If You Don’t Think We Should Discuss DEI in Schools, Don’t Offer “Thoughts and Prayers” After A Hate Crime is Committed

Talking to kids about DEI early is critical

Talking to children about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) early can help prevent the kind of misinformation and fear mongering that, in rare circumstances, can lead to hate crimes being committed. 

Recently, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez replied online to US House candidate Lauren Boebert when she offered prayers up to the victims of a recent hate-motivated mass shooting in Colorado Springs, saying, “You have played a major role in elevating anti-LGBT+ hate rhetoric and anti-trans lies while spending your time in Congress blocking even the most common-sense gun safety laws. You don’t get to “thoughts and prayers” your way out of this. Look inward and change.” 

We will continue to do children a disservice by not preparing them to be more inclusive humans than previous generations. When younger people are aware of social issues earlier, they are more likely to speak up about the issues. More typically, the practice of avoiding the subject of DEI, or avoiding and/or whitewashing our true, problematic history as a nation leads to ignorance and a lack of preparedness for the real world. 

In my research, I’ve found that when it comes to parents rejecting inclusive learning for their children, three key factors contribute to this pushback:

  • We fear what we don’t understand. 
  • We misunderstand what we do not already know. 
  • We confuse emotions with facts. 

Many well-intentioned adults want to shield children from the violence in our news cycle, yet that rarely is what is most helpful. Children learn from their peers and the media at young ages. Information, especially sensitive information can be best positioned from adults that care about them. 

We fear what we don’t understand. 

It is hard to answer our children’s questions when we might not know the answers ourselves. That is the difficulty of DEI work – there are not magic fixes or answers – it is a long game. Our brains are wired for short-term results and the instant gratification of solving a problem. Diversity problems have been around for centuries, they will not be resolved overnight. Yet, children can see past the status quo – they question why things are the way they are – and if they knew more about our real history, they would be in a better position to change it for the better.

We misunderstand what we do not already know. 

Cognitive dissonance is when our brain tries to reconcile a previously held belief, value, or fact with new information that contradicts the previous knowledge. As adults, unlearning and relearning new information is much more painful than as children. The brain hard coding is harder to reshape as we age – yet possible with more effort. If we let go of previously held beliefs, we can be better stewards for our children not having to go through the same painful process.

We confuse emotions with facts. 

Feelings are not facts. Not wanting to believe something does not make it false. It is accepting new facts that makes us stronger as caregivers and educators. When facts are presented to children, they are more likely to embrace them for positive change, even unpleasant ones rarely cause shame, they elicit empathy.

Consider what is driving the fear of learning about DEI in school or for younger people and be ready to address your fears and the fears of others. It is the right thing to do for the next generation of little allies.

Looking for more resources for having conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) earlier with children in your life? Check out resources from The Little Allies, the Inclusion School Podcast, or purchase the Allyship in Action toolkit for activities for yourself and then for your family or group.