Diversity Is Important, Even in Elementary School

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Diversity Is Important, Even in Elementary School

A few weeks ago, my 12-year-old daughter confessed to me in the car that she had been in the counselor’s office with a friend of hers because she hurt said friend’s feelings. My daughter has told her friend that she liked her braids, but then said they reminded her of a viral video. The friend’s feelings were hurt; she felt like my daughter made a racist comment.

I’m glad. I’m so thankful that my daughter can have these experiences as a 12-year-old, when her mind is not set in stone, when she can truly learn from the experience what might hurt a person of color, even if she didn’t mean it to be hurtful. 

When you’re 12, a quick trip to the counselor’s office can clear the air and the girls remain good friends. Before this child was in kindergarten, what seems like a whole lot of years ago, my husband and I were baffled by the Chattanooga school system. SO MANY private schools, public schools, magnet schools. We didn’t grow up here and didn’t know what was up with any of this. We had three kids already (and a fourth would come along when my oldest was in second grade), so we knew private elementary school was not going to be in the books for us. So we could have our child attend our zoned school or we could try for a magnet school. We applied to and got into a magnet school, one we have loved dearly. But if we hadn’t, our kids would have gone to our local elementary school, also a diverse place. 

My husband and I both had the privilege of going to magnet high schools that were extremely diverse in everything from race to income to religious affiliation. I went into high school incredibly sheltered; although my schools were never all-white, I also had no concept of a world that wasn’t middle class and based in Judeo-Christian thought. Going to high school for international studies in a school with people of many different races, who had all kinds of religious backgrounds, broke my brain a little and prepared me for a world full of the same kind of diverse population. 

I’m grateful that my kids have this opportunity at a much younger age than I did.

At our Paideia school, kids as young as kindergarten spend time in roundtable discussions about art, literature, history, and more — no hand raising allowed. They are taught to converse civilly, ask questions, and learn from one another. I can’t imagine a better training for real life work meetings, community get-togethers, or just adult friendship. 

What do you do if your children’s school is not diverse?

I hope you will truly seek out extracurriculars, places of worship, and events that are diverse, where your kids can make friends and learn from people who are not like them. Search out the minority-owned businesses in our city and check them out. Eat at restaurants that aren’t in your neighborhood. Find community events that celebrate other cultures, and talk with your kids about them afterward. 

I’m a middle-class white woman and I still have a long, long way to go when it comes to being anti-racist and shedding all of my ingrained prejudice. But I feel like going to a diverse school gave me a little bit of a head start and I hope it will for my own children, too. 

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Jessie Weaver
I am a stay-at-home mom to four kids (ages 11, 9, 7, and 3) - as well as a freelance writer and editor. We live on campus at Baylor School, where my husband teaches. After living in Ohio, Indiana, and Virginia, Tennessee is home and has been for 15+ years. I do some freelance writing and editing when I am not chasing the preschooler, keeping my 7-year-old from climbing the curtains, listening to my 9-year-old talk about Minecraft, or buying way too much (SALE!) clothing for my 11-year-old daughter.

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