I Don’t Think It’s A Lot to Ask For Inclusion at School
By Tanya Hayles
Photo © davidpfenelus/Twenty20
Feb 22, 2021
That’s my son, in his half-yell, half-whine voice. It was “crazy hair day” at school.
When I hear this voice, I wince and brace myself for the accusation that’s to come. That I missed this very important day and therefore made him stand out to his friends, classmates and teachers in the worst way. It wasn’t the first time, and it probably won’t be the last.
One of the challenges a Black parent faces when enrolling their children in a school is the ratio of diversity. Not just among the teaching staff and administration, but the students, too.
Is there diversity. And if so, is it as rich in cultural representation as Canada’s largest city, or does it look more like a slate of elected officials?
For a Black parent, events like the U.S. Capitol riots bring up some difficult truths. Here's how Tanya Hayles processed it all.
This matters to me, because it doesn’t feel as if all cultures are being adequately represented. So when schools come up with “fun” days like crazy hair, PJ day or other seemingly innocuous things, my friend tends to think about the families who look like mine.
I grew up in a suburban town where I was the chocolate chip in the cookie.
Early on, I learned that my hair would never blow in the wind; my ponytails were as stiff as a board.
"Crazy hair day? I wouldn’t have dreamed of mentioning such a thing to my mom."
Hair in the Black community is a touchy subject because its care can sometimes be a whole-day endeavour. Our haircare products aren’t always found at the corner drug mart and it can take a lot of time and patience to make it look school-day approved.
Crazy hair day? I wouldn’t have dreamed of mentioning such a thing to my mom. Decades later, my son with his low fade, would be experiencing the same thing — feeling like an outsider. Did I have temporary hair color? Do I have baby powder? Would putting a wig on him be too much? I didn’t have many options.
There are also fairly easy ways to be cast as an outsider when it comes to these sanctioned days.
Here are some reasons why this dad believes all white parents should talk to their kids about racism.
I think of newcomer families, who are acculturating but may not have a grasp on the ways schools are trying to inspire silliness and fun. Who makes a call to these families, explaining what a “crazy hair day” means? What does “PJ day” mean in a house that might always be cold, hot or full of people? In larger families, perhaps PJs are simply old T-shirts and hand-me-down sweatpants. We’ve all been kids, and we know that it’s the little things that they pick up on — they see difference, and aren’t always kind. But these days create opportunities for the wrong type of spotlight, which highlights those who are unable to participate.
And you know what? I empathize that it’s probably hard to come up with theme days that include all the cultures of the rainbow, that are also safe, easy school board-approved.
But while these days may feel like throwaway, easy wins for student morale, they aren’t always. Not unless there is an emphasis on inclusion for a diversity of perspectives and experiences.
"I think of newcomer families, who are acculturating but may not have a grasp on the ways schools are trying to inspire silliness and fun."
By acknowledging the experiences of many, rather than producing events based on so-called average experiences, I believe outcomes will be better. Because every kid wants to feel seen, like they are being asked to participate without an assortment of obstacles beyond their control.
The move to virtual learning doesn’t negate these situations.
Demanding video be on doesn’t consider the living and housing situations of all families. Impromptu baking lessons are not accessible to everyone – not every family has a stocked pantry.
"The talk: the inevitable conversation when racism comes knocking at our door." As Tanya writes, Black parents know this all too well. Read her advice about broaching the subject here.
For me, this goes well beyond political correctness. It’s not a call for participation ribbons. It’s just a decent thing to want, for all kids to feel like they can do what is required of them at school. Because I think it’s safe to say that we all want kids to show up.
No parent ever wants to be the reason why their child is an outsider at school — whether it’s for temporary silly reasons or more important permanent ones. My son’s disappointment in me about crazy hair day eventually subsided, but the memory of it may not have. Whether it's crazy hair day, PJ day or whatever, we need to remember that not all hair and kitchen cupboards are created equal.
And not everyone is going to simply understand that something is fun because someone says it is.
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