Addressing the "Elephant" in the room: exploring race and social justice in the early childhood years
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This critical case study examined young elementary students’ understandings of race as they participated in an interdisciplinary Social Studies and English Language Arts unit in two kindergarten classrooms and one first grade classroom in two urban regions of the United States. The study utilized the principles of Critical Race Theory, Social Education, and Social Justice to analyze the young elementary-aged students’ thought-processes on race. By implementing an interdisciplinary unit on counter-narrative stories about the past and present experiences of communities of color, the students were also able to examine the impact of race through multiple perspectives. There were distinct differences in classroom teachers’ years of experience, their comfort level in addressing contentious topics such as race and racism, as well as their approaches to deconstructing complex information to their young students. This study also included an in-depth review of the teachers’ thoughts on race and their rationale for teaching their students about it. While the curriculum, lessons, and materials presented in each of the classrooms were slightly different, the common theme of developing a strong sense of community emerged in all three classrooms. Each teacher discussed that, as a result of presenting the students with lessons focused on all different communities of color and their historical fight for equity, a stronger bond formed in their kindergarten or first grade classroom. Considering the curriculum, lessons, and materials all addressed how race and racism impacts different communities, this study presents the conversations that could occur when teachers begin to hold explicit conversations about race with young elementary-aged children.