Last night I took my kids to a fall festival at one of the schools I work with. I actually taught at this school for five years, so it’s always like coming home when I go over there. This school is about 65% English Learners and probably 90% kids from a language background other than English. The majority of the students’ families are either from Egypt or from a Spanish-speaking country. When we arrived at the fall festival and made our way through the sea of children to the ticket booth, my six year old son said, “Is this a brown school?”
Yeah, I thought I would faint, too. I quickly explained that these were kids whose families came from all over the world (although many of the kids were born in the US) and that it’s rude to call people “brown” or say “brown school.” I left it at that until the end of the night, after my kids (who were 2 of maybe 6 white kids that I saw all night) had stood in line with people of all colors, shapes, and sizes who were speaking several different languages.
On the way home, I talked to them about how there are private schools and public schools, and how they go to a private school, but public schools are located in neighborhoods, so kids in public school attend the school closest to their house. And this particular neighborhood had a lot of families from other countries who speak other languages. I talked about how anybody can go to any school, and there are no “brown schools” or “black schools” or “white schools.” And how no one is better than anyone else because of their skin color, or the language they speak, or where they come from. “Do you understand?” I asked my son.
“Yes,” he said, “but there still were a lot of brown kids.”
Honestly, I think my son’s comments are not signs of racism, but merely his six-year-old way of describing how people look and differences in people. But since I can’t get in his head, I’m not completely sure. What if my kid is racist? What if my kid thinks he’s better?
Then come the next questions: What have I done to make my kid racist? What have I said? Have I taught him some wrong attitude? Am I putting my kid at a disadvantage by putting them in a private school? Am I sheltering them far too much? There is some diversity at their school, but not near as much as you see in the public schools around here.
When I was at the fall festival, I was so excited to be in the midst of that throng of cultures and languages. (You have to remember that I did not grow up around white kids. I was one of I think three white kids in my graduating class. I went to middle school and high school with students from all over the world, from a myriad of languages and a bunch of different religions.) I enjoyed watching all the children interact with their friends, both in their native languages and in English. I enjoyed interacting with a few of the parents as we stood in line. Working with people from other cultures has always been a dream of mine, and I pretty much did that when I was teaching. I have always felt passionate about bettering the immigrant experience and helping them become a part of our culture, as well as helping Americans shed their prejudices and be able to accept and welcome immigrants. I have to admit that last night I felt an overwhelming urge to go back to the classroom just so I could have contact with these kids and families again.
Yet it was a completely new experience for my kids. They have African American friends, but they rarely are around multilingual, multicultural children. So where do I go from here? How do I, a middle-class, white mom, teach my middle-class, white kids about diversity? How do I teach them what language to use regarding diversity? How do I teach them to value, love, and appreciate all kinds of people? How do I get them to see people, not color or language? Seriously. I want your advice.
P.S. This can very easily become a public school/private school debate, which is probably a worthwhile discussion, but it’s a discussion for another blog post. If you want to discuss schools in light of this topic, that’s fine, but please try not to get off on a tangent.