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Derech Eretz: A Path to Educating Our Children About Anti-Racism

by Liz Paige, Director of Ethics and Community Initiatives

 

The Jewish value Derech Eretz (manners, The Golden Rule, respect for elders, and honesty in our relationships) teaches us how to conduct ourselves and interact with others as we journey through life. At McGillis, we believe that by acting with respect we can create a community and world in which each person is seen, heard, and valued. Anti-racism education is an essential part of Derech Eretz.

 

Ending systemic racism requires each of us to examine our own biases, prejudices, and privileges. As teachers and parents, it is incumbent upon us to have conversations with our children about the unequal norms of our society -- the biases, prejudices, discriminatory practices and policies, the inequalities, and privileges and power of a hierarchy that puts whiteness as the positive “norm” and blackness as the negative “other.”

 

Value-Based Education

Throughout our curriculum, students are focused on Derech Eretz, which encompasses both respect and justice for all. Teaching the value of Derech Eretz, as with all of our values, is at the heart of our work and this year includes:

  • Social-emotional Toolbox curriculum, teaching students how to regulate their emotions and solve conflicts
  • Humanities curriculum that is shaped by teaching multiple perspectives and experiences
  • Health education program that teaches how to respect oneself through healthy decision-making
  • Service-learning projects that connect our students with different communities
  • Kehilah mentoring program provides students an intimate environment to get to know and respect their classmates and to lead their peers in our school’s Shabbat traditions.

 

Ethics & Cultures

This year, our Ethics & Cultures curriculum is focused on anti-bias education. The Anti-Defamation League’s Anti-Building Blocks Curriculum: An Elementary Curriculum for K-5 Educators and Empowering Students, Challenging Bias: A Middle School Curriculum for Grades 6-8 is the foundation of the curriculum in which students come to better understand their own identities, the impact of implicit biases, inequality vs. equality, and how to repair the world by being an “upstander” and allying with others against prejudice and discrimination.

 

Author Study

In January, we began a school-wide author study of the works by Carole Boston Weatherford. Professor Weatherford, acclaimed children’s author and recipient of Caldecott, Sibert, and NAACP Image Award honors. Professor Weatherford and her son, Jeffrey Boston Weatherford, an illustrator, will be our author and illustrator-in-residence on February 5. Through their work, the Weatherfords have uplifted the Black American experience for young people through the lens of respecting all and being an anti-racist. The Weatherfords will also lead creative writing workshops for our 5th and 7th graders in which our students will be able to give voice to their own experiences and goals for being an ally and upstander.

 

It Starts with the Adults

  • These are not easy conversations; we all recognize the urgency and importance of these discussions for our individual children and the world as a whole. To support our community in these conversations:
  • Our Parents’ Association hosted a discussion with Anti-Racist Educator and McGillis Parent Candace Chow in December.
  • In February and March the faculty and staff will be reading and discussing Ijeoma Oluo’s book, So You Want to Talk About Race, to increase our understanding of race and racism in America as well as how to be better anti-racist educators. 
  • The School’s Board of Trustees, led by the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee, will be furthering their own anti-racism learning in order to continue to guide our institution on the path of Derech Eretz in everything we do.