box of children's books
Image via Sue Davis/Flickr.

When school resumes this fall, “black, Latino, Asian, and Native American students will together make up a narrow majority of the nation’s public school students,” according to the latest figures from the National Center for Education Statistics. And the percentage of students of color will only continue to grow.

Yet according to a study at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, of the 3,200 children’s books published in the U.S. in 2013, less than 100 were about black people. Sixty-nine were about Asian/Pacific Americans, 57 about Latinos, and 34 were about American Indians. And that doesn’t include book quality, only quantity.

There is a significant disconnect in our culture between who we are and who is represented in the media, in positions of leadership, and even in children’s books.

In a “New York Times” op-ed, author Christopher Myers talks about an “… apartheid of literature — in which characters of color are limited to the townships of occasional historical books that concern themselves with the legacies of civil rights and slavery but are never given a pass card to traverse the lands of adventure, curiosity, imagination or personal growth….”

The late author Walter Dean Myers  (Christopher’s father), in a separate op-ed, noted that “Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? Where are the future white personnel managers going to get their ideas of people of color? Where are the future white loan officers and future white politicians going to get their knowledge of people of color? Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?”

One of the activities students in our Teaching for a Positive Future course explore is to examine their curriculum and teaching resources for bias, context, and framing, looking with a critical eye at issues such as hidden messages, language choices, implications, and what vital information and perspectives may be missing.

As humane educators it’s important to pay attention to what voices, views, and values are represented (and missing) in what we’re teaching. For example, is there diversity in the ethnicities of those we teach about and in the resources we use? Are non-traditional gender roles included and considered “normal”? Are the concerns of animals as individuals incorporated? Is the lens used for the curriculum and classroom environment one that’s oppressive and exploitative, or inclusive and focused on compassion, justice, and humane values?

As you’re starting the school year, take time to examine your curriculum, the posters on your walls, your policies, and the resources you use to ensure that students will both see themselves and get to experience the voices and views of others who aren’t like them, so that their roles as compassionate, conscientious global citizens are nurtured and supported.