“Children in the preschool years are generally trying to make sense of what they're seeing,” including what they're seeing of racial differences, said Louise Derman-Sparks, a well-known anti-bias educator, who delivered this year's Fahs Lecture on religious education on Thursday at General Assembly. She said children become aware of differences in skin color in their first year, and by age 3 they begin talking and asking questions about race. Coupled with the fact that young children are constantly exposed to racist attitudes in the general culture, Derman-Sparks said we should begin doing anti-bias education with preschool children.
Derman-Sparks said anti-bias education can help children “resist the impact of systemic racism.” Referring to the focus of this General Assembly on immigration justice, she said anti-immigration laws were clear examples of racism in action. She suggested that careful anti-bias education beginning in the preschool years should be a top priority for congregations, so we can raise children to be anti-racist adults. While congregations also should do other work to stop racism in all its forms, such as advocating for immigration justice, they should be sure to do anti-bias education beginning in the preschool years.
“Anti-bias education could be as organized as OWL,” Derman-Sparks said, referring to the comprehensive sexuality education program Our Whole Lives, or OWL, which is used by many Unitarian Universalist congregations. Derman-Sparks outlined goals for such an anti-bias program, and a representative for the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) said these goals and other supporting material would be made available on the LREDA website in the near future.
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The Rev. Dan Harper is assistant minister of religious education at the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church of Palo Alto, Calif. He blogs at danielharper.org/blog.