Windows and Mirrors

In college, I read an important and life changing article titled Curriculum as Window and Mirror by Emily Style. She is an educator, writer, and co-founder of the National SEED (Seeking Educational Equality and Diversity) Project. In 1988, Emily wrote:

“[There is a] need for [education] to function both as window and as mirror, in order to reflect and reveal most accurately both a multicultural world and the student herself or himself…education needs to enable the student to look through window frames in order to see the realities of others and into mirrors in order to see her/his own reality reflected.”

In other words, mirrors provide students with the opportunity to see themselves, their reality, and provide a sense of validation. Windows provide students the opportunity to see differences and learn about other people’s experiences. When balanced, windows and mirrors provide students with an understanding of a diverse world and their place in it.

I love this framework and it helps me make sense of my educational upbringing. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I grew up in a homogeneous suburb and left school knowing very little about diversity. Why? I spent 12 years being surrounded by mirrors! My skin color (white), my religion (Christianity), my family type (2-parent), my class (upper-middle), and my sexual orientation (straight) were always reflected back at me. This left me with an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a worldview that ignored differences.

Fortunately for me, my college experience gave me the opportunity to gaze out many, many windows. For the first time, there were fewer mirrors. I learned so much about the world around me and my place in the world. Without a doubt, looking out windows and learning about diversity was the most meaningful aspect of my college experience.

Though my worldview changed, most schools have not. Just like I had been, my kids are surrounded by mirrors and there are very few windows. I’m sad for them and the lost opportunity to learn about differences. I’m also sad for their friends who are Jewish, Latino, adopted, gay, or have a disability. Those kids look out a lot of windows and don’t see many mirrors. Not surprisingly, it’s typical for kids who only see windows to feel as if they do not belong.

Since it’s not happening at school, I believe that parents need to jump in and take an active role at home. While it’s perfectly normal for your home to have more mirrors than windows, it’s still important for you to provide windows. Windows give children a chance to learn about differences, let them know that you value diversity, and that it’s okay to talk about it. In the future, I will give you suggestions for how to do this. For now, I want to ask a question. Do you think it is important for children to have an equal balance of windows and mirrors in their lives?


A New Beginning

Although I have written in the past and have been a frequent public speaker, I am nervous to start this blogging adventure. Putting my thoughts and ideas out in the public domain is a bit intimidating. Before we go any farther, know that I do not like to think of myself as an expert. I am not perfect. I have flaws and limitations like everyone else. I have more to learn. However, I believe I have a meaningful story to share.

I grew up in a very homogeneous suburban community near Cincinnati, Ohio. Like most Midwesterners, I was raised to be nice and I was really nice to everyone. But it wasn’t until my college years that I realized being nice didn’t cut it. It wasn’t until I left my hometown that I slowly and methodically discovered that there was a whole world that I had been taught not to see – a world full of beautiful differences. I also realized that these newly discovered cultural differences required more knowledge and skills to navigate than just me being nice.

This dawning awareness about culture and diversity eventually became the focal point of my undergraduate work. I spent a lot of time studying psychology, family dynamics, American history, white privilege, sexuality, racism, homophobia, civil rights, and other topics related to diversity. Outside the classroom, I formed life-long friendships that crossed color, ethnicity, class, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, and geography.

I continued to learn as much as I could about differences, specifically the intersection of cultural awareness and family life. I reflected on my own upbringing and kept asking the question, “How can families raise children who are culturally aware and respectful of differences?” I was interested in finding a way to prevent my own lack of awareness from being repeated. Instead of noticing a world full of differences for the first time at the age of 20, why not help children and families see these differences all along?

My personal journey has been incredibly rewarding. A lot of moments have been life changing… sort of like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, going from seeing the world in black, white, and hues of gray to seeing the world full of rich and brilliant colors. It has also been challenging and difficult at times. I have had to learn to do a lot of listening and questioning. I have had to learn that it’s okay to be uncomfortable. And I have had to admit that I was wrong. A lot.

I would like to share my journey with you. I will share stories and observations, as well as encourage you to read some things, watch some videos, and do some self-reflection. I plan to ask you a lot of questions along the way. Will you please join me?