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Introducing Critical Race Theory to Young Learners: 10 Tips to Keep our Kids Culturally Connected with a Foundation in Multicultural Activism

Chakeia Johnson 

Contributor-Arizona Multicultural Homeschool Alliance Gilbert, AZ U.S.

President, Phoenix International Heritage Festival | Vice-President, Project Speak Life | Chair, Arizona Matsuri | Coordinator, 2019 Motoring through Time Festival | member, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated | Bachelor’s and GCert in Pan-African Studies @UofL | MS in Criminal Justice @UofL | MBA @WebsterU | Event Planner | Homeschool Teacher | Cultural Philanthropist | Humanitarian

Introducing Critical Race Theory to Young Learners: 10 Tips to Keep our Kids Culturally Connected with a Foundation in Multicultural Activism

This is one of a three part series discussion on how to start getting our nation’s children familiar with critical race theory while giving them a foundation in multicultural activism, why being honest about history is important, and what we can do to move forward as a society.
Part I

Chakeia Johnson, Blog Contributor

Published 6:30 a.m. July 10, 2021 

Recently, I was asked by my dear friend and PBS Break it Down talk show hostess, Caress Russell a.k.a Lady Caress to discuss Critical Race Theory and how to implement cultural lessons at home.  See, I am a professional mom who teaches her children from home.  Yes, I stay-at-home with my children 24/7, all the parents out there pray for me.  Seriously, it is an utter joy which affords me the opportunities to introduce some of the most crucial topics and life lessons to my young children who are growing up in a Black social construct in America.

Race and culture are two different concepts however they are closely related.  And both are relative to each other when discussing actively changing the mentality of systematic racism within our learning structure.  This is why I choose to speak about them simultaneously.

As Stephen Sawchuk wrote in his article, ‘“What is Critical Race Theory and Why is it Under Attack”, Critical race theory is not a synonym for culturally relevant teaching, which emerged in the 1990s. This teaching approach seeks to affirm students’ ethnic and racial backgrounds and is intellectually rigorous. But it’s related in that one of its aims is to help students identify and critique the causes of social inequality in their own lives.’

Why did I choose to homeschool?

First, let me introduce my children to you.  Framing who they are is important to this narrative. I have a 9-year-old daughter, Jade who is extremely bright, athletically gifted, and blessed with a deep mocha-coco complexion with a hint of cinnamon.  My 8-year-old is a ball of son-shine. Nolin is my artist who likes to run fast and keep the entire family laughing; he is my caramel cutie. Both have hearts of gold. 

Before my children were born, I knew I wanted to homeschool.  And I knew why. Besides being completely and totally in love with every fiber of their being, I know what it can mean to be Black in America’s school systems. It would be my job to develop my children intellectually and instill in them the confidence they need to be a strong force in this world.  I am developing leaders.  As the mother of these two children, I would be preparing them for life and what that means to the greater community and what it should mean to them.  It is my job to create intellectual weapons for our community to help combat any forces that would try to divide humanity.  I provide a safe place for my children to express themselves.  I provide ample opportunities for them to meet other children with an emphasis on quality not quantity.  And I get to structure their curriculum around not just the basics, but critical issues geared towards our culture and a myriad of other cultures we investigate together.

The way our children are treated when they are away from home can shape the essence of their psyche for years to come.  When we open up textbooks some of the first images we see are our ancestors in shackles.  I think these images are important and I admire the strength of those who paved the way.  However, they are not the first images I want my young king and queen to see. Particularly not in the context it was delivered in my day. When other children see these images it also sets up a narrative in their minds.  This can leave our young Black females in school left alone without friendship because of the color of their skin.  Young males who are high spirited and fast are feared because others cannot understand their strength or speed; sometimes they are treated like men.  Plain and simple others are often intimidated by all that comes with our melanin.  Black children are being overlooked, pushed into corners, or placed into remedial classes because some just do not want to take the time to deal with their type of genius or the realities of who they are and how that came to exist.  The pipeline to prison system is real and this is not about to happen to my shining stars.  

How do I implement culture into our everyday living?

These tips can be implemented whether you homeschool or not.  I simply believe learning starts at home.  Your child can get what they need as long as parents or caregivers supplement the messages they receive.

  1. Understand the Learner
  2. Introduce History Chronologically and Accurately
  3. Field Trips: Libraries, Museums, Plays, and Festivals
  4. Classes & Programs: Connect with Community Leaders
  5. Real Time Learning Experiences

Understand the Learner

Understanding your little learner is very important.  You have to identify what is their learning style.  There are 4 basic types of styles: reading and writing, auditory, kinesthetic, and visual.  Your first is what most of us are used to and generally understand.  The second is a child who can hear a thought and understand the concept behind what they have heard.  Third, the kinesthetic learner is hands on and likes to move around to learn. Fourth is the visual learner who can see what is happening and understand how to replicate or complete the goal of what they are doing.

Introduce History Chronologically and Accurately

Now that you know what type of learner you have, you can structure how you introduce your topic.  For example, my daughter is an auditory learner who also loves to read.  Therefore, we read Africa, A Salute to Historic African Kings and Queens, An Empak “Black History” Publication Series.  Then we watched PBS and enjoyed Princess Presto on the show Super Why.  She loved to see a character who looked like her command reading and spelling.  They are children, it’s ok to keep it light with fun shows as you introduce these topics.  My son however is a kinesthetic and visual learner so when we read the same book above, I had him dress up like a king and place a crown on his head to signify his royalty and heritage.

Be honest with all students.  Groups have been oppressed throughout history. Within American history one group definitely has oppressed other groups more consistently. However, this narrative can be constructed in a way that empowers all students about our current society.  This can be achieved only if we truly makes steps toward being honest versus worrying about only one groups feelings. We must tell the truth so that all groups feelings are considered. We can heal and we can move forward. Continuing a washed out story underestimates all children and even adults. Give our youth a chance to be different; youth are resilient.  We must ring the bell on the truth, no matter how difficult, just as Frederick Douglass did in his speech, “The Meaning of July 4th to the Negro.” Let us have open discussion on how and why this history should never be repeated.  Encourage our youth to work together in the same spirit of the abolitionists of old.  It is ok to be wrong. Admitting wrong is a lesson every pre-adolescent or young child should understand as early as possible.  And who better to model this than the people they emulate most?  

Field Trips: Libraries, Museums, Plays, and Festivals

Parenting can be costly!  Therefore, leverage your resources.  Your local libraries are filled with books like A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara, What Color is My World by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or the Little Leaders series by Vashti Harrison.  Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes is a good one too by Eleanor Coerr. Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewel Parker Rhodes was a must read for my little ones.  For local authors try Nia Saffell’s Frotabulos or Violet Duncan’s I am Native.  

The Heard Museum is a great place to learn Native American history here in Arizona.  The George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center is also a great resource.  Check with your bank to see if they offer membership opportunities to some of these museums.  I bank with Bank of America and they offered me an entire list that I have free access too just for being a member. 

There are tons of theatre groups that offer plays and performances displaying culture.  If you connect with the Arizona Multicultural Homeschool Alliance, we can get group ticket prices making these outings more affordable. 

Lastly, so many festivals are free.  You gain direct contact to some of our leading cultural pioneers in the state.   The Arizona Multicultural Homeschool Alliance takes these leaders though a vetting process just for you. Whether you live here in Arizona or are nationwide you can attend a festival to get connected to leaders within your community.

Classes & Programs

Get connected to local groups that offer classes and programs.  Various individual cultural leaders offer programs listed at your museums and libraries sometimes for free at least for the first class. These people are the gatekeepers of knowledge for our community and can creatively breakdown historically structured processes that minority groups know have made differences against achieving even greater success.  While at the same time these leaders can point to the strengths within their faction and allies. The Arizona Multicultural Homeschool Alliance is taking these experiences and making opportunities for children to gain leadership roles revolving around cultural identification.  They even begin thinking critically about structural changes.  It is our highest goal for our young learners to take what they know and implement it into the fabric of society, its laws, and systems.

Real Time Learning Experiences

Take the opportunity to make any moment a teachable one.  For example, we took a trip to the skating rink for fun.  After the trip we investigated Ledger Smith and learned about how he paved the way for Black skaters in America. United Skates, a filmdives into the humanities and Civil Rights era of skating.  Wow, can you believe even skating together was a right we had to gain for all Americans.  

What can you do if your children are not homeschooled?

  1. Investigate
  2. Connect and Get in Touch
  3. Set Expectations
  4. Get Involved
  5. Show Up

Investigate

All of these tips are things you can do whether you homeschool or not.  It is all in how they are applied.  Did you know you can investigate your child’s teachers before they ever even enter their classroom?  Ask other parents who have had that teacher.  See if that teacher matches your child’s learning ability.  

Connect and Get in Touch

Attend the parent teacher conferences before the school year begins to gain a vibe as to if they are the right fit for your little sponge.  If not, request a new teacher be assigned to your student.  If that is or is not possible, get in touch with that teacher.  Let them know, “Hey, I am an involved hands-on parent who cares about my child’s well-being.”  I urge you to let your child see and hear you advocate for them so it teaches them to do the same as they grow. 

Set Expectations

Recently, I spoke with Bambi Peterson Jones, a fellow Mama Bear and member of her child’s PTA. She gave the advice, “be sure to set expectations with both your child and their educator.  And let both know you have done so.  This places you all on the same team.   Because as we know, teamwork makes the dream work.”  Bambi also has a minor in psychology from the University of Lousiville in Kentucky. We agree, there is nothing like a child’s mental health knowing we are all on board with their success.

Get Involved

Get involved however you can.  Join the PTA and groups that are involved in making decisions with the school board.  Not all parents can volunteer to go up to the school.  But you can offer to get the class supplies, help the teacher create a visual for the class, or offer your support in talking to other parents about encouraging their kids to go along with a program the teacher wants to implement.  You also can write your state representatives about books you want to see discussed in schools.  

Show Up

If you can volunteer to be in the classroom, that is great!  Parents being present is always a plus especially those parents who cheer for diversity.  Representation is also important. Kids seeing images present who look like them is key.  Showing up even just one day out of the school year can establish a tone that will set your child up for long term systematic success.

Early activism is educating your child about their heritage and others.  Show them you are actively in their corner to support them in achieving success.  We must be accountable for their education. The tones that are set now will help change the narrative placing all of our children at the forefront of America’s greatest stories of triumph.

Chakeia Johnson

Blog Contributor, Arizona Multicultural Homeschool Alliance

Chakeia covers community engagement, race relations, culture and philanthropy for the Arizona Multicultural Homeschool Alliance

Related Tags:

Why We Published the 1619 Project by Jack Silverstein (2019) New York Times

What is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack? by Stephen Sawchuk (2021) Education Weekly

The Meaning of July 4th to the Negro by Frederick Douglass (1852) Mass Humanities