We Should Listen to Kids More

“Why do some people think that black people and white people should still be separate?”
“Why did the black students get treated so poorly?”
“Why did slavery exist?”
“Was integration worth the fight?”
“Are we going backwards?”
“Do you think the kids at Parkland High School protesting are like Barbara Johns?”

Real questions. Not from adults, but young children. When teaching students about the Moton School Story, I often get questions and comments like these. People often say “kids are too young” to learn about certain topics. It is important to adjust the amount of detail provided, but to say kids are too young to learn about difficult history is absolutely wrong. It is never too early to teach kids about equity, fairness, inclusion, and justice. It is never too early to teach kids about what happens when you don’t have those things exactly. It is never too early to teach kids about intolerance, bigotry, hate, discrimination, and what happens when you let those things happen.

These kids who are “too young” are the same that will help make the world a better place.

It is not just members of the Ku Klux Klan that are racist. It is not only Nazis who are anti-Semitic. Passively standing by while injustice occurs makes us complicit. Kids are smarter than you think, and more importantly, they are watching you. They see when you lock your doors when a person of color walks down the street. They see when the store clerk follows a person of color through a store to “prevent stealing.” They see when you dance around explaining white privilege and supremacy. They see the portrayal of people of color in the media. They see people of color being incarcerated and killed at a disproportionate rate. It may be uncomfortable to talk about, but we can and must.
If we don’t help equip kids with the tools to find the truth, they will find it themselves likely online. The great thing about the internet is the seemingly limitless access to information. The awful thing about the internet is the seemingly limitless access to information. False information, sensationalized history, revised history, opinion pieces, biased news sources are all online waiting to misinform these same curious kids. It is up to us to help them understand the perspective, context, and nuance. It is up to us to help students understand that history is not “black and white” but grey. It is up to us to help them understand that we should not demonize or deify historical figures. It is up to us to help them understand civil discourse and compromise.
“People should be nice no matter what you look like.”
“It’s wrong to treat people badly because of skin color.”
“How do we stop racism?”
“What can I do to help?”
More quotes from kids at the museum. Hatred is a learned behavior. Kids are not born with bias. Kids do not care what color someone is. Kids do not care who you love. Kids think people should be treated equally and fairly. Kids think people without food should have it, and people without homes should have them.
Let’s be more like kids.
Cainan Townsend
Director of Education & Public Programs
(Photo: Student participating in our Strike Activity protesting for all people to have high paying jobs if they want them)

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