Throughout my personal and professional life—my dissertation research, my high school and undergraduate teaching, my experience leading P-8 educational programs, and my counseling work with adolescent girls—I have seen firsthand hundreds of girls and young women wrestle with the challenge to thrive in a male-dominated society. Through their struggles, these young women continue to impress me with their resilience and fortitude.
Children develop positive self-identity through open conversations, being valued by peers, experiencing supportive relationships and settings, and by seeing other people with similar identities be appreciated and valued. A recent study by Sesame Street and the University of Chicago demonstrated that children as young as preschool notice and talk about difference in race, class, gender, culture, and religion. Open conversations with even our youngest children can help them learn about themselves and others.
Creating a school culture where we all understand and embrace differences is ongoing work which requires us to first see and acknowledge difference. When we nullify differences in favor of likenesses, the “likeness” is often anchored in culturally dominant norms. This invites “color blindness,” a well-meaning gesture that attempts to find commonality among different groups but instead can further divide us through its use of a single lens. It is crucial that as adults we develop the self-awareness and humility necessary to have courageous conversations with our children about differences and diversity.