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No justice, no peace of mind: Why it’s critical for schools to commit to teaching anti-racism

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Without justice, there is no peace of mind. The tragic loss of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others has awakened the nation’s social consciousness. But as a Black mother living in America, these are just more painful reminders that my family and I are not safe. This pain is intensified when I look into the eyes of my two young children, who don’t understand systemic racism but are exposed to it nonetheless.

Now that I’m a mother of two multi-racial children, my husband and I must have daunting conversations with our kids about race and racism. As parents, we have a duty to warn them about the harsh reality that they will not have the same opportunities as their white counterparts due to nothing other than the color of their skin. It is also our duty to teach them to be proud of who they are and where our families come from.

These conversations cannot be limited to our kitchen table, and we do not have the option to wait until they’re a certain age to address these topics. Caryn Park, a researcher who focuses on children’s understanding of race and ethnicity, says, “Children as young as three years old are aware of race and skin color.” This is why I’ve helped found a school, Citizens of the World (CWC) West Valley, where teachers do not shy away from conversations about race. In fact, CWC West Valley teachers guide children from an early age so that they can learn to interact and lead across lines of difference. Considering the state of our nation, we need to nurture and develop leaders of tomorrow now.

CWC West Valley welcomes children of all different backgrounds, gender and sexuality identities, socioeconomic statuses and mindsets. Children are taught to embrace each other’s differences and value what one another brings to the table. Students work together in teams to address real-world issues like homelessness, environmental stewardship and inclusive playgrounds. By learning this way in a diverse environment by the time they're five years old, they enhance their own knowledge and understanding of the world in profound ways.

And at a time like this, CWC West Valley educators are confronting racism by teaching students about antiracism through virtual book clubs and supporting parents with anti-racism resources, before the school has even opened . It isn’t easy, but we need compassionate, anti-racist educators now more than ever. James Baldwin’s famous quote from his “A Talk to Teachers” rings in my ears as something all educators should be thinking about during these tumultuous times: “The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”

My son will start kindergarten this fall at CWC West Valley. I can be confident knowing that he will be seen as the beautiful individual that he is. He will be surrounded by caring adults who lead by example and teach him to show respect, kindness and compassion towards others. We know that our son will thrive in a school community like CWC West Valley that promotes critical leadership and life skills in a diverse nation.. He will feel proud of his identity and safe in his community.

But more than anything, he will be in an environment of learning that goes beyond focusing on achieving state standards. It will expose the students to what’s happening in the society in which they live, giving them the space--and the skills--to ask questions and explore solutions by working together.

Let’s create and support the schools that are building a pathway towards more justice, more peace and more peace of mind. If only more schools were like CWC, encouraging their students to examine the society in which they live, like Baldwin said. Let’s challenge our kids, starting at a very young age, to build the tools necessary to analyze their environments with critical thinking skills so they can become the change when they get older that we so desperately need. Our society would be so much better for it.

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