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April 27, 2015 5

We Are Family: Making Classrooms Inclusive for All Families

?????????????????????In Stella Brings the Fam­ily, a recently pub­lished children’s book, a young girl’s teacher announces that the chil­dren can bring a spe­cial guest to school in cel­e­bra­tion of Mother’s Day. Stella frets—at first silently and then publicly—because she doesn’t have a mother and every­one else does. Stella has two dads. Her teacher unin­ten­tion­ally causes pain and stress for Stella and her class­mates won­der aloud who does all the things for Stella that moth­ers typ­i­cally do. The story ends well because Stella finds a solu­tion by invit­ing her Dads and mem­bers of her extended fam­ily to the festivities.

As we enter the sea­son of Mother’s and Father’s Day, it is impor­tant to remem­ber that Stella’s sit­u­a­tion is famil­iar in class­rooms across the country—both because there are many kinds of fam­i­lies and because most teach­ers often default to tra­di­tional con­cepts of fam­ily (i.e. two-parent, het­ero­sex­ual house­holds), not always real­iz­ing the harm that causes. Unfor­tu­nately, many of these sit­u­a­tions like Stella’s do not resolve hap­pily as her story does. Mak­ing the assump­tion that most chil­dren reside in one kind of fam­ily is prob­lem­atic on many levels.

Assump­tions about fam­i­lies often aren’t accu­rate. Less than half (46%) of U.S. chil­dren under 18 live in a home with two, mar­ried, het­ero­sex­ual par­ents in their first mar­riage. Accord­ing to the 2010 U.S. cen­sus, 220,000 chil­dren live in same-sex cou­ple house­holds. More than 24 mil­lion chil­dren live in sin­gle par­ent house­holds, rep­re­sent­ing 34% of total chil­dren. In 2013, 402,000 chil­dren were liv­ing in fos­ter care and 7% of all chil­dren lived in the home of their grandparents.

Despite these num­bers, well-meaning edu­ca­tors reg­u­larly make assump­tions about children’s home lives. These incor­rect assump­tions can cause chil­dren like Stella and oth­ers to feel badly and send an inac­cu­rate mes­sage to all young peo­ple about the cur­rent real­ity of our nation’s fam­i­lies.  Whether teach­ers have none, one, some or many chil­dren in their class­room who don’t fit the “tra­di­tional fam­ily” per­cep­tion, it is impor­tant to be inclu­sive and accu­rate about what fam­ily means.

For preschool and ele­men­tary age chil­dren, fam­ily is a huge part of their lives and often an inte­gral part of the cur­ricu­lum. For Mother’s and Father’s Day and through­out the year, it is impor­tant to be thought­ful about how to cre­ate class­rooms where all chil­dren feel included, affirmed and com­fort­able to be them­selves. Here are some sug­ges­tions for mak­ing that happen:

  • In dis­cus­sions about fam­ily, actively dis­cour­age the con­cept of a “tra­di­tional,” “aver­age” or “nor­mal” fam­ily. Work to broaden children’s def­i­n­i­tion of fam­ily, empha­siz­ing that fam­ily is not based on struc­ture or spe­cific mem­bers but rather, liv­ing arrange­ments, love, shar­ing home respon­si­bil­i­ties and com­mon activ­i­ties and tra­di­tions. Begin­ning at a young age, acknowl­edge that there are many kinds of fam­i­lies and bring that into your dis­cus­sions of home and fam­ily. Use books and other media in your class­room that fea­ture many kinds of fam­i­lies.
  • As a school, eval­u­ate the mes­sages you con­vey through lan­guage, poli­cies and pro­ce­dures. Re-think forms, per­mis­sions slips and other pro­ce­dures that explic­itly ask for “mother” and “father” iden­ti­fy­ing infor­ma­tion. Instead, change these des­ig­na­tions to parent/guardian across the board. In talk­ing with chil­dren, use terms like par­ents and guardians or adult fam­ily mem­bers rather than moth­ers and fathers. Think care­fully and find alter­na­tives to “father-daughter” dances and sim­i­lar activities.
  • In early child­hood and ele­men­tary class­rooms where these hol­i­days are typ­i­cally cel­e­brated, teach­ers should get to know their stu­dents and fam­ily sit­u­a­tions to avoid mak­ing some chil­dren feel left out. If you are going to com­mem­o­rate Mother’s and Father’s Day, con­sider mak­ing the day more gen­eral like “Fam­ily Day” or “Parent/Guardian Day.” If you decide to go ahead with the lan­guage of Mother’s and Father’s Day, be more inclu­sive and allow chil­dren to include other female and male fam­ily mem­bers or friends such as aunts, uncles, grand­par­ents, fam­ily friends, etc. If chil­dren have two moms or two dads, allow them to cre­ate two cards/gifts for these occasions.

Rather than caus­ing dis­tress, hol­i­days and obser­vances should be an occa­sion for bring­ing chil­dren together, shar­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences and help­ing every­one feel included.

 

 

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February 24, 2014 0

Governor Jindal’s Dubious Comments on Religious Liberty

Accord­ing to Louisiana Gov­er­nor Bobby Jin­dal, there is a “Silent War on Reli­gious Lib­erty” in America. 

In recent remarks at the Ronald Rea­gan Pres­i­den­tial Library, the Gov­er­nor claimed that this war is being “waged in our courts and in the halls of polit­i­cal power.”  Although “churches in Amer­ica are not being burned to the ground, and Chris­tians are not being slaugh­tered for their faith,” he con­tends that this blood­less war “threat­ens the fab­ric of our com­mu­ni­ties, the health of our pub­lic square, and the endurance of our con­sti­tu­tional governance.”  bobby-jindal

Exhibit A in the Governor’s speech evi­denc­ing this pur­ported silent war is the Hobby Lobby case cur­rently pend­ing before the U.S. Supreme Court.  In that case, the Gov­er­nor is sup­port­ing own­ers of for-profit, sec­u­lar cor­po­ra­tions who are chal­leng­ing the Afford­able Care Act’s con­tra­cep­tion man­date on reli­gious free­dom grounds.

The man­date would require these cor­po­ra­tions to pro­vide employ­ees with com­pre­hen­sive health insur­ance, inclu­sive of pre­scrip­tion birth con­trol, or pay a mod­est tax.  From the Governor’s per­spec­tive, these cor­po­rate own­ers should be allowed to impose their reli­gious beliefs about con­tra­cep­tion on thou­sands of employ­ees who likely have diverse reli­gious views on the subject.

Exhibit B is a series of legal cases against bak­eries, florists and other wed­ding ser­vice providers who have refused on reli­gious grounds to pro­vide ser­vices to same-sex cou­ples.  Here too, Gov­er­nor Jin­dal over­looks the fact that many of these cou­ples find sup­port for their mar­riages in their reli­gious tra­di­tion, and could legit­i­mately claim that their reli­gion is being denigrated.

In his speech at the Rea­gan Library, the Gov­er­nor also said “… the fact is that our reli­gious lib­er­ties are designed to pro­tect peo­ple of all faiths.”  Stand­ing alone, this would be a forth­right state­ment on our nation’s cher­ished con­sti­tu­tional val­ues.  How­ever, given the con­text of his speech, this remark lacks cred­i­bil­ity.  The Governor’s appar­ent sup­port for cer­tain Chris­t­ian view­points being imposed on our plu­ral­is­tic work­force, mar­ket­place, and soci­ety erro­neously sup­ports the use of the Con­sti­tu­tion as a sword to advance the majority’s reli­gion rather than a shield to pro­tect the rights of reli­gious minori­ties or the non-religious.  It is unfor­tu­nate that the Governor’s sup­port for reli­gious free­dom seems selec­tive rather than universal.

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