Mari L. Barnes
Vast amounts of research show that by 3 or 4 years old, children living in the United States are aware of physical and cultural differences among people. We also know that they learn the prevailing social attitudes toward these differences, even if they have no direct contact with those who are different.
Our children are the exact opposite of “color blind” and the parental practice of silence on the issue of differences has been instrumental in producing children who are unequipped to move effectively in a world that is becoming increasingly color-filled. We must acknowledge diversity. The differences are real and the children can see them. These differences become dangerous only when either inferior or superior value labels are imposed.
To assist parents in broaching the subject of difference in a way that children can appreciate, we need look no further than Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne.
Christopher Robin (for our purposes, the insulated white kid) is a welcomed visitor to the Hundred Acre Wood. There he interacts with Pooh, Piglet, Kanga and Roo, Rabbit, Eeyore, Owl and Tigger. All of the animals differ, physically and temperamentally. Those differences are not ignored; rather, variances are described and frequently help move the story to a satisfactory conclusion.
In one story, Owl's house blows down in a storm, trapping Pooh and Piglet and Owl inside. Pooh encourages Piglet (the only one small enough to do so) to escape and rescue them all. Piglet’s difference saves the day.
Pooh offers many opportunities to discuss the subjectivity of perceptions at a child’s level of understanding. Although Winnie-the-Pooh himself agrees with his friends that he “has no Brain,” his ideas are often clever. He rides Christopher Robin's umbrella to rescue Piglet from a flood and gets Eeyore out of the river by dropping a large rock on one side of him to wash him towards the bank.
Adams, Bell and Griffin (2007) define social justice as both a process and a goal. “The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.”1
The denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood demonstrate social justice at its most elemental. We can begin educating our children in the process of social justice simply by opening the discussion. There are many children’s books that demonstrate friendship, fairness and cooperation. These tools for building a just society are as close as your child’s bookcase.
1Reference: Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. Edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin.
Mari L Barnes writes for children under the pen name of Mari Lumpkin and for adults as ML Barnes. Her books, Parting River Jordan and Crossing River Jordan are proof that church can be funny. Mari’s company, Flying Turtle Publishing, specializes in books that families can share.