Haiti, Cuba, and Japan. These books are excellent for middle school students and can help students discuss people from around the globe who are racially diverse.
- Race Talk: Engage Young People in Conversations About Race and Racism
This is an interesting article from the Anti Defamation League (ADL) on 9 ways to have conversations with students on race and racism.
If you have resources that you use in your classroom with your students, either about racism or celebrating the diverse cultures of your students, please write about them in the comments, below.