Poverty: 3-5 Minute Child Chats about Social Justice

20170820_111007.jpgParents and guardians should be brave and create space for conversations with their children about the important topics of our society. We can no longer live in silos nor can we live in silence.

Last month I wrote that I would be sharing ways in which I have conversations with our 7-year-old son about topics related to social justice (and equity, acceptance, helping others, advocacy, etc.). My 1st disclaimer is that we live in a multicultural city in a neighborhood that is multiethnic and multi-income. We have many opportunities for us to engage with our community and have experiences that lend themselves well to discussing social justice. We also travel by car to other states and ask him to observe and ask questions. I am, after all, a social worker with a sociological imagination! My 2nd disclaimer is that we have enough resources to do what we need to do in life and a little bit more. Finally, my 3rd disclaimer is that our son is naturally curious and asks many questions, so it makes these conversations easier to initiate, but him being 7, the conversations end quickly because his attention span is short!

It is difficult for many children to understand poverty. Many parents & guardians do not discuss money with their children. So understanding that not having enough resources is connected to so many institutional and societal factors is complicated. To just say “Well…their parents do not have a job…” is such an insufficient explanation. Such a complicated issue (and the same goes for racism, sexism, disability, homophobia, etc., etc., etc.) require exposure that is consistent and wrapped in age-appropriate conversations that earnestly display your values of equity and justice.

So here are some examples of what we have done so far. What we do is very simple and we hope that as he gets older our experiences and conversations will become more complex and meaningful. I welcome your experiences and questions:

  1. We start with us & him and our & his money:
    1. We tell him how much he has, how much grandpa sent him, etc. We tell him that he has to save, give, and then he can spend a small portion of it.
    2. When it comes to giving, we make suggestions and then let him choose. We do not give online because we want him to have the experience of going somewhere to make the donation in person. It is usually at church, but he has also chosen to give to someone standing on the street corner or give to a jar at the store counter.
      1. “We believe that helping others is important.” “What do you think?” “Do you like it when someone helps you? Do you have an example of a time someone helped you?” “Why is it important to you?” “How do you feel when you help someone else?”
    3. When it comes to spending, we have taught him how to read prices. We talk about not buying more than what you need. We use the word greed (Eric Carle’s Greedy Python can be used in many ways!)
  2. We have served meals through a program that operates out of our church for people with not enough resources. We have done this on a weekend and on Thanksgiving (not as consistently as I would like). We tell our son what we are going to do and explain to him who comes to eat a meal
    1. “Do you know what we are going to do today?” “Do you know why we are going?” “What questions do you have?”
  3. We donate books, clothing, toys, etc. to a local organization and to the school when they collect coats, toys, etc.
    1. “Let’s look at what you have…what can we share with someone who doesn’t have any of this or enough of any of this?” “Can you imagine not having coat/gloves in winter?” “How do you think the child who gets this coat will feel?”
  4. We have conversations about the people we see on the streets holding signs.
    1. He has initiated these conversations. He asks why people stand on the street with signs asking for money. Our responses have varied, but the answer to his questions usually starts something like: “Sometimes people are unable to work and if you are unable to work you probably do not have enough money to pay rent or buy groceries.”  “Sometimes people cannot work because they are disabled…”
  5. Finally, we admit our privilege. We cannot have an honest chat about poverty if we do not talk about our own privilege. It is often uncomfortable, but it is part of what needs to happen.

Remember: 

  1. Keep it simple and short.
  2. Use words, language, and experiences you know your child can understand and handle. Try to relate it back to what they may already know (being helpful, being kind, being fair). AND use a book (some suggestions below).
  3. Do not overwhelm them by trying to do too much or have too many experiences in a short period.
  4. Do not force it. It should happen with the natural context of what you already do. The New Year is a good time to start new habits of justice.
  5. Be consistent and nurture their curiosity and their desire to engage in acts of social justice.

Children’s books related to this topic:

  1. Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt
  2. The family under the bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson
  3. Poverty and Hunger by Hanane Kai
  4. On our street: Our first talk about poverty by Jillian Roberts and Jaime Casap
  5. Everybody can help somebody by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

 

 

 

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5 minute child chats about social justice

The other day I realized that it only takes 3-5 minutes to begin to teach our children about social justice and equity.  As a female social work educator of color raising a brown boy in the U.S. this is very important to me. But I also realized ALL parents can do this. And the way to do it is very simple. In the next few blog posts I will be sharing examples of how I have done this. Our son is very curious and is a keen observer. He asks lots of questons which provides opportunity for us to teach him about diverse populations, inequity, justice, acceptance, and social action. 

Stay tuned for specific lessons. But for now, here are a few tips to get you started:

1. listen to your child and answer their questions. Invite them to ask questions. Peak their curiosity. 

2. Don’t ignore them or brush them off. 

3. Don’t hush them. 

4. Don’t shy away from uncomfortable topics. 

5. Don’t be afraid to look up what you don’t know or refer to a friend. 

6. Keep it simple. Use a children’s book or story to help you. 

Six reasons why we shouldn’t worry about the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria

kids in a cafeteriaDr. Beverly Tatum just released (September 5th) a 20th anniversary version of her ground-breaking and well-informed book Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria: And other conversations about race.  She discusses the phenomenon at Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity.  This is a topic I think about a lot as the mother of a Black child.

In my son’s small, private, predominantly White school I noticed that in his particular grade all the Black students are in one classroom and all the East Indian students are in another classroom (those are the two major non-White groups in his particular school). This got me thinking. School has begun and at public and private schools – elementary through high school – the Black students, the Latino students, the Asian students, etc. are probably sitting together in the cafeteria as I write this.  And on that note, so are the band students, the drama students, the athletes, and so on…AND here are some reasons why school social workers, teachers, or administrators should NOT be concerned:

  1. Yes, they are sitting together and it is o.k. We like to sit, play, live, and work with people who make us feel safe and comfortable and the fact is, that is often people who look like us. If I spend all morning and all afternoon in situations that make me feel unsafe and/or uncomfortable or with people who are different than me and I am the minority in numbers, then I want to be able to share a meal (a sacred joyful time in many households) with people who make me safe and comfortable.  Usually, this means being with people with whom I share some values and beliefs based on our identity. We have to remember that students, particularly those in middle and high school, are figuring out their multiple identities and how those identities intersect. Students are navigating a complex world both internally and externally. To help promote student wellness, let the girls sit with the girls and the drama students sit with the drama students and the Black students sit with the Black students…if they want. Now, this does not mean that you should tolerate purposeful exclusion, discrimination, or mocking, but rather accept that students (like adults) need to create their own safe spaces. AND you and your colleagues should think about how you can systematically and intentionally create spaces for cross-cultural dialogue that may bridge any gaps at lunch tables or on playgrounds.
  2. Forcing students to sit together in some orchestrated inclusion situation will always back-fire. Let it happen organically. You cannot force people to like each other just because it is a rule in a student handbook. Rather, you can teach students to talk to one another and to hear each other’s stories. You can create spaces and facilitate times for dialogues and learning. Cultural competency is a value and a skill that should be integrated into our schools’ academic curriculum and co-curricular activities. The dialogues about this should be ongoing. Cultural competence should be reflected throughout every aspect of our schools. Students may still choose to sit together by identity group and with ongoing dialogues there will be more awareness and understanding of why.
  3. Have you paid attention to what the students’ other needs are? The Brookings Institute estimates that 1 in 6 children come from food insecure household. Add to that the fact that at least half of our school-aged children have a mental health need. And these are just two examples of need.  Our students have a multitude of needs and obstacles that need addressing before we can even get them to attend to sitting and playing together. If a student is struggling at home, in their personal life and space, it is even more challenging for them to be ready to discuss and embrace sitting with people different than them.  A student may be worried about what others know and think of their situation. Or, a student may be too distressed to attend to their neighbor. Just think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – individuals need food, shelter, safety – basic necessities before they can begin to think about and get situated in belongingness and love for others.
  4. The guilt or discomfort we may feel about students sitting together based on identity groups or shared interests has nothing to do with them. How you or I or our peers feel about race relations or interacting with groups of different social identities is not how the children of the 21st century feel. Not a scientific study with proven significance, but still worthy of mention, Good Morning America has done a series called “Black and White,” in which Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts interview children about their thoughts and feelings about race. When Roberts asked them if their different skin color makes them different from each other the children answered in unison “No.”
  5. We should not place our expectations, guilt, hurt, anger, etc. on them. Students have their own emotions to deal with as it relates to equity, inclusion, and social justice. They don’t even always use the same language to describe it. We need to see them and hear them and let them develop their own space and ways of facing race relations in the 21st century. Inter-racial friendships may be challenging for some kids to form as Nadra Kareem Nittle points out. Children, and especially young people are navigating their own identities and navigating someone else’s adds some sort of pressure or complication to their lives. When your school begins to create a cultural competency plan, include the students and the parents.
  6. Diversity work in schools and anywhere is best done when it becomes part of the integrated fabric of the school and is not just an add-on 1 day or 1-semester program.   If you want the students to sit together in the cafeteria or anywhere else, then the school needs to have an ongoing, comprehensive, effective, and impactful plan that begins on day 1 and never ends. The National Education Association has great resources that schools can utilize as a starting place. Teaching for Tolerance is another good place to look.  Remember too that cultural competence needs to be shown in who is hired at the school and who holds leadership positions. Diversity and cultural competence needs to be seen in photos, posters, and textbooks year-round. And parents and guardians (as extensions of the schools) need to also have the tools to facilitate such conversations at home and with their families.

So, I am okay with the fact that my son is in the same classroom with the other 3 Black students in his grade. I know that he has always played and sat with all the children in his school, and vice-versa. In reconsidering our concerns about all of the Black children sitting together, social workers should help teachers figure out why this is or is not okay for each child, and administrators should think about what will work best for each school’s culture.  The famous Black scholar W.E.B. Du Boise wrote that the “problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” It is now the 21st-century and we should ask ourselves what are we doing if this problem still exists? We also need to think beyond the dichotomy of the Black and White binary and make sure we pay attention to the diversity and intersectionality within our schools and neighborhoods and speak to that specifically, and not just speak to Black and White students

In the coming decades, the population of our country will continue to become increasingly diverse. Soon, we will need to ask ourselves “Why are the White students sitting together in the cafeteria?” And then we must be prepared to answer that question and do something about it.

 

The Young Girls in My Class

Afro shillouetteI have the insane and unashamed pleasure to teach a class full of young girls with black and brown skin who are first-year college students. In my 15 years of teaching, I have not ever had more than 2 or 3 girls of color in 1 class at a time. And today I almost cried in class at the sight of them with all their color and beauty and focus. They inspired this little ditty (it needs a beat behind it):

The young girls in my class make my heart sing, my face smile, my toes tap, my belly tickle, my fingers snap, and my head…click to the side in joy & pride

The young girls in my class got sass, beauty, brains, intent, power, glitter, focus, confidence, steadiness, and all that is #blackgirlmagic

I could not have been the young girls in my class. I was shier, quieter, homlier, maybe I was as smart, but couldn’t do my hair, I had no style or sass – not at their age, and I rarely spoke up or talked back…or at least that is my recollection when I look at the young girls in my class – they amaze me and daze me and I can’t wait to hear them speak about whatever and everything

The young girls in my class will run the world. I will learn from them as much as they will from me. They are bold, empowered, educated sisters on a mission and they make my heart sing, my face smile, my fingers snap, my belly tickle, and my head…click to the side in joy & pride.

To the bad ass young girls in my class – go ‘head and do your thang!

 

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, it’s going in the syllabus.

From Lukens, J (2017). I love that I work with clever people who write witty things! Thanks, Dr. Lukens for this one! (I cited you so this is not plagiarism!)

Social Welfare and Ethics

The Facebook page “Shit Academics Say” recently posted the professor’s mantra “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, it’s going in the syllabus.”  I’ve been following that rule for a few years now, and so my syllabi have begun to rival Remembrance of Things Past” in scope.  I’ve begun distributing all of my auxiliary rules as an appendices to the syllabus.  Apart from my grading criteria, they contain my list of unacceptable excuses that have been culled from student grovelling over the past few years.  I tell my students that if they come up with an excuse I haven’t heard yet I will add it to my list and name it after them.  Would that be a violation of FERPA?  See, managed to make this post about ethics!  Anyway, and without further adieu, I give you:

Professor Lukens’s Compendium of Unacceptable Excuses for Late Papers

  1. “My computer crashed.”…

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Between Privilege and Vulnerability: Riding the Current Storms

joy-comes-in-the-morningThere have been quite a few articles written about the negative emotional and physical effects of post-election trauma.  Many people have reported an increase in high blood pressure, migraines, heart issues (palpitations, etc.), generalized anxiety and stress, and symptoms that mimic depression.  It seems like the nation is experiencing a crisis similar to that of being engaged in a war. It also seems as if for many people, this is the first time they have ever experienced such deep confusing maddening distress.

As a woman of color who was born and is living in the U.S., raising children of color, and married to an immigrant I can fully relate. My distress is as high as anyone else’s. The difference is maybe that I straddle privilege and oppression with coping skills that I have had a lifetime to develop, such that my blood pressure or heart or overall health have yet to be affected. While I feel enraged or sad at times, fearful and confused at others, I am not steeping in any of those emotions.  I do not have that luxury. I do not want to speak for all people of color or other vulnerable and oppressed identities living in the U.S., but I (we) cannot afford to be distressed to the point of being sick, hospitalized, and/or immobilized.  Further, and quite plainly – we are accustomed to this type of distress – for some of us, it is part of our daily living. And still, we rise and press on towards the goal.

I know the distress is real. I want to honor that there is pain, confusion, anger, sadness, fear. I also want to say that many of us who have been vulnerable and oppressed for some time know that “this too shall pass.” My great-grandparents and grandparents and parents did not survive racial and gender discrimination in the deep south by lying down and moaning. They did not have the luxury of sick time or mental health days. From them, I (and other people like me), learned how to press on and cope; how to find joy in the morning. So until “joy comes in the morning,” from my humble social work self, here are some tips for my friends who are experiencing pain, sadness, anger, confusion, discomfort, uncertainty for the first time:

  1. Keep breathing and engage in some self-care (and care for those around you). No social justice activist is any good if you are sick and weak and down-and-out. Stay well, healthy, and focused.
  2. Surround yourself with like-minded, caring, productive people. Together you can find comfort, vent, and strategize for the future.
  3. Call on a higher power. We are only human and can only do so much – meditate, pray, find a way to connect yourself spiritually or religiously to something outside of your human earthly self.
  4. Get a soundtrack. Music, art, poetry are all useful forms of protest as well as useful forms of uplift, care, and relief. My current soundtrack is a mix of Destiny Child’s “I’m a Survivor” and Kirk Franklin’s “Revolution.” I gotta keep a mix of hip-hop/rap and gospel to stay sane and focused.
  5. Find inspiration in those who came before us and did this work in the face of extreme obstacles. Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. to name a few.
  6. Act locally. The national and global picture is important AND overwhelming. Take action in your city/town, your state, your local schools. Get connected with what is happening in your area. Small bits may be more manageable and help to ease some of the distress of looking at the larger situation.
  7. Limit your social media and hard news intake. Really. Even as a professor who needs to keep up with the current events, I am limiting how much I log on and turn on. I still know what is happening and I am still able to act and I am less stressed about the daily changing landscape and environment.
  8. Don’t engage in identity politics that divides who you are from others. We are an intersectional people and our battles are all important. Combine efforts, work together, move forward.
  9. Remember that there have been many eras of social injustice. Many eras of social movements. And many victories for people who are distressed, oppressed, and vulnerable.
  10. Finally, remember joy does come in the morning. It may be the morning of next week or next month. But joy is counted in each small victory, and waking up with the ability to help make change is a victory for today!

 

This is my 10 cents on riding the storms of today.

What’s your self-care and care for others plan? Who is inspiring you to stay focused and fight the good fight?  What’s on your soundtrack during these trying times? How are you coping and pushing up and forward?

The Penis Talk: A Conversation With My Five-Year-Old Son

So after a rough day with NP, before daddy came home, my day ended with a scenario similar to this. I am now following this guy’s blog!

Must Be This Tall To Ride

simba and mufasa

Earlier this week, my son, who is in his third week of kindergarten, exposed his penis to other boys in the bathroom during school.

Everybody lost their collective shit. And by everybody, I mean his teacher, principal, day care lady, and mother. In that order.

There was a special parent-teacher conference this morning between my son’s teacher and mother to talk about behavioral expectations.

I take it seriously only insofar as I want my son to follow directions in school. To listen to his teacher. To be respectful and well mannered. To be well behaved and learn everything he can.

But he’s his father’s son. So goofing off in the bathroom with his friends makes total sense. I tend not to involve penises, but who knows what I was doing when I was five. Could have been super-penisy. Don’t remember.

I have had a couple talks with my son…

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