Schools across the country are engaged in conversations about what diversity, equity, and inclusion in the curriculum should (or should not) look like. Given that DEI curricula can be easily misunderstood, my goal is to be clear with the Marin Horizon community about what we teach and why we teach it.
DEI work is not new to Marin Horizon. This work has been a part of the school’s ethos since its inception, which is one of the many reasons I am so proud to be part of this community. Our goal is inclusion and equity for students and families. In order for our students to thrive, they need to be seen, heard, and understood, in and out of the classroom, and this begins with learning and appreciating who they are in the world. In doing this, students also learn to appreciate that not only are others different from them, but that these differences are what bring value to our community; it’s the different perspectives, learning styles, family structures, races, cultures, and so much more, that create vibrancy.
Marin Horizon’s curricular approach to DEI centers on the following key beliefs:
- All voices, and experiences are valued.
- A positive self-identity creates the foundation for the development of self-esteem and confidence. When students feel good about who they are in the world, they are less likely to fear differences and they become more open to varied perspectives.
- Diverse perspectives and experiences in the classroom lead to stronger academic and social outcomes. Research has consistently shown that exposure to diverse experiences improves students’ ability to think and assess critically, work productively on a team, and become effective problem solvers.
- It is our job as educators (and the goal of a good education) to present an age-appropriate, accurate, and inclusive account of our country’s history, as well as age-appropriate conversations about current events.
- Students, especially in our upper school, are actively involved in conversations about race and identity, taught through the lens of developing open-minded and critical thinking.
- When students are given the tools to synthesize multiple perspectives and historical facts, they learn to make their own decisions about what to think.
Our mission is to develop students who are “responsible to each other, the community, and the world.” We believe this can happen only if students are asked to wrestle with difficult questions and to think critically about what it means to make a difference in the world. Marin Horizon also acknowledges that fulfilling this mission is an ongoing process where we learn from, about, and with each other.
To give you a more specific understanding of how DEI is integrated into the curriculum across the grades, I’ve highlighted a few examples below.
- In a primary classroom, you might see students discussing ways in which they are all alike and ways in which they are different – eyes, likes/dislikes, skin color, hair color, as examples. These discussions happen in large groups and often use books as a jumping-off point. In addition, primary students study different cultures and places around the world focusing on the needs of people, which include clothing, food, shelter, defense, transportation, and spirituality.
- In first grade, teachers introduce what identity means - both identities you can and cannot see. Specifically, the lesson starts by talking about student names and where students come from. The discussion then moves to family identity and about how all families are different (first grade family portraits are showcased on the classroom window). Finally, students explore books about different cultures and discuss the different holidays and traditions of students in the class. A discussion also takes place about the different talents and abilities of each student and how these help make up our identities. To end the unit, each student creates an identity map to show the importance of intersectionality in their identities.
- In the third grade, we introduce a gender identity lesson using the book It Feels Good to be Yourself. The lesson is designed to help students gain a greater understanding of themselves and others, and provide students with the vocabulary needed to help them understand those who identify as other than male or female. Students are naturally curious and observant, and our goal is to help them embrace and normalize these differences, which, in the long run, will help them navigate an increasingly diverse world.
- In middle school, students are asked to use their critical thinking skills in real-world contexts by debating contemporary DEI-related issues. Students gather and analyze evidence to support their arguments, and create compelling, convincing arguments in favor of both their own ideas and ideas they may not believe in. Recent topics have included:
- Should the curriculum prioritize diverse voices and historically marginalized communities?
- Should teachers encourage student activism and integrate it into the curriculum?
- Should school curriculum ban racially insensitive language and images?
As a school, we acknowledge that this work is open-ended, subject to change, and ongoing. We certainly do not have all the answers. However, I thought it was important to share our direction for DEI work in the curriculum and to give you more clarity about what it is and what it is not. I also want to make clear that we approach DEI work as enriching our curriculum rather than replacing existing curriculum. We do this work because we believe it benefits all students, socially, emotionally, and intellectually.