In my perspective, multicultural education should not focus only on minorities. All students are equally important, although different from each other.
Classroom Close Ups
Figure one- Student working groos motor skills by spinning in a bowl
Figure 3- Student using easy reacher
Antibias/Multicultural Education is vital across all levels, even in early childhood. Antibias education refers to a curriculum that strives to break down prejudices and discrimination in an effort to help children embrace and appreciate themselves and others. Multicultural education, in turn, attempts to value and embrace all cultures, languages, and backgrounds. Though the terms have different meanings, they often go hand-in-hand, as educators strive to help children understand and value the world in which they live. Louise Derman-Sparks, an expert in the field of Antibias/Multicultural (AB/MC) education, shares that research continues to show that “children’s racial identities are dynamic responses to experiences with adults and children, rather than fixed entities,” (Derman-Sparks & Ramsey, 2011, p. 46). She points out that, since children are aware of the differences between people’s skin colors and physical traits from a very young age, adults can make a huge difference by knowing how to respond. “The adult response can reinforce that it is not good to ask questions about differences or that it is okay to notice differences and it is okay to be different,” (Derman-Sparks, LeeKeenan & Neemo, 2015, p. 62).
In my international preschool in the Philippines, I often have children from many different nations, including a large number of multiracial children. The children’s skin tones range from pale to honey-brown to coffee. To help make the children aware of how we are different and how we are alike, I use literature as a springboard. I believe that books can help us become okay with asking questions—as well as know-how to ask the right questions. In Shades of People by Shelly Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly (2009), we learn that skin is not really different colors, but different shades. There can be many shades, even in the same family. What the children love the most about this book is how it describes their skin as “wrapping paper,” and we can’t tell much about what someone is like just by their skin! They also enjoy the book black is brown is tan by Arnold Adoff (2002) about a multiracial family. It describes mom and dad’s skin, the skin of their different relatives and the skin of the little boy and girl. It’s written in lilting poetry with delicious words that the children repeat over and over.
i am black i am brown
the milk is chocolate brown
i am the color of the milk
chocolate cheeks and hands that darken
in the summer sun
a nose that peels brown skin in august
Our favorite classroom book on skin is definitely The Colors of Us by Karen Katz (1999). In this story, a little girl named Lena who is the “color of cinnamon” has a mother who is an artist. Her mother is teaching her how to mix colors and how she can mix red, black, white, and yellow paint to make the right brown for her skin. Lena says, “But Mom, brown is brown.” Her mom disagrees and takes her on a walk around their neighborhood. They see all different shades of brown among her friends and neighbors. Sonia’s creamy peanut butter skin, Isabella who is chocolate brown, like cupcakes, Mr. Bellegrino at the pizzeria who is the golden brown color of his pizza crust, her best friend Jo-Jin who lives close to the playground and is the color of honey, and so many more! The preschoolers love to decide what words describe their skin. One tan, white American boy told me he was Coffee Marshmallow. We then mix paint colors, just like Lena does, to get the “right shade of brown” for our skin. This book is especially dear to my students since most of them have at least one Asian parent and are all shades of peach and tan and brown.
Even though I have some excellent (AB/MC) literature, I never quit looking for new books to expose my students to. All the Colors of the Earth is a beautiful book that is a poem celebrating children’s skin colors. The opening line is “Children come in all the colors of the earth, the roaring browns of bears and soaring eagles” (Hamanaka, 1994). I will introduce it to my students and see if we can write our own poetry about our skin shades. As Derman-Sparks so aptly points out, “Doing AB/MC education means cherishing its hopeful possibilities and meeting its
Cinnamon Skin: Using Children’s Literature for Multicultural Education