The Southern Poverty Law Center wants to have a talk with first graders, about microaggressions, stereotypes and systemic racism.
What is this doing in my inbox? The Southern Poverty Law Center wants your first graders to learn about microaggressions. Yes, they’re already struggling to be nice to each other, but the SPLC wants them to tackle structural racism in first grade. @PJMedia_com pic.twitter.com/oBBkp2nkkU
— Tyler O’Neil (@Tyler2ONeil) March 28, 2019
“What is this doing in my inbox?” Tyler O’Neil, editor for PJ Media, posted to Twitter Friday. “The Southern Poverty Law Center wants your first graders to learn about microaggressions. Yes, they’re already struggling to be nice to each other, but the SPLC wants them to tackle structural racism in first grade.”
O’Neil included a clip from his email inbox featuring a message from the SPLC about “Teaching first-graders about microaggressions.”
The news site reports the email linked to an essay from Oakland, California teacher Bret Turner titled “Teaching First-Graders About Microaggressions: The Small Moments Add Up.”
The missive is published by Teaching Tolerance, a nonprofit that focuses on providing “free resources” to educators on a mission of “social justice and anti-bias.” “The anti-bias approach encourages children and young people to challenge prejudice and learn how to be agents of change in their own lives,” according to the site.
Turner explained that first-graders are “in the thick of learning to read and write” as well as “learning how to communicate with others,” making it the perfect time to introduce the concepts of racism, bias, and injustice.
Kids tease each other, it’s part of their development, but “not all unkindness is the same,” according to Turner.
“It can be particularly detrimental when the hurtful language relates to race, gender, religion or other aspects of a child’s identity,” Turner wrote. “These are microaggressions: small, subtle, sometimes-unintended acts of discrimination.”
It’s a teacher’s job to hyper focus kids on their unintentional racism and other unconscious prejudices, but it’s not as simple as a classroom chat or one-on-one conversation. There’s groundwork, Turner advised.
“Before talking with students about microaggressions, it’s essential to establish an identity-safe classroom. Students need to feel safe and supported. In my class, when we do discuss microaggressions, I remind students of conversations we’ve already had about representation,” he wrote.
“I remind them that, when we’re reading together, we always ask, ‘Whose story is being told here?’ I also reference the discussions we’ve had around more overt racism: how being called a racist may hurt, but it doesn’t compare to actually experiencing racism.”
It’s all about equipping 6-year-olds with the “tools, vocabulary and context” to call out their classmates when they unintentionally use biased language or engage in politically incorrect behavior.
“This may seem like a lot for younger students to chew on,” Turner wrote, “and it’s not always easy to make these distinctions and definitions clear. At the same time, however, naming the difference between microaggressions and other hurtful comments is a transparent way to support children in their efforts to be anti-racist, thoughtful, courageous upstanders.”
Kids instinctively understand when they’re being mean to each other, and they know it’s wrong, he argued.
“What’s more nuanced, though, is to figure out that sometimes those hurtful words or actions hit all the harder because they carry the added force of structural inequality,” Turner wrote.
O’Neil offered his take on why the perspective pushed by the SPLC is actually creating more problems than it solves, and pointed to an article in the Atlantic on how “The Coddling of the American Mind” is ruining the next generation.
“The recent collegiate trend of uncovering allegedly racist, sexist, classist, or otherwise discriminatory microaggressions doesn’t incidentally teach students to focus on small or accidental slights. Its purpose is to get students to focus on them and then relabel the people who have made such remarks as aggressors,” Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff wrote for the Atlantic.
“What are we doing to our students if we encourage them to develop extra-thin skin in the years just before they leave the cocoon of adult protection and enter the workforce? Would they not be better prepared to flourish if we taught them to question their own emotional reactions, and to give people the benefit of the doubt?”