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We're happy to announce the launch of the EmbraceRace Podcast!

Why “Defending & Celebrating Early Racial Learning”?

These introductory remarks opened EmbraceRace's Early Childhood Summit on December 3, 2022. Andrea Huang and Christina Rucinski of EmbraceRace give the welcome. Andrew Grant-Thomas of EmbraceRace gives opening presentation by explaining the why of the Summit's theme: Defending & Celebrating Early Racial Learning. Watch more of the Summit and find out more about the contributors here. The transcript of this talk follows.

Andrea Huang, EmbraceRace: There is a growing body of research and evidence of children's racial awareness development starting in infancy, and that almost all children develop racial and other biases by kindergarten, and that those biases become fairly entrenched by adolescence. So that data coupled with current events and the policies and politics of what's happening in schools, school libraries, and school board meetings all around the nation have really underlined the importance of defending and celebrating early racial learning.

Christina Rucinski, EmbraceRace: Yes. And that is why we are so excited to hold this summit today. We have a diverse group of speakers from all around the nation, and they have come to share their stories and perspectives as educators, parents, and public figures in early racial learning. Before we get started with today's program, we would like to share that our summit today is brought to by EmbraceRace in partnership with the H.E.A.L Together Initiative hosted by Race Forward. And we would also like to thank, we would love to thank our many wonderful co-sponsor organizations who really did an amazing job helping us spread the word about this gathering and some of whom also helped contribute financially. And we truly, truly appreciate this show of support and solidarity among these many early childhood education, parenting, and social justice organizations.

Andrea Huang, EmbraceRace:

So our schedule today will be in three parts. We'll have four speakers sharing tiny talks, what we're calling personal, fascinating narrative style talks, a great panel discussion with some exciting guests, and then a reflect and connect session -- so an opportunity for you all to engage with us and with each other. And not to worry, we'll have some breaks interspersed with the schedule. If you haven't yet already, please feel free to introduce yourself in the chat. We'd love to know who all is here,

Christina Rucinski, EmbraceRace:

So throughout the day today, we encourage you to use the chat box to share thoughts and interact with your fellow participants. We would also like to make this an inclusive space where folks can engage across English and Spanish. So we ask that as you do use the chat box, please consider self translating, which means posting your message in the original language, either English or Spanish, and then translating to either English or Spanish for those who only read one. And you can very quickly self translate by copying and pasting your message into the translator at That's And that is also in the chat box for you. And we thank you for considering that self translation to help create a space where we can come together across languages.

Andrea Huang, EmbraceRace:

Yes, and again, a very special thanks, Karla and Joan providing Spanish interpretation today for us from BanchaLenguas. Spanish interpretation is made possible today by Start Early, champions for early learning. We also want to shout out Chris and KT from Tuttle Co for their technical expertise in running this long event today. Thank you guys so much for all your work. You guys are great. Well, I think that's enough information from us now. To kick off our summit today, we bring you an opening word from one of EmbraceRace's, co-founders and co-directors, and one of the funniest people I know, Andrew Grant-Thomas. Andrew, the floor is yours.

Andrew Grant-Thomas, EmbraceRace:

No pressure at all. I will not try to be especially funny. Thank you, Andrea and Christina. One thing Andrea and Christina did not tell you is that they are the part of the team of four who not only facilitate our Color-Brave early childhood community and its work and do an amazing job of that. But they are also the main organizers of this event, which you might imagine takes a lot more effort than maybe apparent. So thank you. Thank you to Andrea, to Christina, Darcy Heath and Nicol Russell who did the bulk of that work to get this together. So thank you so much.

I want to join in with them in thanking Karla and Joan, our interpreters, and we'll try to model speaking at a modest pace so that their interpretation can keep up. Chris and KT from Tuttle Co who've already been thanked. They help us as well with our webinars, our regular webinars. Thank you for keeping the logistics of this together and making this a good production. And of course, our co-sponsors, our speakers, and all of you who are here. I think we have something like 1,300 people who registered for this conversation and many more who will see it later. So we're really, really pleased about that.

And I wanted to elaborate a bit on what's been said already about the purpose of this conversation. So why defending and celebrating early racial learning? And Chris, we can go to that first slide. And broadly speaking, I think there are three reasons we wanted to have this conversation. And again, Andrea already alluded to at least one of them, which is that the challenge to racial learning in our schools, of course, is very, very real. It's very serious. It's not new. What we've seen in the last couple years is by no means the first time that people have ... Some folks have tried to challenge what students can learn about US history and about the place of race and racism in that history, and for that matter in our present. But certainly it is a more pronounced, more vibrant, more forceful form of suppression, of honest reckoning with history and with race than we've seen in some time.

So we need to understand it, we need to grapple with it, and we hope to do some of that today. But second, the fight for honest teaching and learning about race and racism is also real. It's also vibrant. It's also not new and ongoing.

And third, we can all participate in it. And in fact, we need to participate in it. What those of us who are participating in this conversation and the millions more of us across the country who believe as most if not all of us do, that it is so crucial. Not only for ourselves, not only for our children, but for the future of our democracy to grapple with the reality of race and identity more generally in shaping outcomes for individuals and families and for communities. Those of us who believe that that's really important need to join this fight. And so we're here to encourage you to do that, to suggest some ways you can do that and to do that together.

So first, let's take a look at the part of the fight that's gotten most of the attention. Here are some headlines that even if you haven't seen these particular headlines, won't surprise you because they've dominated the new cycles. I'll just mention a couple of them. "Georgia Governor Kemp signs bill into law that limits discussions about race in classrooms. The Kennewick School Board votes to protect children from critical race theory racism. Critical race theory flap makes teachers tiptoe on slavery racism topics." And there in the bottom left of the screen, you see some signs that protestors are carrying. "Stop teaching critical racist theory to our children." And "We the parents stand up." And I want to highlight that one in particular because so much of this effort to suppress honest grappling with the race in our country and in the schools with our children has been framed in terms of what parents want. I want you to keep that in mind because I'm going to revisit it and suggest this is simply not the case.

But there's no question that the folks who have spearheaded this have made some real progress from their perspective. So across the country, at least 36 states, as of February of this year, at least 36 states had adopted or introduced laws or policies that restrict teaching about race and racism. And you see that those states are in peach in this stylized map of the US, and you see that they extend from East Coast to West Coast, from North to South, and there are 36 that have again adopted or introduced laws or policies, which is to say they haven't all succeeded by any means, but that's a lot. That's clearly a widespread effort.

And what makes them so effective in the case of the laws and policies that have been passed is not simply that what they explicitly prohibit teachers from doing, for example. But that most of them are written so vaguely that they introduce this real uncertainty among teachers about what they can say and do, what books they can offer, how they can respond, whether they can respond to students questions about race and racism, about LGBTQ issues, about gender identity and so on. So if you have a lot of teachers who are uncertain about what they can say and not say, of course, teachers are very, very nervous. So it has a real suppressive effect.

On the other hand, there's another side to this story, which is that there's again, a real strong countercurrent in favor of more honest racial teaching and history. And Chris, we can go now to the next one. So here I've highlighted some fairly recent headlines that emphasize the role that students in particular have played in pushing back against book bans, in pushing for more inclusive education. "It's students, it's educators, it's parents." So "Texas students push back against book bans for censoring LGBT, racial justice issues.", for example. Or in the top left, "These students helped overturn a book ban. Now they're pushing for more inclusive education." And if you look across the country, this sort of movement is meeting success in a number of states as well.

So 17 states have seen movements. As of February 2022, at least 17 states had launched efforts to expand education on racism bias, the contributions of specific racial or ethnic groups to US history or related topics. And if you do the math, you realize that there are some states in which both things are happening. So the battle is locked, it's ongoing, and how it's going to turn out remains to be seen. And this is an important point.

We can go to the next slide now, Chris. Remember that first image that showed parents holding a sign saying, suggesting that this lockdown on honest teaching and engagement with the race is what parents want? Well, there was a poll done by Ipsos, which is a major and a highly respected polling agency. It's not a hack pollster. Just two months ago in September of this year, that tried to gauge the degree to which parents across the country and people across the country, where they stand, where actually stand on this issue.

First, they asked people, "Is your own community seeing these protests? Are people protesting about the curriculum in public schools in your community? Are there new policies restricting what teachers or students can talk about in the classroom? Are there new policies limiting what books and subjects can be taught in public schools?" And what the poll found is a reasonable minority, a fairly sizable minority of parents responding to this poll, said yes, this is happening in our community. So 24% said yes, there have been protests about the curriculum in public schools in my community. 22% said that new policies had been introduced that restrict what teachers or students can talk about. And 19% said there had been limits placed on the books and subjects that can be taught in their public schools. It's more than that. But then when you look at how they feel about that, what they feel about it is this is a problem. 8 in 10, in fact, these are parents and parents are basically in lockstep with everyone. So there isn't much daylight between what parents feel and what the entire representative population feels about this issue. So I'm only presenting the parents here. 8 in 10 parents want teachers and schools to engage students on issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation. So given this choice between these three possibilities, what you see on the right in the chart is that 55% of respondents said schools should have an age appropriate curriculum that includes race, gender, and sexual orientation. 55% said that's what they want, an actual curriculum around these issues. 27% said, well, at least teachers should be able to answer students' questions about race, gender, and sexual orientation. Only 16% felt that schools should not allow any talk about race, gender, and sexual orientation under any circumstance, which is to say that's clearly the outlier perspective on this.

And finally, if we look at across, this is widely understood to be a partisan issue, but in fact, this poll looked at how Democrats feel about this issue, how Republicans feel, how independents feel, as well as how parents feel. And huge majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents and the parents say that teaching history of racism helps rather than harms children. And you see the numbers there. 76% of Republicans felt that lessons about the history of racism prepare children to build a better future for everyone rather than being harmful to children.

So what we should note is at least two significant caveats about all of this. One is that what people say they believe in principle doesn't necessarily translate into what they would support in practice. It's a huge and important caveat. The fact that that parents and others say this on polls doesn't necessarily guide us or tell us clearly what they would do if they were given actual options.

The other big caveat is the poll did not ask about when we should introduce discussions of race and racism for children. So it's certainly very, very possible that many people, many respondents who support race talk among students, would only support it among, let's say, high school students, not middle school and not elementary, much less preschoolers. And still, this is a different story than the headlines have been telling us.

Now, here's the last point I'd like to make. I love this quote from this political scientist, EE Schattschneider, which is one of the takeaways I have from my graduate school career many, many years ago. And he said this, "If a fight starts, watch the crowd because the crowd plays a decisive role." He was talking about politics, and what he was saying is when a political fight starts, you need to be aware of what all the rest of us do who are not, as it were, immediate combatants in the fight. What is it that we do? How do we weigh in? How many of us weigh in at all? On what side? How far does the fight spread beyond the initial combatants?

It seems to be the case that most parents are supportive of teaching kids about school, and yet the parents who are not supportive, who want to suppress that teaching, seem to have the upper hand in terms of legislation and so on right now. Why is that? Because that side of the issue has been able to mobilize far more of its people than the side of the issue that is really concerned to teach more honest history. We need to weigh in. And over the course of this next few speakers, you will hear much more and you will hear ways in which we can weigh in. So please join the fight, weigh in, and I hope you enjoy the next few hours. Thanks so much.

Christina Rucinski, EmbraceRace:

Thank you so much, Andrew, for helping us ground ourselves in this moment in time in the US context. And I know we'll hear a little bit more about that from our first speaker in a few moments. And I personally really appreciate highlighting the positive movement of many people out there who want to expand and encourage healthy developmentally appropriate teaching and learning about race even among our youngest learners. And we hope that everyone here today will be inspired, motivated, and encouraged by our speakers to continue taking action to celebrate and defend healthy teaching and learning about race with our young children.

Check out other contributors and talks from the EmbraceRace Early Childhood Virtual Summit 2022 here.

Andrew Grant-Thomas

Andrew Grant-Thomas is a co-founder of More about Andrew >
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