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Report of a Meeting, June 25, 2007
Promoting Tolerance and Respect for Diversity in Early Childhood

Author: Mariajosé Romero
Publication Date: May 2008
This publication is part of NCCP’s earlier project: Promoting Tolerance and Respect for Diversity in Early Childhood. Other publications in this series are the Annotated Bibliography and A View From the Field .

This is an excerpt from the full report.

Key Findings in Brief

There is a relatively small core of practitioner led efforts to promote tolerance and respect for diversity in early childhood in the U.S. (For the purposes of this project, we focused not just on preschool years, but on birth to 10 years of age).

  • Through our national scan, we identified 40 organizations conducting DTRD programming for young children, their parents, teachers, and/or caregivers, under the auspices of private foundations and government agencies. The approaches vary: only a small number use a formal curricula and focus on formal settings, such as schools and child care. Others use informal learning settings, such as TV (Sesame Workshop) and museums. Still others focus on training teachers. These initiatives are disconnected from each other and are in great need of technical assistance in improving current efforts and in designing and evaluating research-based programs, overcoming community opposition, and securing funding and sustainability.
  • Efforts at infusing tolerance and respect for diversity into early childhood practice, many of which draw on the Louise Derman-Sparks’ curriculum promoting anti-bias and respect for diversity, have encountered loud critiques and backlash in the U.S., mostly from right wing groups.
  • Most curricula and interventions intended to promote tolerance and respect for diversity are not theoretically grounded and have been informed by general psychology, often disregarding the cultural and social contexts and the structure of power relations within which exclusion, intolerance and prejudice emerge, and failing to incorporate the lessons from critical cultural scholarship on education and schools in the U.S.

The nature and impact of relevant research, both basic and applied, on DTRD activities is limited, as is the research itself.

  • Research suggests that from fairly early on, young children formulate and behave on the basis of perceptions of difference and status that can be prejudicial but are not impervious to change. There is, however, little translation of research and evaluation findings to inform the development and evaluation of interventions.
  • There is a need to facilitate increased research about the most effective ways to promote tolerance and respect for diversity in the early years, particularly research that is embedded into practice. Both our survey and our experts’ meeting clearly indicate that partnerships between these local organizations and other stakeholders (i.e., researchers, policymakers, evaluators, practitioners, funders) within the early childhood education sector, particularly universities, are of great value to those promoting tolerance and respect for diversity with young children, but formal mechanism to encourage them are scarce.
  • Anecdotal evidence about the effectiveness of DTRD interventions is generally strong. However, we do not really know what young children take away from their participation in interventions promoting diversity and tolerance or what the developmental trajectory is, or if there are particularly important times to intervene.

There is only a haphazard effort to embed attention to tolerance and respect for diversity into the larger U.S. early childhood agenda.

  • Thus far, states’ definitions of early childhood teacher standards, and the extent to which these definitions include diversity topics represent the sole public policy approach in the U.S. relevant to issues of tolerance and respect for diversity. Only thirty states have developed these standards; all of them include diversity topics (such as, culture, language, special needs, and inclusion): but the majority integrate diversity content in less than one-third of teacher competency domains. Less than 13% of required hours of course work in 4-year early childhood teacher preparation programs and very little practice address diversity issues.

There is a core of researchers, practitioners and national thought leaders who are eager to grow the early childhood focus on DTRD, but currently, these issues are not deeply embedded in the prevailing early childhood public dialogue.