Statement about the Role of Early Childhood Education and Racism

Cynthia Hurd — Susie Jackson — Ethel Lance — Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor —
The Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney — Tywanza Sanders —
Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr. — Reverend Sharonda Singleton — Myra Thompson

“It would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for,
I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.”
— President Barack Obama, June 26, 2015

On June 19, 2015, the Early Childhood Education Assembly (ECEA) of NCTE posted a statement [1] sending love to the families and the people of Charleston in response to the racist murders at the historic Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The statement also expressed our belief that early childhood educators have a clear responsibility and essential role to play in educating tomorrow’s adults so that this and other more insidious kinds of racism are no longer a possibility.

At that time, we promised to initiate a set of resources on the ECEA website in support of focused anti-racist work in educational settings. With this reiteration of our previous statements we provide a link to those resources [2]. Our intent is to continue building this collection and to work toward collaborations across the country. We recognize that these resources are far from comprehensive but we offer them as a beginning, an impetus in support of educators committed to

(a) deepening understandings about institutional and interpersonal racism and its manifestations in educational settings,

(b) understanding the depth and breadth of histories often left out of or misrepresented in our teaching, and

(c) applying new awareness to transforming practice and policy.

We hope you will access them in conjunction with our prior statements reprinted below.


Prior ECEA Statements:

The Early Childhood Education Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English urges friends and colleagues to think of the murders of nine human beings in Charleston, South Carolina, not as the isolated action of a deranged person, but as one more in a long string of racist actions that remind us all too vividly of the racist acts of years gone by, recognizing that racism is enacted in these very visible ways but also subtly, insidiously in worlds in which we interact every day. We believe strongly that, as early childhood educators, we have a clear responsibility and essential role to play in educating tomorrow’s adults so that this kind of hatred and racism is no longer a possibility. We turn to South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn who called out “the appalling silence of good people” and we urge educators everywhere to work with others to break that silence. The statement below was written and posted by our committee two days before the Charleston murders. With this preface, we offer the ECEA Statement about the Role of Early Childhood Education and Racism once more.

The Affirmative Action Committee of the Early Childhood Education Assembly
of the National Council of Teachers of English, June 19, 2015


Statement about the Role of Early Childhood Education
and Racism

In Fall of 2014, the Affirmative Action Committee of the Early Childhood Education Assembly (ECEA) posted a statement in response to the death of Michael Brown. We offered a few resources to support educators in building early childhood environments where honest talk about race could occur. Since that time, rather than abating, issues surrounding racism have been brought more and more to the forefront, making visible the degradation, discrimination, and loss of life that have been clear to Communities of Color for generations. We began constructing this statement immediately following the incidents of racial slurs and devastating brutality directed at Dajerria Becton and other Black teens at a Texas pool party. Then, we received the news that Kalief Browder had committed suicide, a Black male who, at age 16, had been accused but not convicted of stealing a backpack, imprisoned, and treated brutally before his release three years later. In June, details were made public in the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice; in July, we learned of the death of Sandra Bland and the indictment in the killing of Samuel DuBose.

These incidents are in addition to countless others that have come to the surface in universities, public schools, and communities across the country. While the pain felt in watching these events is beyond description, we believe that their visibility is important because they push us to engage in critical conversations about racism and to recognize that it is real, widely-experienced, and ongoing, and that, while steps have been taken to suspend racist students and school administrators, close down fraternities, and indict police officers, the deeper issues remain.

We take our lead from outgoing NCTE President Ernest Morrell, who reminded us that silence is a form of complicity. We cannot stand by without speaking out about the role and responsibility of every educator to use our privilege as teachers and researchers to alter this course of action. After all, it is our students who will be the adults of tomorrow in every institution that guides our society (schools, teacher education programs, law schools, police academies, health care institutions, and the population at large) and they will either be equipped to recognize and challenge racist ideologies (their own and those of others) — or not.

So, what can early childhood educators do? The Affirmative Action Committee of the ECEA strongly believes that it is through our teaching of young children that we can effect the most change. We believe this because research points out that when we do not explicitly teach anti-racism early, it becomes too easy for a racist consciousness to form in our silence, the same consciousness that tolerates racist acts we see today. This will require much thoughtful examination as we look at ourselves; our curriculum; our beliefs about each other, our students, and their families; and our understandings about the past, the present, and the future. It can be frustrating, challenging, and difficult work, but it is also a privilege and a responsibility.

In support of this work, we are expanding ECEA’s Social Justice website to provide a wide range of resources to support examination of issues and actions in faculty study groups, and in university and preK-2 classrooms. In addition, we offer the suggestions of a handful of books (listed below) that can provide foundations for better understanding and articulating the issues at hand.

Finally, we invite you to engage in anti-racist work in your educational environments and to share that work with us (we are currently developing ways to collaborate virtually across the country in this work and will send possibilities in subsequent posts). In these ways, we can support each other in gaining insight, engaging in difficult conversations, and ultimately affecting change. Our children deserve no less as we lay the foundation for the adults they will become.

The Affirmative Action Committee of the Early Childhood Education Assembly
of the National Council of Teachers of English — June 15, 2015, updated July 31, 2015

Alexander, M., The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness [3].

Castagno, A. E., Educated in whiteness: Good intentions and diversity in schools [4].

Delpit, L., Multiplication is for White people: Raising expectations for other people’s children [5].

Howard, T., Why race and culture matter in schools: Closing the achievement gap in America’s classrooms [6].

Howard, T., Black male(d): Peril and promise in the education of African American males [7].

Milner, R., Race(ing) to class: Confronting poverty and race in schools and classrooms [8].

Picower, B., Practice what you teach: Social justice education in the classroom and the streets [9].

Pollack, M., Everyday antiracism: Getting real about race in schools [10].

Sue, D. W., Race talk and the conspiracy of silence: Understanding and facilitating difficult dialogues on race [11].


This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.