Administrators at Fox Chapel Middle School in Spring Hill, Florida, recently fired a teacher who gave her sixth graders an assignment asking them to consider how "comfortable" they would be in the company of various people. Some of the 41 scenarios identified these "others" in terms of race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion.

For example:


"Your new roommate is a Palestinian and Muslim."

"A group of young black men are walking toward you on the street."

"The young man sitting next to you on the airplane is an Arab."

"Your new suite mates are Mexican."

"Your assigned lab partner is a fundamentalist Christian."

Many Fox Hill students and parents were upset. "They’re kids. Let kids be kids. Why are they asking kids these questions?" one mother to a seventh-grade student wondered. "I just don’t think it’s something that needs to be brought in school." Another parent said, "I just think that sometimes kids are just too young to start that at this age, and in school."

Such sentiments are familiar — and deeply misguided.

In the United States, a lot of us believe that children, especially white children, are racial innocents — completely naive, curiously fragile about the realities of race, or both.

Image via iStock.

The truth is that well before their teen years, the majority of children are well aware of prevailing biases, and most kids of all racial stripes have taken on a bunch of their own.

Researchers have been studying the development of racial and ethnic biases in children for a long time, and we know quite a bit. We know that within a few months of birth, babies prefer own-race faces, probably because most are surrounded by people who look like them. Sometime during the preschool years, however, this relatively innocent pull toward the familiar morphs into something else.

By age 5, black and Hispanic children show no preference toward their own group compared to whites. On the other hand, white kids remain strongly biased in favor of whiteness. By the start of kindergarten, "children begin to show many of the same implicit racial attitudes that adults in our culture hold. Children have already learned to associate some groups with higher status, or more positive value, than others."

So, in reference to the doubtlessly well-meaning mom quoted earlier, the crucial question isn’t "Why bring issues of racial, ethnic, religious, and other kinds of bias into our schools?" It’s "How do we constructively engage the harmful biases we know pervade our schools and just about everywhere else? And what can we do to shape our children’s racial attitudes before and as they emerge?"

In that regard, research and experience offer some promising guidance to parents, guardians, teachers, and all of us who care for or about children.

These guidelines were developed by members of the Embrace Race team.

1. Start early.

Let your child know that it’s perfectly OK to notice skin color and talk about race. Encourage them to ask questions, share observations and experiences, and be respectfully curious about race.

2. Realize you are a role model to your child.

What you say is important, but what you do — how diverse your circle of friends is, for example — will probably have an even bigger impact on your child. If they don't attend a diverse school, consider enrolling them in activities such as sports leagues that are diverse (if you’re able). Choose books, toys, and movies that include people of different races and ethnicities. Visit museums with exhibits about a range of cultures and religions.

3. Let your child see you face your own biases.

We’re less likely to pass on the biases we identify and work to overcome. Give your child an example of a bias — racial or otherwise — that you hold or have held. Share with your child things you do to confront and overcome that bias.

4. Know and love who you are.

Talk about the histories and experiences of the racial, ethnic, and cultural groups you and your family strongly identify with. Talk about their contributions and acknowledge the less flattering parts of those histories as well. Tell stories about the challenges your family  —  your child’s parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and great grandparents — have faced and overcome.

5. Develop racial cultural literacy by learning about and respecting others.

Study and talk about the histories and experiences of groups we call African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and whites, among others. Be sure your child understands that every racial and ethnic group includes people who believe different things and behave in different ways. There is more diversity within racial groups than across them.

6. Be honest with your child, in age-appropriate ways, about bigotry and oppression.

Children are amazing at noticing patterns, including racial patterns (who lives in their neighborhood versus their friends’ neighborhoods, for example). Help them make sense of those patterns, and recognize that bigotry and oppression are sometimes a big part of those explanations. Be sure your child knows that the struggle for racial fairness is still happening and that your family can take part in that struggle.

7. "Lift up the freedom fighters:" Tell stories of resistance and resilience.

Every big story of racial oppression is also a story about people fighting back and "speaking truth to power." Teach your child those parts of the story too. Include women, children, and young adults among the "freedom fighters" in the stories you tell.

8. Teach your children to be "upstanders" for racial justice.

Help your child understand what it means to be — and how to be — a change agent. Whenever possible, connect the conversations you're having to the change you and your child want to see and to ways to bring about that change.

9. Plan for a marathon, not a sprint.

Make race talks with your child routine. Race is a topic you should plan to revisit again and again in many different ways over time. It’s OK to say, "I’m not sure" or "Let’s come back to that later, OK?" But then be sure to come back to it.

This story first appeared on Embrace Race and is used here with permission.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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I almost didn't create this post this week.

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I've written article after article about gun violence. I've engaged in every debate under the sun. I've joined advocacy groups, written to lawmakers, donated to organizations trying to stop the carnage, and here we are again. Round and round we go.

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