It is difficult to know how to talk to children about yesterday's election results regarding marriage equality in Maine. If you believe, as I do, that we are experiencing institutionalized discrimination, the public values reflect a different ideology and set of practices than those we're teaching as core values and responsibilities for our children. Yet, my impulse to criticize the Yes on 1 campaign also perpetuates hurt and fear and worry among my children, and I don't know the standpoints of everyone else's children.Some children are waking up as victims of discrimination, some as empathetic bystanders and friends, some without language or consciousnesses about the event, some perhaps feeling victorious. Kids will take in the messages and effects of the repeal differently depending on their own identities, family lives, and communities. So, how do we talk about the election in an inclusive, honest, and caring way?
It is probably through storytelling -- letting kids from all kinds of families talk about how this all feels. But where and how and with who? In some way, the worry that kids would talk about families and feelings at school is part of what fueled the Yes on 1 campaign. And yet, if they are not given space to share the multitude of experiences and feelings, how do we grow empathy, how do we banish internalized prejudices?
The Anti-defamation league has resources for teaching relatively young children about prejudice and discrimination. Honoring the reality and existence of discrimination helps all kids see themselves as part of history, part of social structure and part of a hopeful future.
Understanding Prejudice has a booklist coded by age -- the books about gender and family diversity are towards the bottom -- all create opportunities to open up conversations about social justice and our own experiences of isolation, stereotyping, etc. Although we missed "Ally week" the tools provided by GLSEN might still be useful to us; the concept of being an Ally is a very powerful one for creating cross-identity connections. They also offer a "Safe Space" kit.
Finally, for folks wanting to dig deeper, there are new resources emerging from the social pyschology literature about addressing "stereotype threat." That is, when we know that stereotypes exist, that prejudice is possible, that people might assume negative things about us because of our identity group, we behave in response to that possibility. An instance of discrimination doesn't have to happen to us personally for more generalized prejudice and discrimination to effect us. How might young people whose sexual identities are still emerging or who are questioning their sexual identity confront stereotype threat and how might they behave in response? (see this related teaching tolerance piece on the use of "good morning, girls and boys")