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    Writing Children’s Books to Educate Future Generations About Diversity

    By Lyndsey Schlax–

    (Editor’s Note: Teacher Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts (SOTA) launched the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course in 2015. She still offers that groundbreaking class but is teaching Ethnic Studies this semester. The two subjects often intersect, so in this column her students share their thoughts about both Ethnic Studies and LGBT-related matters, including their concerns, what they have learned in class and more. Here, students from grades 10–12 discuss their class as well as their latest project: writing children’s books to educate generations to come about diversity.)

    1. This semester’s final project in LGBTQ/Ethnic Studies is writing a children’s book about a topic we have discussed this year. All week, we have been learning how to include personal narrative, causality & agency, and hegemony/counterhegemony into a book designed for 5–12-year-olds. The truth is children understand a lot more than they’re given credit for. Oftentimes, matters of race, gender, and privilege are dumbed down for young children. But kids, and especially those of a racial minority, have been exposed to these issues since birth and are sometimes more open to talking about them than full-grown adults.

    In general, there is a lack of children’s books that are inspirational for children of color and children within the LGBTQ community. The guideline we were given at the beginning of the writing process was to “write a book that you wish would have existed when you were young.” That is why I am writing a book about a young boy who does not fit in with the hypermasculine social norms in elementary school. It is important for me that young boys know that it is not necessary for them to play sports and to like trucks. It is okay to have friends who are girls as well as to have friends who are boys. That is why I am excited for the end of the project, when we will get to read our books to a class of second graders, and to share the invaluable information that we have learned this year in this amazing class.

    2. The LGBTQ/Ethnic Studies class here at Ruth Asawa SOTA has taught me so much more about the world and what should be done to fix the systems put into place. This country specifically has many issues that people do not know about, that people should be educated on. If anything, this class should be a requirement for students to take since it is important to understand all of the issues that come into place in this country. It is also due to the fact that history books in everyday education do not go into depth about the histories of anyone who is a part of the LGBTQ community, as well as people of color. In order to make a more sustained and united society, people have to learn about the underlying histories that were never told.

    Other than this class opening up my eyes, it has engaged me to want to attend more walkouts or anything that has to do with activism and problems that arise from the wrongdoings of the government. Attending and helping to lead the national walkout on gun violence was a great experience for me. Overall, this class has made me feel more confident in myself in wanting to move forward and to change the world. This class itself has been a great opportunity for me since it is not a class that is allowed in many places, so I have my school, and my teacher Ms. Schlax, to thank for that.

    3. In our Ethnic Studies class, we read articles regarding intercultural education through children’s books and the authors’ approach to an audience of 7–10-year-olds. Passing on histories of race through children’s books requires attention to boundaries, language, and the audience’s reading level. When it comes to race and LGBTQ lenses, authors with young audiences focus their themes on multicultural children’s literature, elements of social justice, and heterosexual/queerness.

    Writers not only ask themselves questions like, “What is good?” and, “What is my goal with writing this?” but they also apply the queer theory lens, social action ideas, representation and humanization, awareness and more, all within appropriate boundaries. Authors tell untold histories and share social movements and changes in their children’s books to provide the young readers with a perspective that they can use in the outside world.

    There are many ways to approach telling a story, especially with children, although many parents do not want their kids reading truthful and accurate stories. They want to protect their children at a young age, but is that really protecting them? Some things should be made more general and less graphic for kids, but there must be some truth, and especially for kids 8 and older who are starting to become aware of things in the real world. Books for them should slowly ease into the truth. It should not be exaggerated and make anything, or anyone, seem less human, but should fit the shade of actual humanity.

    4. Recently our class has been exploring the impact of pop culture, media, and literature among the younger generation. Through reading children’s books and watching music videos that today’s youth can access, we have discussed the different ways that these resources can be helpful tools for children.

    Without searching deep into the web to explore history and topics of identity, children can form an understanding and openness towards identities and different cultures from an early age. Throughout our research time, we have concluded that children cannot consistently be “protected” or kept “innocent” with their parents’ supervision, since children will hear or see something that will trigger their interest to know more about sexuality, gender, culture, race, and the appropriation around these identities.

    For example, Childish Gambino recently released his video “This is America,” and within three days the video has already received 51 million views. Throughout the video, Childish Gambino covers multiple topics that have affected the Black/African American community, such as gun violence, police brutality, and mass shootings. Most people I talk to believe that music and videos offer one of the few ways that others are willing to listen to, allowing them to better understand what we as African Americans go through.

    For more information about the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, please visit http://www.sfsota.org/