In October, Allie Bruce, Bank Street’s Children’s Librarian, and Anshu Wahi, the School for Children’s Director of Diversity and Community, traveled to Los Angeles to present at the Progressive Education Network (PEN) conference. Their presentation, “Loudness in the Library: Empowering Students to Think Critically About Identity and Bias,” demonstrated the benefits of emergent curriculum — lesson planning that takes children’s innate curiosity as its compass.
A Richer Conversation
Anshu and Allie’s presentation grew from a library visit from Jamie Steinfeld’s 11/12s School for Children class last fall. The class was to discuss realistic fiction, but in preparing for the book talk, Allie encountered a problem.
“When I was preparing for the kids’ visit,” Allie says, “I found that very few of the books featuring characters of color were actually fun. Most, in fact, only displayed the negative and tragic aspects of those characters’ experiences.”
She consulted with Anshu to discuss how to handle the topic. “Just be honest,” Anshu replied. She recalls,
“My goal was to present the problem to students, and get them thinking about these negative stereotypes, and about how the books didn’t represent the full spectrum of experiences. But as the project grew, we saw that the problem wasn’t just about race, and we started talking about gender, body image, LGBTQ issues, and more.”
When the class convened, a single question from one of Jamie’s students launched what would become several weeks of meaningful curriculum. A student asked why one book, in which the main character was a Latina girl, showed a bird