As students head back to school this fall, whether it be online or in some rare instances in-person education, they do so against a backdrop of social upheaval and a cultural acknowledgement that Black lives matter. That’s left teachers unions and the administrators they help design curriculum struggling to find the right way to teach children about what’s happening in the world.
This is particularly difficult to address with Elementary aged children, who may not be able to understand what’s going on unless it’s phrased in the right way, or who may have parents sheltering them from everything that’s happening entirely.
A growing number of school districts around the country are finding a solution in literature. Several districts have already made Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness mandatory reading for elementary school students. The book is written by acclaimed children’s author Anastasia Higginbotham and you can watch it read aloud in the video below…
Higginbotham was named one of People Magazine’s 25 most influential people in 2018 and as more and more schools adopt her book she could end up being the most influential person among elementary school kids in America.
Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness has been widely praised for the way it addresses these complex issues. Here’s just a few of the glowing reviews it has received…
- “Given the relentless stream of news, there’s a temptation right now to numb ourselves. But Ms. Higginbotham’s work reminds us that, even if we ignore reality, our kids are still seeing it and feeling it.” – New York Times
- “… this book is the perfect beginning.“ – O Magazine
- “Higginbotham has a gift for taking difficult subjects and rendering them both simple and deeply honest.” – Elizabeth Bird, School Library Journal
Despite wide acclaim, there’s a growing backlash against the mandatory adoption of the book by schools. For example in Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion School District (one of the richest school districts in the nation), where the teachers unions have made Not My Idea required reading for all 4th and 5th grade students, some parents have voiced concerns.
Talking to the Washington Free Beacon Elana Yaron Fishbein a Merion mother of two boys says, “The book teaches kids not only to defy parents but to hate themselves.”
In specific Fishbein references a passage in the book where children are told their parents are wrongly “burying the truth” by refusing to let them watch violent shootings on the news. Some of the objecting parents also claim the book teaches children to monitor their own parents for signs of racism.
But supporters of the vital information in this book feel its message is too important to be buried by protective parents or in order to maintain oppressive parental authority over children. They point to studies like this one which say that “by 5 years old, white children typically have a strong bias towards whiteness”. Not My Idea attempts to counteract that by making it clear children should see color everywhere around them, in order to make sure their parents and family are avoiding racist behaviors. Many people believe that’s a net positive.
Teachers union officials in Fishbein’s school district and others are undeterred by parental complaints. In Merion the district has announced: “…we realize that this is not enough… We plan to continue designing lessons that promote anti-racist actions in the upcoming 20-21 school year and beyond.”
Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness ends with this message: “Innocence is overrated. Knowledge is power.” That seems like a message everyone, even young children, will get behind if it’s delivered to them in the right way. Even companies like Disney are getting behind it. It’s one our children are going to receive at school as more and more school districts around the United States take action against perceived social injustice.
Check with your school district to see if they’re planning to teach Not My Idea or whether they’re going a different direction with their curriculum.