Early childhood education is key to surmounting systemic
discrimination as everything that children experience decisively
shapes their worldview and attitudes as adults.
In a world reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, racism and social justice have again begun to dominate headlines.
In late May, yet another African-American male, 46-year-old George Floyd, fell afoul of a white police officer and suffocated to death under his knee. His murder not only rekindled the Black Lives Matter movement, it also mobilized a global citizenry weary of analogous injustice.
Unlike the past, the outrage over Floyd’s murder rang across continents. In Europe and America, massive protests broke out in solidarity with American blacks. These were wake-up call to local politicians long addicted to excusing systemic discrimination. Such inequities, we know, do not confine themselves along ethnic lines: they also manifest as religious, sexual and socioeconomic biases.
While senseless, gratuitous violence is depressingly familiar in the US; it is the logical consequence of a society that constitutionally prizes personal firearms. The US, in fact, houses more civilian weapons than citizens, yet its bonkers gun-culture has failed to curb crime. Its world-beating incarceration rate translates to over two million adults behind bars.
Far more alarming are the country’s near-fanatical law enforcement practices and excessive racial profiling. Deadly police encounters with unarmed suspects are commonplace, and a hair-raising number of their victims are African-Americans. This is no fluke and instead explains the deeply bigoted underpinnings of American society.
The textbook approach to checking discrimination is toughening civil rights laws and expanding civic education in schools and colleges. This approach, in my opinion, is akin to putting the cart before the horse, and naturally fails. What is worse, adults who belong to the status quo, worry they cannot denounce racism without appearing insincere, or worse, saying all the wrong things.
In her writings on the sensitive periods of a person’s development, famed educator Dr. Maria Montessori asserted that our formative years (from birth to the age of six) anchor our personalities. In those years, everything that children experience decisively shapes their worldview and attitudes as adults. The American Psychology Association’s former executive director, Dr. Gwendolyn Keita, agrees that upbringing has a “tremendous impact” on one’s inclination toward, and response to, discrimination.
As a result, unless we engage with pre-schoolers in meaningful conversations about discrimination in its many insidious forms, the vicious cycle of intolerance will gyre onward into future generations.