Tackling racism in the very young

July 30, 2009 — Review

Written by Danny Reilly

A valuable new resource for early years educators has been produced.

The format of Young children and racial justice: Taking action for racial equality in the early years – understanding the past, thinking about the present, planning for the future is that of a training manual. And as anyone familiar with such manuals will know, to say that such a book is well written is praise indeed. As its subtitle indicates, this book provides a historical setting for reflection about racism in British society linked to policies and strategies for change. The focus is on policy and strategy that centre on childhood development and education. Discussions of dolls, ‘circle time’, language development, etc. are unique to working with young children. However, the author begins with general insights and analysis of racial equality before looking at the particulars. This makes the book of interest and use to a lay reader as well as those in other fields seeking to provide training about racial equality.

The ten chapters that comprise this manual encompass both information (for example on legislation) and topics drawing upon a variety of research and analysis. The danger is that in trying to summarise so many studies these too will be presented as ‘facts’ or dry presentations of ‘points of view’, and thereby put off would-be readers, trainers and trainees. Skilfully, Jane Lane, the author, avoids this pitfall by firstly breaking each chapter down into sections and sub-sections, which organise the material around themes without losing the connection between the various facets of racial equality. Second, the discussions in each section are clearly presented, and, as simply as the subject matter permits, aim to be jargon free. Third, and most importantly, the sub-sections are peppered with ‘discussion’ and ‘case study’ boxed sections, which attempt to give everyday focus to points made about racism, children, education, prejudice, etc. Some training manuals, which use a similar technique, allow such inserts to degenerate into pseudo comprehension tests, or, in the case of race awareness training, pseudo psychology. Lane, on the other hand, uses the technique to provoke genuine discussion and reflection directly relevant to childcare, education and racism. Those who have experience of something like local authority ‘diversity training’ will know how welcome the material in this book is. Indeed, the organisation of the manual can act to guide or even educate would-be trainers as to how to conduct training for racial equality.

The original Action for Equality was published in 1999. This edition has been completely revised to take account of changes in legislation and ‘early years’ government policy and ‘a decade of changes in thinking and practice’. Predictably the right wing press, e.g. the Daily Mail, has already attacked the National Children’s Bureau for daring to suggest that those involved in educating and caring for young children should be trained in racial equality. This should not prevent those sympathetic to the aims of the author from critically appraising the materials in this manual. Indeed, the spirit of the writing and discussion encourages such critical review. However, those seeking to prepare and deliver training for racial equality will need to take this high standard as a starting point for future development.

Related links

Young children and racial justice: Taking action for racial equality in the early years – understanding the past, thinking about the present, planning for the future

Central Books

National Children’s Bureau

For further information contact the United Families & Friends Campaign: contactuffc@gmail.com.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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