I have developed a deep respect for the effort many arts organizations are making towards building a culture of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access (EDI&A). I also am on the frontlines, working with several clients on this issue and teaching this subject at both New York University and Columbia University.
Generally, the consensus for consulting about or teaching EDI&A has been to develop and implement methods within existing businesses, institutions or arts organizations for repairing unconscious bias and then engaging in activities, such as lectures or dialogues, that facilitate respect for diversity. However, my experience also has taught me how difficult it can be to help people make permanent changes in their behavior when the truths and values of these initiatives conflict with their upbringing. That’s why I believe we need to make a concerted effort to begin to teach and implement the values and practices of EDI&A to children—as young as pre-K.
It’s true that the socialization process begins long before a child attends school. As a matter of fact, researchers have found that children notice identity-based differences, such as gender and race, as young as two years-old. However, we know that children are influenced both positively and negatively by their experiences in the classroom and on the playground. Why not make the values of EDI&A a part of the core curriculum, such as English, mathematics and history, from pre-kindergarten to high school? Why not make sure that the parents also are exposed to the curricula, for example, through their Parents-Teachers Organizations (PTO)?
Our current trend of EDI&A work is at the embryonic stages of what is necessary to build a healthy country. To have a lasting impact, it’s imperative that we begin with the acknowledgement that the roots are deep and entrenched in the history of slavery and the appropriation of Native American land and territory. To uproot and eradicate the damage that racism, gender bias, discrimination and appropriation create will require that we plant even deeper roots in the most fertile of soil—the hearts and minds of children.
The logical question that follows this type of recommendation is, “Who will pay for it?” But on the other hand, how can we afford not to do make this type of investment in the future; a future that could be positively altered by giving everyone the tools to engage with each other? A change of this magnitude would require the support of educational leaders, government officials, foundations and corporate partners with a vested interest in not only a productive and creative workforce, but also one that is culturally engaged.
I am inspired by the work that’s already being done through arts education programs. These programs also are a potential vehicle, with an enhanced curriculum, for targeted and intentional EDI&A curriculum, regardless of the art form, to plant seeds for the future.
I invite all the readers of Arts & Culture Connections to share your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below. Let’s brainstorm together the best possible solutions for breaking down the racial, social, political, gender. geographical, cultural and access barriers that inhibit children from growing up to become fully engaged, creative and contributive adults.