Writing & Evaluating Curriculum & Books for All God’s People

Over the past few months I have been cleaning out files from forty years of pack-ratting my Christian Education resources. Many are very dated and not pertinent any longer, many are dated but have stood the test of time, and many have a combination of “this is so wrong” combined with “this is still valid.” This post will be sharing some documents from this third category, so please take it for what it is and recognize where it falls very short (and harmful). But I feel there is enough in the two documents that you can download (understanding they were written thirty years ago) to glean from.

One was published in the early 1990s from JED (Joint Educational Project), a partnership of denominations doing church education together, including the American Baptist Churches USA, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Evangelical Covenant Church, Friends General Conference, Friends United Meeting, Moravian Church in America, Presbyterian Church in Canada, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA, and United Church of Christ. Even the denominational names have changed to what we know today. I had two notebooks full of documents, articles, essays, and lesson plans from JED’s Aware project. Starting in the late 1970s (when I began my Christian ed ministry in a parish), I would receive a quarterly mailing of ideas and resources to be put in the notebook. At the time it was a treasure trove.

I am sharing two documents that I feel have some content that is worth reviewing today. The Racial-Ethnic Guide: A Resource for Pastors, Editors, Curriculum Writers, and Others Engaged in Educational Ministries (JED, 1990) and 100 Quick Ways to Analyze Children’s Books for Racism and Sexism, published in the 1970s by the Racism and Sexism Resource Center for Educators, a division of the Council for Interracial Books for Children in New York City. The first is not necessarily in keeping with the language we use today, but still offers some insights.

Some gleanings in a nutshell from both documents, still applicable today:

From the Racial-Ethnic Guide

It is important to include in the writing of curriculum the ideas, concepts, solutions, viewpoints, and attitudes about the Christian faith when it is filtered through the experience of a variety of persons to avoid creating a resource which reflects an insensitivity. This resource may assist editors and writers to be more intentional in using examples an illustration which come from African American, Caribbean, Native American, Latinx, and Pacific and Asian-Americans.

  • Avoid stereotyping any group. Identify and dispel misconceptions, prejudices, and other adverse feelings that might show up implicitly (hidden).
  • Avoid subtle forms of white racism. Be transparent when it comes to the nature of social, economic, and political injustices perpetrated by white privilege.
  • Make special efforts to use ideas, stories, and illustrations from all races, ethnicities, and cultures.
  • Avoid the words “minority” and “ethnic.” The overuse of both words can lead to and carry derogatory connotations.
  • Be aware of words, images, and situations which suggest that all persons or groups of a certain race or ethnicity are the same.
  • Do not single out the fact that a person mentioned is an “ethnic” person unless it is salient to the idea or thought being conveyed. If it would be inappropriate to refer to a person or group as being “white,” it would be equally inappropriate to refer to a person or group as any particular race.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Guidelines for Evaluating Children’s Books and Media

Both in school and out, children of all ages are exposed to racist and sexist attitudes. These attitudes – expressed over and over in books and in other media – gradually distort their perceptions until stereotypes and myth about people of color and women are accepted as reality. If a child can be shown how to detect racism and sexism in a book, the child can proceed to transfer their perception to wider areas. The following ten guidelines are offered as a starting point in evaluating children’s books from this perspective.

  1. Check the illustrations. Look for the stereotypes – overt (sombrero-wearing Mexicans) and subliminal (black people as poor). Look for tokenism. If there are non-white characters, do they all look the same, just “colored in”? Who’s doing what? Are those who are leaders and active characters represented by all genders and cultures?
  2. Check the story line. Are the standards for success equal? How are problems presented and solved? What are the role of women?
  3. Look at the lifestyles. Are people shown in a variety of contexts, neighborhoods, jobs, and friendships?
  4. People. Do “whites” in the story possess all the power, education, decision-making, and money? Do women play subversive roles? How are family relationships depicted?
  5. Note the heroes. Whose interest is a particular person really serving? Who needs to be rescued?
  6. Consider the effects on a child’s self-image. Are norms established which limit the child’s imagination and self-concepts? Is there more than one character that a child can identify with?
  7. Consider the author’s or illustrator’s background. If they are not representative of the story or characters being written about, what gives them the experience and authority to write the book? Read the back cover or jacket description of them to learn more.
  8. Check out the author’s perspective. No one can be wholly objective. Look carefully to determine whether the direction of the author’s perspective substantially weakens or strengthens the value of their written work.
  9. Watch for loaded words. A word is loaded when it has insulting overtones. Look for sexist language and adjectives of certain people. Look for firefighters instead of firemen, ancestors instead of forefathers.
  10. Look at the copyright date. Books that included a diversity of people began to hastily be published in the mid-1960s. These were still written and and published by white persons. While this has changed, still be aware that some children’s books that have been published in recent years still have implicit bias within them.

For a further explanation of both of these list, download the Racial-Ethnic Guide which offers suggestions for including experiences of Native Americans, Latinx, African American, and Pacific Islander and Asian Americans (just be aware of some of the language used which would be deemed insensitive today) and Guidelines for Evaluating Children’s Books.

Header photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

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