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Let’s Talk About Consent…
So, I suppose we were always going to get to this post eventually, because consent is a major part of being part of a home, classroom, or community. It’s something really basic to being a person who interacts with other people.
This post is happening today, though, because the topic has become so utterly and painfully immediate that it clearly needs to be addressed; from the #MeToo movement, to accusations against numerous respected figures, to the Kavanaugh hearings… our own President has even mocked assaults against women. Our children and students hear these things on the radio and online, see them on TV, and know we’re talking about the issue. If we are, so are they, and that makes this an incredibly important time to have this conversation with them.
[RESOURCES FOR DISCUSSING CONSENT ARE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE!]
So, What Can I Do?
This is obviously a really serious and delicate issue, and we understand that it can be nerve wracking to think about bringing this stuff up, but evidence shows that beginning discussions about consent at a young age keeps kids safer, and eases the more mature conversations later on. Besides, there are lots of great tools that can help – the conversation is important, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating!
Before I start, let me explain that we at Collage Colorado are not therapists, and that these suggestions come from our combined years of experience teaching and parenting. You are welcome to disagree about anything we say here, and we welcome discussion! That only helps everybody keep everyone safer, and more respected.
REMEMBER! If you feel you or someone you know is being bullied or their consent is not being respected, tell a trusted adult.
First off, remember to talk to your kids at their level. This might seem obvious, but it’s worth remembering, because many educators’ and parents’ first fear in talking about consent is the belief that they’ll have to talk about “mature subjects”. You don’t! Not unless your students are ready, and if they are they’ll let you know (by asking questions, and because you likely already have a gauge on their maturity level to begin with). Start small… You can always add more detail later, as they need it.
Next, let your kids lead the conversation. Kids get consent at a basic level already. We all do; we all know when something doesn’t make us feel right, or makes us feel like our trust, our space, or our bodies, haven’t been respected. Once you’ve given kids a few prompts (ex. “How does it feel when somebody touches your hair when you don’t want it?”, “How do you feel when you don’t want a hug, and someone gives you one anyway?”), they will likely take off with it, which leads us to…
Now, on to making some agreements! Whether at school or at home, one very good way to reinforce the ideas that you and your kids or students have discussed is to write them down. Get a piece of paper or a board, and record 3-5 agreements about bodies, boundaries, and consent. Make sure your kids or students guide this step, too. Then have everyone (including you) sign the agreement.
After that, let kids ask questions. Really, this is true always, but for tough conversations like this, it’s especially important to check in one last time before the conversation is over. This makes sure there aren’t any hanging problems, misunderstandings, or uncertainties (at least as much as we can manage).
Finally, check in again later. Explicitly talking about consent should be a regular practice… when appropriate. It’s important to check in periodically to make sure that our kids still get it. It can take many times repeating a concept for kids to fully integrate it, and that goes for this concept, too. Making consent a regular check in also makes the conversation infinitely easier than having to have it as a reaction to something later. How often you check in is up to you, but whether parent, educator -whoever – make this conversation a habit.
Talking About The News
Talking about consent is a fantastic time to talk about what’s going on in the news, too, and vice versa, and all the same “rules” apply here, too. Talk about the Supreme Court hearings or #MeToo at your children’s level. And don’t worry about the details; ultimately, they matter far less that the overall concept, that all people have a right to determine what happens with their own bodies, and furthermore a right to stop others from violating or impeding that in any way.
Of course there’s so much more to consent than all of this, and the discussions each of us has will look different every time, depending on our kids, depending on what’s going on in the world, and so on. It’s important to know that for children of color, immigrants, and refugees here in the US, consent is an even more tenuous and potentially triggering topic; people’s race and religion can further change the impact of both the consequences and conversations around consent, and it’s our responsibility to be aware of this.
At the end of the day the most important thing is to keep talking. Destigmatizing conversations about consent make the world a safer and happier place for everybody.
Although no resource is perfect, there are a few good tools that can help you to discuss consent with your kids or students (or colleagues!), including some fantastic videos.
- “Consent for Kids” – This video talks about consent at the most basic level, and we believe it is appropriate for children starting around 6 years old.
- “Consent: It’s as Simple as Tea” – This is consent for adults (and possibly teens). This video contains “bad” language, however it remains one of the best – and most concise – explanations of the importance of consent that you’re going to find. Our own Maníge Giles uses this video and the video above for her OWL classes; both are fantastic introductions to the idea.
- “The Day You Begin”, by Jacqueline Woodson – This book is not actually about consent, but it is about racism and feeling othered, which is a major issue in addition to consent.
There are lots more resources out there, and you can be sure that as we find them, we’ll share them here on the blog, but in the meantime, if there are other good resources that you’ve found helpful, let us know in the comments!
Recently, we posted a list of 10 Books to Inspire Kids for the Summer, but parents deserve some reading love during break, too; besides, it’s just as important for us adults to push our minds and our limits as it is for our kids. With that in mind, the following is a list of books that should push your thinking, stretch your comfort zone a bit, and (at least for white parents and educators) challenge some of your conceptions of privilege, race, education, and access to systems.
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates’ seminal work is simultaneously a powerful personal narrative, and at the same time a scathing indictment of systemic racism as it is practiced in the United States. It shines a light on this institution and its many facets that is frequently painfully, brutally bright, but always necessarily so. The book is not easy to read, but Coates’ voice and presentation make it both emotionally and literarily accessible.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
The New Jim Crow forces us to face the reality of racially-biased mass incarceration, the school to prison pipeline, and the modern extension of slavery (at present, most states ban uncompensated work in all cases except as punishment for a crime). Alexander’s work is powerful, painful, and still utterly salient six years after its original publication. (If this work speaks to you, we also highly recommend the Netflix documentary 13th).
The Skin We Speak, Edited by Lisa Delpit
The Skin We Speak is a collection of essays and reflections from teachers and teacher educators who have worked (and are working) to push back against the numerous structural iniquities facing students of color, queer students, and students of other marginalized identities in the United States. The book explores a variety of perspectives, and attempts to offer some broad solutions as to how to address these incredibly important issues. Delpit is a must-read author for educators and parents alike.
Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children, by Lisa Delpit
Every teacher will attest: students strive for the bar you set for them. Unfortunately, institutionalized racism has built a system wherein students of color are frequently held to the lowest possible standard. As a result, many educators and administrators ultimately then see what they expect (whether there or not), and students of color then bear that weight, only increasing their struggle to grow.
We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We really feel that this title of this book speaks for itself (and should be common sense to everyone anyway), but if it doesn’t, or you’re looking to feel really inspired, we highly recommend that you watch Adichie’s TED Talk. Adichie’s book is a direct extension of her Talk, exploring why feminism is so important across all boundaries. Adichie does a wonderful job of meshing personal narratives with extensive research to frame the tremendous importance of practical feminism.
White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race, by Ian Haney López
We commonly think of race as a social construction, and in large part it is, but the reality is that race, and whiteness in particular, has been hotly contested from a legal perspective for more than a century in this country. White By Law explores this through a series of case studies that ultimately illustrate that whiteness has nothing to do with fairness of skin, and everything to do with a narrow set of ill-defined rules and designations that revealed whiteness to be, in essence, the absence of culture.
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, by Melissa V. Harris-Perry
Melissa Harris-Perry is perhaps best known for her long running show on MSNBC (now sadly cancelled), but she has also been a longtime professor at Tulane University, and an author. In Sister Citizen, Harris-Perry explores the intersection of Blackness and femininity, and how those combined identities can lead to both a tremendous amount of strength and leadership, and equally a deep well of pain. Moreover, she explores the many frameworks through which Black women have been framed in American culture. At the end of the day, this is a phenomenal book, and no words can do justice to how beautifully MHP delivers the ideas inside.
Feeling White: Whiteness, Emotionality, and Education, by Cheryl Matias
Dr. Cheryl Matias is a brilliant, invested, and engaging motherscholar, single parent to three wonderful children, and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. She is formerly a classroom teacher and a long-time teacher educator. As a result of her many roles, Dr. Matias has a unique perspective on the state of education, and this is exceptionally evident in her book. Feeling White is a deep and largely academic exploration of the impact of whiteness on education and the typical classroom in the United States.
Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage, by Paulo Freire
Freire is a staple of critical race theory (CRT) and post-colonial philosophy; he is best known for his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Pedagogy of Freedom is an extension of that work, looking at the developments and changes that have happened in education and CRT. It is a short book, but incredibly powerful, and still relevant decades on.
Wise is a well-known standout in social justice circles. He is a bit of a standout in pop culture – a cisgender white man who openly owns his whiteness, and is willing to stand up to institutional racism. Wise’s book White Like Me is a foundational piece, exploring his journey from privileged, ignorant white man to ally and activist. It was not an easy journey – it never is – but Wise presents it in a way that is incredibly accessible. For those just beginning to explore social justice as more than an abstract, this is a fantastic place to start.
Are there any other books you think should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!