by Piper Sallquist, Early Elementary Classroom Teacher
Jordan Taitingfong’s blog post as part of a series on Diversity, Belonging, and Racial Justice titled “The future of childhood will be built by the youth” addresses the vital role children play in dismantling the systems of oppression in our society. She writes, “children have radical ideas for the future. Our job is to create spaces that center their voices while giving them tools to understand the world so they can create something better.”
Children are capable of big things. As Taitingfong writes, our job as adults and teachers is to give children tools to activate that ability. UCDS empowers young people to engage in that work from the time they enter their UCDS journey all the way through fifth grade. In Class Meeting, students collaborate to enact creative problem-solving in their community. During Math Vitamin, students learn and use complex mathematical vocabulary beginning in preschool—because when kids engage with those concepts year after year, they deepen and contextualize their understanding of high-level mathematical thinking.
Just as we teach children the vocabulary to approach mathematical concepts at a young age, we should also prioritize teaching students the language they need to talk about equity. When we give students the vocabulary to define, recognize, and talk about racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, we empower them to be able to speak up when they notice injustice. Awareness is the first step to developing understanding, which is a stepping stone to action.
Through my work, I center children’s voices. I recognize the power, wisdom, and understanding children bring when we create spaces where we respect them. Giving them words like ableism, racism, and xenophobia allows them to engage. Recognizing play as an expression of voice allows us to see their understandings as they shape the world.
In the same way that disability justice must center people with disabilities, and racial justice movements must center Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, a vision for the future of childhood is incomplete without our youngest pushing it forward. A future of childhood built on belonging can exist. If we support them, our children will forge it in ways only they can imagine.
UCDS is built around the creativity, independence, and community-mindedness of children. We can continue to emphasize high-level vocabulary words and make conversations about equity and systems of oppression a regular practice, giving students the “tools to understand the world so they can create something better”. (Jordan Taitingfong, http://joanganzcooneycenter.org/2020/06/18/jordan-taitingfong/)