Preschoolers given classes in racial prejudice

Herald-Sun, 15 November 2016

PRESCHOOLERS as young as three are encouraged to identify racial prejudice and celebrate difference in a new Australian Human Rights Commission program.
The Building Belonging program, for use in primary schools and preschool and childcare centres, aims to help educators “handle challenging or confronting questions about racial differences” while also “tackling racial prejudice”.
Teachers are given answers to questions children may pose, including: “Why are there black people?” and “Why did Ned call me an Abo?”
Other recent social education programs, such as Safe Schools and Respectful Relationships, have generated heated public debate.
Building Belonging materials include an e-book, All My Friends and Me, which has characters who have names of Chinese, African, Persian and Aboriginal origin.
It also includes:
LAMINATED mats of different skin tone colours, to be decorated with play dough;
A SONG celebrating the “colours of Australia”, including skin colours “white and tan and brown”;
PAINTS in different skin tones and items from other cultures such as chopsticks.
Teachers are also encouraged to use everyday items, such as tomatoes and rainbows to prompt discussion of racial and cultural issues.
Children are also advised to make friends with someone from another racial background.
The program is linked to the Early Years Learning Framework, which requires preschools to “encourage cultural competency”.
Megan Mitchell, the National Children’s Commissioner, said the program was prompted by a survey of early childhood educators, who said children were raising cultural matters with them.
“(Of educators) 77 per cent said they had been asked by a child about their own race or another child’s racial background, and just under half were asked something negative,” Ms Mitchell said.
She said the program had been downloaded more than 11,000 times in the last month alone and had received “overwhelmingly positive feedback”.
But state Opposition Leader Matthew Guy questioned the utility of the program.
“As a father, I know that ­parents are the best people to teach children about respect and values, not government,” he said.
“My youngest son is at preschool. He is not bothered by other kids’ racial background, and I doubt any kid his age ­notices such things, so it’s wrong for authorities to force a discussion about people’s race on three-year-olds kids.”