"You can't be the king--you're a girl." Child development expert Dr. Ilana Dvorin Friedman Ph.D. says that when adults hear children making comments like this one, they should interject.
Friedman, a Chicago early child development instructor and consultant who focuses much of her work with educators on examining the interdependent relationship between culture and child rearing, says adults should encourage children to dialogue on identity issues and challenge stereotypes even from a very young age.
"Kids are already constructing ideas about their own identities and about others," she said. "We often think children are innocent of this, but when we [think that], we're denying the fact that children are already categorizing people based on social identity."
When JUF's Early Childhood Collaborative decided to engage in work around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) last year, they couldn't have predicted the national reckoning on race, justice, and diversity that would be dominating the country less than a year later.
Back then, educators compiled a collection of children's picture books that depict characters and themes celebrating diversity, and each JUF Right Start school received the collection of 60 titles for their classrooms. Then, earlier this year, JUF held a day of DEI learning for 400 Jewish Chicago-area early childhood educators.
And when the coronavirus struck, JUF teamed up with Gratz College, a Philadelphia-based Jewish college, to develop a course open to Jewish early childhood educators for this summer, when many teachers had more free time than usual because of the pandemic.
Friedman, an advisor to the JUF cohort of early childhood master's students at Erikson Institute, is currently teaching the virtual course, titled "Family and Culture: An Anti-Bias Lens for Early Childhood Educators," shedding light on issues of diversity in American life and the relationship between culture, family, and the development and education of young children. Fourteen Chicago Jewish early childhood educators from 10 different schools are enrolled in the class.
The curriculum is helping educators develop an anti-bias framework that they can take back to their respective classrooms. For instance, Friedman asks the educators to examine how they portray "families" in the classroom. "What language do you use with your students when you talk about caregivers?" Friedman said. "If I, as the teacher, ask them about their 'mom' and 'dad,' those types of labels perpetuate a stereotypical family that might not translate to everyone."
As the national conversation around racial justice grows louder, Anna Hartman--Director of Early Childhood Excellence for JUF--says the class arrives at an important time. "Jewish early child professionals want to be on the cutting edge of everything that's right in the world," she said. "In an ever-changing world, ongoing learning among educators continues to be key to educational excellence."