“I think that children look at Peter first of all as a child, who is like themselves in some ways whether they are boy or girl, black, brown or white, fat or skinny or what.” -Ezra Jack Keats
Whether the children’s books by Ezra Jack Keats featured African American, Spanish American, or Native American children is largely unimportant. What is important is the existence of diverse characters in his work because it reflects real life. Everywhere we look there are people of different shapes, sizes, colors, cultures, habits and situations. Teaching respect for diversity should be a priority for teachers of all age groups and facilities. In fact, the early childhood classroom is a fantastic place to begin teaching respect for diversity, and there is a CDA Competency Standard for this.
CDA Competency Standard III.9.4b Candidate helps children experience sympathy/empathy and respect for others. b. Discusses diversity comfortably when interacting with children
The work of Ezra Jack Keats earnestly lends itself to the teaching of respect for diversity. These children’s books include a range of diversity in the characters, their settings, and the events in the books. Using the work of Ezra Jack Keats to begin the conversation of a respectful community within the classroom is a great starting point to supporting that CDA Competency Standard. Whether your group consists of an outwardly diverse group or not, it is important to teach respect for others and discuss those themes in a natural and comfortable fashion that is also developmentally appropriate. When discussing diversity and teaching respect for others you should first consider your own biases and take careful steps to avoid them. Everybody has a bias of some kind whether they are aware of it or not. Often these biases are rooted in untrue stereotypes or from past experiences.
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