A generative process: Martin Luther King Jr. Day and anti-bias in early childhood education

VTAEYC embraces honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. through advocacy and action.

We are advocating for the funding and support needed to make early childhood education equitable, accessible, and affordable for young children and their families. And our actions include programs like T.E.A.C.H. and projects like Advancing as a Profession designed to build a diverse, dynamic, well-prepared and well-compensated workforce that is ready to support kids and families in creating a just, fair, and kinder world. 

As we reflect to more fully realize our commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and belonging, we return to the powerful exploration of this topic during the September 2021 Vermont Early Childhood Education conference. Our session was led by nationally-renowned early childhood education leaders Louise Derman Sparks and Debbie LeeKeenan, with panel participation from Vermont early childhood educators Mary Zentara, Hannah Assefa, and Laura Butler.

One participant captured a key truth: “Doing this work is like developing curriculum,” they wrote. “This is a generative process that must take into account where people are and where we hope to evolve to.”

Today, VTAEYC amplifies the voices of Vermont early childhood educators committed to anti-bias action in their programs and communities:

What children don’t see in their environment matters as much as what they do see.

It’s really important not only to have the conversations with children, but to think about actions that you can foster.

I have spent a lifetime being silent on issues of differences. Now I’m really getting that silence is not neutral.

Diversity and inclusion is not an extra add-on to existing curriculum. Rather, it’s just another way to teach.

I learned to empower children to speak for themselves rather than rescuing them.

Don’t deny differences, and don’t take the tourist approach to discussing diversity. Foster confidence and family pride. Recognize unfairness. Get children to see and notice acts of kindness and fairness.

We need to start these conversations now. We need to begin by reflecting on our own biases first, then begin working through situations with our students and families.

I am going to give a lot of thought to how our children of color interpret the fact that all of their teachers are white. What does this tell them about who matters? Who has power? Who can be a leader?

Lean into discomfort and learn from mistakes. Keep the conversation rolling. Ask children, “why?”

We are inspired and guided by NAEYC’s position statement on Advancing Equity in Early Childhood Education and its recommendations for early childhood educators, administrators, education preparation faculty and trainers, policymakers, and all of us.

And wherever you are in this generative process, we encourage early childhood educators and allies to watch “Reflecting on Anti-Bias Education In Action: The Early Years”, created by Debbie Lee-Keenan and Louise Derman-Sparks and colleagues, as a starting point for these important conversations and actions.