The “lessons” each of the three early childhood professionals and visionaries learned from their deeply engaged scholarly and practical commitment to diversity, equity and social justice
The personal characteristics/dispositions each believe to be exceptionally significant and supportive of their diversity work
The role of passion in their work
What are the three most significant “lessons” learned from studying issues related to diversity, equity, and social justice in this course—and what makes them significant?
Which personal characteristics/dispositions do I consider to be my most valuable asset for my work with children and families from varied backgrounds—and for what reason(s)?
Thinking about the statement, made by one of the panelists, “the passion comes from the vision”: What is your interpretation of this statement, and in what way(s), if any, can you relate to the connection implied between professional passion and a vision regarding diversity?
I work with children in the elementary setting, Title I PreK classroom
EDUC6164: Perspectives on Diversity and Equity
“Diversity and Equity Work: Lessons Learned”
NARRATOR: What are some of the key lessons that early childhood
professionals learn working for equity and social justice in a diverse world? What
makes this work professionally and personally so rewarding? In this program, the
three early childhood professionals you met in week two reunite to discuss
lessons learned from their diversity work. As you view the video, listen to their
insights and suggestions for ways in which early childhood professionals can
engage in, learn from and work toward greater equity and social justice.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: Okay, so you know what, I was thinking that
among the three of us we’ve got, what, maybe 75 years of experience doing
diversity and equity work. So, I thought it would be kind of fun to think a little bit
about what we’ve learned, you know? What have been the challenges? What
are some of the important lessons to us from these years of work?
NADIYAH TAYLOR: Oh, let’s see. Some things that I’ve learned are to not take
everything so seriously. I think when I first started learning about anti-bias
education and diversity work, I really felt like I had to solve it all right away, and I
had to know all the answers right away, and I had to understand every type of
bias and know every family’s culture in a really deep way, and I learned that
that’s a really quick way for burn out. And so I had to learn how to take things in
measured ways, you know? So I think that was really important. I discovered that
lack of support can be really, really hard, and so to surround myself or at least
find those key people that I can call and ask questions to and say I don’t
understand or I feel bad that I didn’t get this right, or, you know, having support
was really important for me and is still 100% is still important for me. I’ve learned
that it’s important to be really open to my own growth in this process, that for me,
I think, my understanding about any of these issues is–comes in a spiral format,
right? So I get something, I understand it, and I work with it for a few years, and
then I discover four years later, I’m at the same point asking the same question
with a different level of understanding and then off on another journey to
understanding. And so when I see it as a journey, as a progress, that feels better
than, like, oh, my gosh, I still don’t understand. So having some compassion for
myself and really seeing the progress that I’ve made, and that it’s a lifelong
journey, I think.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: Julie?
JULIE BENAVIDES: I concur with Nadiyah. It’s just a very complex process
where it’s always changing, and you’re thrown into an influx of certainty of
knowing and then feeling secure about it and feeling insecure about it and trying
to figure out what that work means. And I’ve learned that I don’t have all the
answers. We’re not born to have all the answers. And it’s been a journey of
getting to know and appreciate other cultures, getting to understand institutions
and how they impact children, and asking questions, constantly doing the work of
studying, and not only studying but talking and dialoguing with others. It’s so
critical is that we have to have that shared communities of studying together and
understanding what our construction of knowledge is in order to help support
children. And in this work, I think, one of the biggest challenges that I’ve had to
face is really looking at my limitations, what my skills are, what my dispositions
are, what I need to change, and having what I call the or, being open and being
really appreciating others and then also being respectful. I say respect, but at
times, do we really engage in respect? And I think that this diversity work and
anti-bias work, it’s also having to do with working with other adults in our
NADIYAH TAYLOR: I think I found a voice by engaging in this work. For a lot of
years, I felt like I was sort of just on the outs. You know, I wasn’t white. I wasn’t
male. I, you know, was poor and wore glasses, right? I thought, like, I had
nothing going on. And I felt, actually, really shy a lot of times, and I don’t like
conflicts, and it makes me nervous. And I found that by thinking about how to
stand up for children and thinking about having–taking in information and being
in collegial relationships with people that I found a voice. I found an ability to say,
you know, that’s not fair and that hurts, and that that’s been really important to
me. I still don’t like conflict, but I’ve also found ways to have that voice without
necessarily having to engage in conflict. And, I think, because I see the power of
me feeling like I found a voice that I really want children to be able to have that
JULIE BENAVIDES: What you said about conflict, I–it makes me think about I
like conflict now. I like conflict because it just produces more opportunities for
change and more growth, so conflict is really good. It’s not just in the words that
we’re saying, it really has brought such an in-depth change in me, thinking that
how can I change myself before I change someone else.
NADIYAH TAYLOR: Totally.
JULIE BENAVIDES: And going from working from young children and families
and working in an institution, at a college, I’m dealing with a lot of personalities
and a lot of issues and a lot of different aims and goals that we want to create.
And so I have found that I have to learn how to maneuver through that conflict.
And so now I enjoy it. But for a while, I didn’t know how to go through it. I felt like
I–if I was becoming that passive person, that passive voice, but I had to renew
myself coming from an early education background in the community to go into
an institution and stepping forward and saying, no, this is what we need for our
educators. This is what we need for a peer professional. This is what we need for
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: And I don’t think conflict has ever been difficult for
me. I’m kind of like what you are. But I think where I had to really struggle with
and learn was that I didn’t have to resolve everything, because I think that doing
diversity and equity work has a lot of contradictions in it, and that it comes with
the territory. It isn’t just because I’m inadequate or I don’t have the skills, you
know, that sometimes there’s a conflict between a person’s particular cultural
belief and a value of equity and of fairness, and you can’t always completely find
the perfect solution to all of these things. So, you know, it’s like compromise,
often, is seen as kind of a nasty word, and it was for me, I think, that compromise
meant that I wasn’t doing my job, but to take a more developmental position. And
I just think to accept that things weren’t going to always be totally nice and clean.
I think the other big lesson for me was learning to ask for help, and I guess that
is another dominant culture thing, and partly, you know, growing up in the fifties
and wanting to be a strong woman and not feel like I was passive and
dependent, I had to do it myself. But to be able to call someone and say, you
know, I really don’t get this, or I think I bombed, or I think I said something really
stupid or hurtful. Can you help me? Or will you read this, when I’m writing
something. But when I first started writing, I didn’t want anyone to look at it, you
know, because I had to have it, like, perfect before I could even let it out, and
learning that. In fact, the way to make it better was to let people see it at different
stages of development. And in fact, people being willing to give me constructive
feedback and say that this doesn’t work as a sign of respect. It isn’t just liking
what you do, but it’s a sign of caring about you and of wanting to engage with
you in growth.
NADIYAH TAYLOR: I sort of felt like I might be perceived as lacking, because
here I am a black woman who’s talking about these things and so if I make a
mistake, oh, my gosh, I’ve made a mistake and I’ve ruined the reputation of my
whole community, or I’m falling into a stereotype. People will think, oh, well, see
there you go again, someone who’s not educated, who doesn’t know what
they’re doing. And so, for me, actually, a big piece of growth has been to step
into myself and to trust myself and to say asking for help isn’t a sign of
weakness, nor is it a sign that I am somehow less than other people. And to trust
that if I have a question, it’s probably a good question and there’s a reason for it
and then I’ll learn something from the process. And I just–I think that the ability to
look for support and get support in the way you need it, I cannot stress, I think it’s
just really important to doing diversity work.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: And, I think that, you know, it’s interesting to think
that sort of in converse as a white person. When I made mistakes, I thought that
meant that I was being a bad person, and it just showed how racist I really was,
and sort of, you know, oh, there I did it again. And I’m never gonna be this clean,
not racist person. And that, in fact, instead, understanding that, you know, as you
too, that this is a journey that we’re all on, and that we were all helping each
other, and nobody expects us to be perfect in all this. In fact, they know that
you’re not gonna be perfect, you know? It’s like you don’t have to pretend. And
that to be able to be honest about where your limitations are as well as where
your–and honor your strengths as well. I used to sometimes think that I couldn’t
do that either because that was also, you know, trying to be superior, but to
accept ourselves as human beings while we’re also recognizing that we have to
be on a journey together. Because we all have been deeply hurt by the, you
know, the different isms in our society, the different prejudices that have
undermined our identity, our voice have taught us not to feel comfortable with
people who are different. So we’re all in the same boat, and we need each other
to do this work.
JULIE BENAVIDES: And those are key words that we keep hearing in the field is
trust, respect, and I think it goes back to honoring what you’re saying that word
honor is honoring the work that our–you’re working with students, you’ve worked
with students, I’m working with students in higher education is that they have a
lot of capability and a lot of knowledge that they’re bringing to the classroom.
And I still find myself I am learning an awful lot from them.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: Well, I think passion is good. I think that this work
generates passion, and I think it’s passion that helps to keep us going. I think the
question is what’s the line between passion and trying to force our ideas and
beliefs on other people? When I think of trust in doing diversity and equity work
across cultural and other kinds of identity lines, it is constructed. It’s co-
constructed in the process of helping each other grow. It isn’t automatically
NADIYAH TAYLOR: Absolutely.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: And it can’t be–and we can’t expect that it’s
automatically gonna come to us. I think we walk in a long shadow of history, and
that affects our relationships with each other. And certainly as a white woman
with the two of you as women of color, there’s a long history that I wasn’t born yet
when it all happened, but I still I carry it, and you carry the history of the groups
that you’re part of. So that it is–the respect, I think, comes in, in honoring each
other’s willingness and believing in each other’s willingness to grow and maybe
giving each other the, you know, the right to grow and to help each other grow.
So trust and respect comes out, I think, of conflict, of struggling with each other
JULIE BENAVIDES: Co-constructing knowledge as you meant–
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: Co-constructing knowledge.
JULIE BENAVIDES: Right.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: It doesn’t just come out of agreeing with each
other, but I think we can support each other and disagree with each other at the
same time. And, again, it’s getting away from that either/or relationship.
JULIE BENAVIDES: Absolutely. That’s why, you know–you’ve said it perfectly,
it’s looking at the passion, and what I see with passion is really the optimism. I
guess I must love “O” words. Optimism, you won’t have it if you don’t have that
joy, you won’t continue that drive of wanting to continue the work, because
sometimes you wonder, what is the work? The work can be so abstract. And it
takes a lot of work within yourself and then to work with others. We want to
envision society where everyone gets along and respects one another, and I
think that’s our image. Everyone is, like I mentioned, is a good citizen, so we
have to have that optimism that it’s gonna get better. And sometimes the “O”
would be in overwhelming. Is that right?
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: Absolutely.
NADIYAH TAYLOR: Absolutely.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: Well, I think the idea of vision, as you were talking,
I was thinking of that, that we have to hold the vision, and it’s the passion comes
from the vision, I think for me, that the positive passion, you know? There’s also
anger that comes when I see people being hurt and kids especially, when kids
are hurt. But the vision that it is possible to create a society where all people can
be nurtured and have access to what they need for a quality life, you know? We
certainly have the wealth and the possibilities and the technology for that to
happen and holding that vision as a possibility. And, you know, some days it’s
hard to hold it, but without it, I don’t think we are willing to engage in the kind of
work that–especially the self-work that we’ve talked about.
JULIE BENAVIDES: We might have the wealth but we need the riches of the
diversity that’s why we’re doing the work.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: Yes. Exactly. And I was thinking that, you know,
I’ve been doing this work now for what, maybe 35 years, and that, in some ways,
it’s easier because there are many more opportunities for growth. I think there
are many more organizations and conferences and resources. There are books
for adults. There are books for kids. There are networks of people, so I–you
know, in our professional organizations, in our communities. So I think that
continuing to learn is very possible. We can’t blame, well, there’s no materials.
There are ways of finding materials and people, and using, you know–websites
are useful, because it means even if there aren’t people right in our immediate
neighborhood or community, there are people and bookstores and so on that
have the resources that we need to keep growing.
JULIE BENAVIDES: It’s changed. I mean, 30 years ago, when I started when I
was, what, 10? No. 30 years ago, look what’s happened. We started with hardly
anything. We were working with peer empowerment programs, and now there’s
an acronym for every single entity that’s involved. The resources are out there,
but the biggest resource is each person that’s engaged in this work and in
working with social justice, is that we’re the biggest resource. It’s figuring out how
we can help in whatever way we can contribute to make that change.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: Being connected with other people is like a really
critical part of what keeps us going.
JULIE BENAVIDES: I think change in action, just seeing that we have made
inroads, you know? Look at our institutions, they’ve changed. And I think with
that internal joy that I feel when I see that–not only is there change, but I see
that there’s a group of students who want to learn, who want to grow, and I’m
still feeling that passion. I still feel that there’s–it’s just an abundance of all
NADIYAH TAYLOR: That’s funny. I think I have just the opposite reason for
keeping going because I think that there’s been a lot of change and not enough,
right? And so I feel like I see my son struggle through some of the same stuff. I
feel like we have an abundance of resources and people don’t use them. I feel
like institutional bias is really insidious. And I think that things morph and change
to make it harder because it’s not as like in your face, right? And so, then, it feels
to me like sand, right? And so I really feel like I’m motivated because things are
changing, and there’s still so much more to change. And I feel really passionate
about that. I want my child and other people’s children to have, like, a better
chance at feeling whole and for things to continue to move forward.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: I think that persistence, that, you know, I’ve
wondered what keeps me going all these years in addition to the passion and so
on. I just think there’s some kind of underlying stubbornness that says to me, I do
still believe that the vision of change is possible. And, yes, I think we have made
small changes. And I agree with both of you because I think we’ve also gone
backwards in some things, and some things never change. But I–you know, the
fact is that there have been some really key changes. I think we have to pay
attention to the little victories at the same time that we see where we go next. I
have very high expectations for ultimately, but my expectations in the immediate
are much smaller. It’s kind of like those, you know, that folk song, “Inch by inch,
row by row, I’m gonna make my garden grow.” What are some of the other
personal characteristics you think you have that keep you going?
NADIYAH TAYLOR: You said to me once that I believe that everyone can
change. Sometimes just people die before they do. And I think of that because I
get–sometimes I think, okay, I can change, other people can change, and I just
have to have that sense of persistence. I think in terms of sort of personality
traits, things like that for me, I want things to be balanced. I like to see both sides
of the issue, and that serves me really well in doing diversity work. And I tend to
go towards self-reflection, and I think that that serves me well in this work. And I
want–because I don’t like conflict, I work really hard to resolve it, and I think that
that actually works for me very much in this work.
JULIE BENAVIDES: You know, what you just said is really critical. See how you
don’t like conflict, I like conflict, and how we can work together, and I think that’s
part of this, looking at the camaraderie that we’re building in the field. And how
we’re–you know, our ultimate vision is to create new leadership. And you’re–
what you’ve gone through and what I’ve gone through, I think it is that
persistence. It’s that active engagement. It’s what we’re modeling for children
and for students is to be actually involved.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: Yeah. And I think that, you know, the advocacy
piece or the activism piece has also been really important in my life, and–
because it–that I think that the work that we do in early child education around
diversity and equity is a piece of a much larger social justice movement. And for
me to feel part of a larger piece helps me realize that I don’t have to do
everything, that I have my contribution to make. And I think that a lot of the
knowledge we’ve learned from the work in early childhood education around
diversity and equity issues, particularly sort of the developmental issues–art can
also be useful to people in other aspects of social justice work. So I think feeling
connected to a large group, both in this country and internationally, because
there are people working on diversity and equity issues all over the world. And
they’re an incredible group of people. And I agree with you about the
camaraderie. I mean, there is something about it’s a very special group of people
in my mind. So I think advocacy is necessary because we want to be able to
create really quality programs for young children. We also have to change a lot
of things in our communities and in the larger nation in terms of resources and
policies for children, and, you know, how people are trained to work with kids and
so on, and that all requires activism advocacy work. But I think underneath it all
is always that drive of I do not want children and families and, you know, people
destroyed because of who they are.
JULIE BENAVIDES: I think with our own personal experiences, we’ve gone
through different adversity. And I think that from the adversity it’s challenging
ourselves to become the better person and a better advocate for children and
families definitely is at the heart of it. I also feel that it’s, again, being optimistic
that we are gonna create a different society and a different life in whatever way
we can do it. In whatever–whether it’s practitioners or whether it’s professionals,
families, community, higher education institutions, I think, we’re on our way. It’s a
struggle but we’ve come a long way.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: So it’s challenging and hard work…
NADIYAH TAYLOR: It’s definitely challenging.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: …and also rewarding.
NADIYAH TAYLOR: Yes.
JULIE BENAVIDES: And it could be, again, overwhelming. But again, it’s just the
joy of–you get over it. And it’s that persistence you have when you fail, there’s so
much joy that you can do in creating and innovating programs.
NADIYAH TAYLOR: Right. And just, I think recognizing change in myself is
fabulous. I mean, that’s a great thing. And even more than that for me is seeing
children. You know, I walked into a classroom recently and a child said, “Oh, my
gosh. My skin is brown just like yours.” I said, “Yeah, it is. Let’s compare colors.”
And she was really excited about her skin color, and she didn’t know me. And so,
for me, that’s exciting for someone who could potentially be marginalized to
celebrate who they are at a really young age and hopefully be able to carry that
forward into their lives. I think that that’s–it is, for me, really, really worth it.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: You know I was thinking of the CNN commissioned
a study of, you know, where kids were at in terms of their ideas about African
Americans and white children, with African American and white children from 4 to
10, and two of the kids said things which gave me also great hope. One was a
white child who, when they were shown five different photographs of–well,
they’re actually kind of stick figures of–from very light to dark, and one of the
questions was which kids would you say are smart, which kids would say is bad–
are bad. And this white girl says to the researcher, she says, “Well, I don’t know.
I don’t know them. I couldn’t say until I know them.” And then there was an
African American boy also around eight who said, “Well, are you asking me my
opinion or what other people will say?” And the researcher, luckily, said, “Well,
both.” So he said, “Well, what’s your opinion?” And he said, “Well, my opinion is
that I couldn’t tell you, you know, because I have to know them.” What do you
think other people might say? Other people might say that the white child is
smarter and that–that black child is not as smart. But I thought that is what we’re
talking about, that if kids can develop those–that way of thinking, that we are
taking, you know–making some very important steps towards the vision of a
more just society for everybody.
NADIYAH TAYLOR: Absolutely.
LOUISE DERMAN-SPARKS: Well, I’d like to wrap us up by reading a quote from
a children’s–wonderful children’s singer named Raffi, and it’s from his Covenant
for Honoring Children. And it says, “We find these joys to be self evident that all
children are created whole, endowed with innate intelligence, with dignity and
wonder and worthy of respect, the embodiment of life, liberty and happiness.
Every girl and boy is entitled to love, to dream and belong to a loving village and
to pursue a life of purpose.”
© Laureate Education 2011
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