Challenging stereotypes in Neohumanist Diversity Curriculum
– Didi A. Devapriya
President, Asociația Educației Neoumanistă
Small children are spontaneous scientists, gathering information, making hypothesizes, testing them, and drawing conclusions that eventually crystallize into a belief system that then embeds itself deep in the unconscious mind. When these beliefs remain unchallenged, and are confirmed by repeated experience, they harden and set like plaster, and become difficult to reshape in later life. Consciously seeking opportunities to introduce themes that address human diversity in an inclusive way is a key feature of successful Neo-humanist early childhood education. When diversity curriculum is appropriately designed, it can help to correct and prevent the solidification of stereotypes and blind prejudices in the formative mind of the child.
“Us” and “Them”
Infants are born into a state of undifferentiated subjective consciousness. In that state, others do not exist as separate entities but rather as an extension of the self. The baby literally experiences an attentive mother as a continuation of its own mind and body, responding directly to its thoughts and desires without any effort to communicate to an outside entity. An infant’s cry is not a form of intentional communication but rather a pure subjective expression. As the layers of the mind develop, the objective mind begins to form, and to sense others as distinct, separate entities, not controlled by the desires and needs of the subjective self. At this developmental stage, “stranger anxiety” normally forms, in which the child perceives unfamiliar others as alien, unknown, and potentially dangerous. The mother or other important attachment figure becomes a safe anchoring point from which the child explores the environment and other people continually checking and measuring the mother’s reactions before determining the safety of a new situation. Imagine then the messages a child indirectly receives when he feels his mother’s anxiety as she draw him closer to her in the bus whenever someone from a minority group passes, how she laughs in nervously and in embarrassment if he points out their different skin color, hushing him to be polite, and how the child begins to notice similar consistent reactions in other trusted adults as well. Even though nothing “racist” was said verbally, the child quickly deduces consistent patterns and forms a hypothesis which “others” are not safe or not to be trusted. In this way “us” and “them” thinking forms not only as a recognition of difference but those differences are assigned values and become the basis for the transmission of socio- sentiments. When other experiences and information continue to confirm this hypothesis, it calcifies into a belief, and the child grows up into an adult, who without a conscious reason, may feel a vague nervousness, embarrassment and unease whenever faced with those “others”.