Whether you are a teacher, a museum educator, parent, caretaker, auntie, or anyone who interacts with kids, Marabou suggests you watch Liz Kleinrock’s TED talk, “How to teach kids to talk about taboo topics.” If we want to see actual positive change in the world, we need to provide children with the right communication skills. In a climate where people can’t even speak to friends or family members with differing views on race relations and politics, it is essential that the next generations know how to have thoughtful conversations, whether you agree with someone or not. In order to do this we must destigmatize the idea that some topics are “taboo,” and go outside our own comfort zones and discuss things like racism, consent, and power with children in responsible ways. Liz provides examples from her classroom, breaking down how conversations that are sometimes daunting to have with fellow adults can be made accessible for various ages. Halfway through her talk (5:21), Liz says something that is important to remember for those who are hesitant to initiate and facilitate challenging conversations with kids,
“Teaching kids about equity in schools is not teaching them what to think. It is about giving them the tools and strategies and language and opportunities to practice how to think.”
Liz explains that social justice thinking can be taught in the same way children are taught to read. Kids are not just given books and expected to read, but words are broken down into letters and sounds, then sounds to words, then words to sentences. Liz emphasizes the importance of how children are encouraged to practice reading by themselves and with friends, to become more fluent. Children and adults alike can benefit from starting small and working their way to discussing bigger picture issues. Starting with clarification of basic concepts, like what it means to be fair and what it means to be equal, and creating a common vocabulary establishes a foundational understanding that can help lessen misunderstandings that often derail conversations before they really get anywhere.
Liz explains (7:37),
“Some people might think that kindergarteners or first-graders are too young to have conversations around racism, but I’ll also tell you that young kids understand that there are many different components that make up our identities and how people are similar and different, and what it means to have power when other people don’t.”
Even very young children have life experience and/or understanding of what injustice looks like on varying scales. Adults should not, as Liz says, deliberately avoid difficult conversations because kids pick up on it. In short, let’s not underestimate children’s capacity for difficult conversations simply because we ourselves and other adults will be made uncomfortable.
Liz’s TED talk applies to many different scenarios and Marabou thinks Liz’s approach can be applied to invite children to bring critical eyes to their own museum experiences. In any museum, kids should be told that museums provide information, but only a select amount and from a certain point of view. From there, teachers, educators, and caretakers can ask children, whose stories do they see being told in the museum? Do they see themselves or people like them represented in the stories, the art, the cultures on display? Whether the answer is yes or no, follow up by asking why, and then the adult should be ready to further explain why if the child doesn’t already know. Marabou particularly likes Liz’s assertion that children are ready to have difficult conversations because Marabou believes children are aware and ready to experience museums as more than passive recipients of information. Kids are ready to engage and question and can even provide some insightful suggestion on how museums can become more just places.