WALKING OUR TALK
or DOES OUR ANTIBIAS CURRICULUM REALLY WORK?
by ReGena M. Booze, M.A.,Faculty, Pacific Oak College & Children's School
Last year I was invited to be a juror for the Coalition for Quality Children's Media. I thought very carefully about their offer; after all, they were asking me to watch children's videos and give them my honest opinion. And, if I enjoyed the tapes, I would then have to ask a group of children to watch them and give me feedback. Now one might ask "how hard can that be?" Well, it is a chore, and, I honestly don't like many of the child-oriented videos that are currently on the market.
Much of my dislike for children's programming stems from deliberate acts of omission; most of the programming is quite Eurocentric. Now that by itself isn't so bad, but for many years I saw derogatory, demeaning, buffoonish caricatures of most non-white or non-European American people. Also, as I watched cartoons or "children's" stories I noticed how girls (women) were either in the way, or they messed up good plans (usually designed by boys/men). The "good" females always had to be rescued, and the "bad-evil" females had to be somehow done away with. Most of them either disappeared or were outright killed. The next time "The Wizard of Oz" comes on really look at the roles of the female characters (and I LOVE that movie! Yes, I own a copy of it and have memorized the dialog!) The point here is that racism and sexism are learned behaviors and the media is an excellent teacher.
I decided to accept the Coalition's offer for two reasons: I wanted to see what type of programming is available for children, and I also wanted to know if the critical thinking aspect of our anti bias curriculum really works. Throughout our programs we've continually talked about fairness, about equity, about treating all people with respect and dignity. So, do our children recognize when these things aren't happening, and what are their responses on those occasions? I elected to work with the children in Adventure Yard because they represent the cumulation of our efforts. Many of the AY children have been at Pacific Oaks for most of their lives, and they have been exposed to our efforts to promote critical thinking and problem solving skills within an anti bias context. The children accepted my offer to be my video consultants because they get to watch the tapes and, they also can keep the ones they like! Adventure Yard has racked up about 10 tapes as a result of this activity.
The Coalition has developed a score sheet for use in judging a video. There are eleven components for consideration. The form uses a scoring format of 1-5 points and there is a space to write children's comments concerning special virtues or significant weaknesses. You can bet we've had some lively discussions on the scoring issue! We do use a democratic system, we resort to voting when we have multiple opinions on the overall score. Voting for a certain score has proved quite interesting. Although there are some clear lines of demarcation between girls' scores and boys' scores, the voting isn't evenly divided by gender.
I have had very interesting conversations with the children about the values portrayed in the videos. We have seen several British productions and have talked about the vocabulary and "accents" of the characters. There are other lessons our children have learned on their journey. We discovered sometimes that other jurors like videos we don't. This came out when the Coalition published its Directory. As we eagerly looked through it we discovered some videos included that we had rejected. Although, the Coalition does include jury comments which included some of our own. In conclusion, yes, there are videos out there which do promote positive self esteem for all children, not just white or European-American children. Check out the collection.