The Los Angeles Times has an article today entitled "Nipping Bias in the Bud" about a program operating in 14 cities called A World of Difference Institute. This program started in 1985 as a joint campaign between the Jewish Anti-Defamation League and Boston TV station WCVB to fight prejudice. The AWDI program aims to "teach tolerance, respect and inclusion" to children as young as 3 by "lessons on cultural, racial and religious diversity".
Of course bullying, teasing, and excluding other children on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion are wrong. Children need to learn to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and to love one another regardless of differences. What I find disturbing about the AWDI program is that rather than stressing our common humanity to promote colorblindness, it specifically focuses on differences in an attempt to teach appreciation of and respect for them.
At 3 years old, my DD certainly noticed that her peers did not all look the same. She has friends of a number of different races and ethnicities but we do not focus on skin color any more than other physical characteristics such as eye or hair color. Several of her friends are bi- or multiracial or a combination of very different ethnicities (such as Egyptian/French/Mexican). Why should it be any bigger a deal that her friends F. & K. have a mom with very fair skin and a dad with very dark skin than the fact that her friend W. has a mom with red hair & green eyes and a dad with light brown hair and brown eyes?
Biologists have concluded that race is not a scientifically useful concept. The genetic variation within a given "race" far exceeds the genetic variation between "races". Particularly here in America, genetic composition cannot be predicted from self-reported ancestry. In one study, 30% of subjects who considered themselves to be "white" have less than 90% European ancestry and the typical "black" subject had only 80% African ancestry, with some as low as 20%. Race, therefore, is primarily a social construct.
In today's society, shouldn't we be trying to move beyond past misunderstandings of what surface characteristics like skin color signify? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously spoke of his dream that someday his children would be "judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin." How can we achieve a colorblind society if young children are taught by well-intentioned but misguided programs such as AWDI to focus on differences?
In our homeschool, our children are taught that everyone is equal before the eyes of the Lord. The Gospel reading yesterday was Christ's Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told it in response to the question "Who is my neighbor?" Clearly, the answer is that everyone is our neighbor and deserving of kindness and respect. This is the message I want my children to learn!