Racial equity in early childhood education


If there is to be any hope of resolving the racial disparities that mark society, the healing of racial inequity needs to begin early enough to prevent old biases reinforcing themselves any further.


In this episode, we are joined again by Dr Neitzel, along with the President of the Educational Equity Institute, Dr Ebonyse Mead, to discuss their upcoming book ; The Handbook of Racial Equity in Early Childhood Education , and the challenges facing educators in a time of social uncertainty.


Find more from the Educational Equity Institute here.


Listen to their past podcasts here.


Image source: Wave Break Media/Shutterstock




00:00:04 Will Mountford 

Hello, I’m Will welcome to ResearchPod.  

Since we last spoke with Doctor Jen Neitzel of the Educational Equity Institute, the world has, unfortunately, shown little progress in resolving the racial disparities that mark society. But as she said at the end of our last conversation “the work is long and the wounds are deep”. If there is to be any hope of resolution, the healing of racial inequity needs to begin early enough to prevent old biases, reinforcing themselves any further. 

In this episode we are joined again by Doctor Neitzel, along with the Institute’s president, Doctor Ebonyse Mead, to discuss their upcoming book, The Handbook of Racial Equity in Early Childhood Education and the Challenges facing educators in the time of social uncertainty. 

And joining me today. Jen Neitzel and Ebonyse Mead. Hello guys, thank you very much for joining us. 

00:00:55 Ebonyse Mead 

Hi Will thank you for having us. 

00:00:57 Will Mountford 

If we could have a round of introductions, perhaps starting with Jen. Jen you’ve spoken to us a couple of times in the past. But for people who might be hearing from you for the first time, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your work? 

00:01:09 Jen Neitzel 

Sure, so my name is Jen Neitzel. I am the executive director of the Educational Equity Institute, which is a nonprofit based in Charlotte, NC. I’ve been doing this work like 6, I think 6 years and got into this work during a project I was working on at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that was looking at the disproportionality and suspensions and expulsions of young black children in early learning programmes in the United States.  

And so when I saw that young black children, particularly boys, are up to four times more likely to be suspended or expelled from early learning programmes, that’s really how I got into this work and it just continued from there and the educational equity Institute kind of grew out of the work that I was doing at FPG. 

00:01:55 Will Mountford 

And Ebonyse please, if you tell us maybe how you guys met and all the work that you’ve done individually and together. 

00:02:02 Ebonyse Mead 

Sure. So hi everyone, I’m Ebonyse Mead I’m the President of the Educational Equity Institute. I am also a clinical instructor at Georgia Southern University and the birth to kindergarten programme. 

And prior to working in higher Ed, I worked with an organisation in North Carolina, an early childhood organisation and I was asked to sit on a policy Council to help North Carolina right its response to preschool suspensions and expulsions and so very similar to how Jen got into this work. I got into the work in a very similar way. Started looking at things like implicit biases and it’s influencing teacher child relations and things of that nature. And then just started to dive deeper into the racial inequities within education and within our society  

00:02:52 Ebonyse Mead 

And together Jen and I worked, we presented at a conference maybe five years ago, I think, and it was the North Carolina Child care resource and Referral Conference. And we put in a proposal to, for presentation on implicit biases and preschool suspensions and expulsions, and our proposals were very similar, and the conference coordinator asked if we could work together to do a 5 hour workshop and Jen and I had never met before. Both you know involved in early childhood environments and working in early childhood in North Carolina, but did not, we didn’t know each other.  

I was in Raleigh. She was in Charlotte. And we agreed to work with each other. We, you know, did a lot of sharing of resources and presentations back and forth via e-mail. And telephone calls and the day that we actually met each other in person was the day of the presentation of the of the workshop. So we had never met each other in person again, we didn’t know each other styles of presenting or anything like that, and once we met each other, it was like we had known each other for all of our lives. And it just seemed like a really natural fit that I work alongside her with the Educational Equity Institute. 

00:04:04 Will Mountford 

I think that covers all of the LinkedIn life events and all of the professional connections to get to know the people behind the Institute and behind the research.If you could tell us, maybe in just a few brief words, kind of the the personal stakes that you have reforming education and tackling the implicit biases. So just a sentence or two If you tell us you know what this work means to you as not just a professional, but on a humanistic level. 

Ebonyse if he could start first and then maybe Jen afterwards. 

00:04:36 Ebonyse Mead 

I grew up. In Chicago, IL on the West side of Chicago, in the neighbourhood called North Lawndale, and all of the social ills that you can think of plague my neighbourhood still, as when I was growing up. And so I’ve always felt this sense of like social responsibility that you know to give back to other neighbourhoods to my neighbourhood or neighbourhoods like mine. So I’ve always worked in under resourced neighbourhood with predominantly black families supporting and trying to improve the educational and health outcomes of children and family. And so it’s personal for me because I deeply believe that the reason why I did not become a statistic because of the ZIP code where I grew up was because I had a strong family support system. I had people that spoke life into me you know, my mom would always say. You are not a product of your environment.  



00:05:28 Ebonyse Mead 

And I remember. I remember having like fights with her like huge arguments because I wanted to go to neighbourhood schools because that’s what my friends went and she was like, No. You’re better than that and you’re not going, you know. So it’s the time I didn’t know the the name for what was happening in my community, right? The structural racism at the time I didn’t know that those things were just kind of normal. The vacant lots, the rundown buildings, those things were just kind of normal right? But my mother knew and whether she had a name for it. Either she knew that she didn’t want that for me. And that she wanted better for me.  

Until as I grew up. In my neighbourhood, and you know, went to college and all of those things I didn’t have the language for it either until I started getting into this work . But I knew I wanted not just something better for myself, but something better for my son. When I eventually gave birth and so it’s personal because I want to be able to show young black children that you are not a product of your environment and that also there’s nothing wrong with who you are because you come from that environment and that you can excel and so it’s almost rebellious in a way that my Zip code does matter and I have I have a voice and I use that voice to support others and sharing their voices. 

00:06:54 Will Mountford 

And Jen, your thoughts along similar tangent. 

00:06:57 Jen Neitzel 

Obviously for me as a white person, it’s very different about getting into this work, and I think for me you know I’ve always been very social justice oriented I grew up in a house like that. We didn’t talk about race and racism, but it was very much helping others who are living in poverty or whatever you know marginalised groups. When I got to college I started taking black studies classes and I actually found a paper of mine that I wrote when I was a sophomore in college on structural racism and I don’t even remember writing that paper, but it was very interesting to see 19 year old Jen’s voice talking about structural racism. 

00:07:37 Jen Neitzel 

But for me, I think that there are two things with me with this work is 1 is that when I saw the data around suspensions and expulsions for young black children? I felt like it was a moral obligation to help make this country the ideals of liberty and justice for all come come true for people that that are not white. And so the other one for me is making sure that I raise 3 white sons who are a part of the solution as well and not sitting on the sidelines in their privilege and glory, but that they are actually understanding the issues they understand. And so that’s very important to me it’s not only the work that we do, but it’s me ensuring that my three boys are growing up to be a part of the solution. 

00:08:36 Will Mountford 

Well, what brings us here today is to discuss the release or upcoming release, I’m not sure on the exact schedule, of the Handbook of Racial Equity in Early Childhood education. So to set the scene we’ve discussed already a bit about racial equity and childhood education. But to kind of look at the the social history, the context that this all takes place in. 

 I’ve made the note in the outline of today’s America versus past generations 20 years ago and 40 years ago. So what does the different generational take on racial equity that you have seen in your life and seen in your research look like. To kind of lead up to the world that we are facing today and the world that this handbook is challenging, confronting setting itself in. 

00:09:20 Jen Neitzel 

Well, I think when you were asking that question, well, I was thinking about how racism morphs, right? So, and I think that’s very important for all of us to understand the historical roots of racism and how it’s changed over time. Depending on the social norms of society right. And so I think that obviously it’s ever present racism is ever present, but I think that when we elected Barack Obama as president in the United States, I think it allowed a lot of white people in particular say racism is fixed we no longer have racism in our society. Look, we elected this black man, but obviously we saw the response to that. And after his eight years in office with the election of the next guy. And now we are. We are back to living in a society where there is very overt racism, sexism, xenophobia, gender expression. All of those things because of white supremacy and when we think of white supremacy, you know it’s white, sorry Anglo-Saxon protestant males from your country. 

00:10:39 Will Mountford 

Don’t feel bad about it. It’s true. 

00:10:42 Jen Neitzel 

Yeah. Who established a system of dehumanisation that is just carried over from generation to generation and what we’re seeing now is that white males who. Have just lived in power for centuries are seeing the progress of our society because we have progressed, we progressed in terms of gay rights, you know women’s rights, all those things. 

 However, like we’re seeing the backlash now because white men are feeling very, very threatened because they know that their demographic is becoming less and less, and so they have to put in all of these policies and practises in place to keep people in their place keep black people in their place, keep women in their place, keep gay people in their place, because they challenge white supremacy. And that’s very scary for them, and I think that I think that’s just where we are in society.  

And I don’t know Ebonyse what you think, but that’s just my thought to your question Will. 

00:11:40 Ebonyse Mead 

I do agree with that. I do think for just let me preface this. I am not the voice for all black people, right? Because we exist everywhere, but I do think for black Americans like even with the election of Barack Obama. We still knew racism existed because it’s just unfortunately, it’s a part of our experience. When I think about the question like how has things changed, this may sound very pessimistic, but it’s hard for me to say things have changed collectively for black people. 

Yes, there have been some progress, but that’s a handful of people that’s far few in between. Excuse my language, but black folks still catching hell and that’s just not in America that’s where you have the masses of black folks. Whether it’s in America, whether it’s in Europe someplace or the Caribbean, and that’s because of enslavement and colonisation.  

00:12:36 Ebonyse Mead 

And so and I think about how has things changed like yes there has been very small progress, but collectively as a group we’re still on the bottom of the social hierarchy. And if you are a woman, you’re very much so on the bottom. The ways in which black people have been depicted in the media those types of things still ring true. And so I think that and this is an interesting perspective, but I think during segregation when black folks were forced to have their own right their own stores, their own or whatever. They had to because they couldn’t go into other stores or they couldn’t attend the same school all of those things because of segregation. That was when there was more of a sense of unity among black folks and integration ruined that. And black people have never been able to recover from that in the very same way we are such a fragmented group of people.  

00:13:39 Ebonyse Mead 

And so for me, like not a whole lot has changed and I think, you know, with the passage of the civil rights legislation, although in its efforts to be the great equaliser, it did not address the decades of inequities and harm that was done until it was like OK, now you have equal opportunity to housing, and now you can vote and all of those things. But it was no redress for all of the other, you know snd I mean it was the same thing with slavery. It’s like now you’re free, but what do you do now? So racial justice and inequities for black people for me just looks different for other folks. Because we still have not recovered from the atrocities and the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow. 

But I do think there has been like through various resistance, right? The civil rights movement, the Black Panther movement, black, you know, different types of black liberation of black nationalism all of those type of things. I think there’s been incremental changes in progress and I think with this generation of folks that are understanding black Liberation is being more inclusive, right? And so being more, not just focusing on black but like black women and and black trans people. And all of those things. I think that is what’s different than past movements. Is a more inclusive of all the ways that black people have been discriminated and oppressed because of their multiple identities. 

00:15:23 Will Mountford 

Well, to connect that perspective from the historic and personal experience to the professional to bring those two worlds back together. 

What, then, does education the realm of schooling for young children and through into adolescence?  

What kind of place does that take in either confronting or acknowledging the injustice?  

What place is this book have in that process? 

00:15:48 Ebonyse Mead 

I’ll speak from my point of view as someone that’s working in higher Ed. I think one of the reasons why I wanted to become a professor was because I wanted to be able to have influence on the minds of young teachers, and I think education is just. Just one avenue to do so and so the programme that I teach in we have a social justice orientation within our teacher education programme. So we are very intentional about the content that we teach. Also are very intentional about calling out whiteness in higher education and and within ourselves too. Because we can inadvertently be complicit and and not know it, right?  

00:16:35 Ebonyse Mead 

And so I think, for me, being an instructor and working and teaching in a teacher education programme. For me, that’s the shift that’s a part. That’s not the only, but that’s one part of transforming the educational system to be more inclusive and more equitable and more just. Because of these teachers that that are coming through our teacher education programme are grounded with this knowledge of equity, and they have the understanding of terms like intersectionality and anti blackness and all of those types of things and the ways in which these concepts show up within our educational system to create and perpetuate inequities for children and particularly children of colour, then it becomes the way that they teach.  

It’s not like well, let me go to this training now that I’m teaching, let me go to this training in diversity and inclusion so I can be more diverse and inclusive in my classroom. It’s like no, this is the way that I teach. You know, this is this is my approach. This is my pedagogy. So for me I think that’s one way to transform to address the harm that has been done by preparing a workforce that is not only culturally competent, but equity minded and socially just. 

00:17:55 Jen Neitzel 

I think our vision for this book was to be a comprehensive guide for educators because it’s focused on early childhood, but obviously anybody can read this book, but we want policymakers to read it. Educators anybody who is involved in early childhood education to understand the complexities of the problem. And understand what the root causes are. Because when we look back at the history of the educational system like public education was formed like our modern day public education system was started by former slaves because they knew the power of reading and writing and those kinds of things. But at the end of reconstruction is when the white people took over and public education really became. We hear these buzzwords, It’s really funny to see how history repeats itself in our country and anywhere because you hear today about like people talking about indoctrinating children, and you know in critical race theory and all that kind of stuff.  

00:18:59 Jen Neitzel 

But when the white people took over the public education system, it was really indoctrination of particularly working class white children to not attain what the elites had, but to align themselves with that. And so what we’re seeing now is a system that was never set up for black children. It was always set up to conform to whiteness, anti blackness and we have to understand also that what we’re seeing right now in the United States, and I don’t know how aware you are of this Will is like one political party is doing everything they can to destroy the public education system, everything they can. Because they’re underfunding like there’s a school system in North Carolina there’s a rural community, they don’t have enough bus drivers to get kids to school so kids are not going to school. So we’re talking about this is a rural county, so we’re talking about rural poverty and they’re underfunding it on purpose. 

00:20:01 Jen Neitzel 

And so we have to get not only people to understand the root causes, but we want to bring people in a call to action like we have to challenge, we have to disrupt. And this book I think is so comprehensive in helping people understand the complexities of the issues, but also then what to do with it? Because each chapter ends with, This is what you can do now. And so I think our hope is that this will be the book that people go to to understand racial equity in early childhood education. 

00:20:33 Will Mountford 

We can get into some of the themes and topics from across the chapters in the book there. Maybe we could start off with just a little bit about how the the book construction came about and all the different authors and the editorship process of pulling together all of these threads all these different chapters. And the practicalities of making this book happen. How was that experience? From both of your perspectives. 

00:20:55 Jen Neitzel 

Yeah, so it’s really funny. So Ebonyse and I was of like a year ago I think we got an e-mail from the guy from the publishing company and it was like from The publisher in early childhood education. So my first reaction is like this is not real, there’s no way that this publishing company, is wanting us to write a book about equity. And so I actually like Google the guy, I was like I gotta like before I reply to this e-mail in any way, I need to know that this is not a phishing e-mail or anything like that. 

So obviously it was real and what had happened is our editor sat in on a virtual conference session that we had done at a national Early Childhood Conference and he liked our approach, how we communicated and so he emailed us and I forget what he first wanted us to write the book on, like it was some just like very singular topic. I think I don’t think it was implicit bias, but it was like something I forget what it was. Do you remember Ebonyse? If that’s my recollection. 

00:21:58 Ebonyse Mead 

I don’t remember if it was. I think he wanted us to write about racial equity. And then we said there’s no way that we could do a book from scratch, because at that time we were really busy. So we were like no because I had some other stuff going on too and then you said this needs to be an edited book so that’s what I remember. 

00:22:19 Jen Neitzel 

Yeah, and so then from there he was just like give us an outline like we had to write the perspectives and all that kind of stuff. We had to include the first chapter, the chapter titles and summaries of the chapters, and then who was going to write them. And I think what Ebonyse and I did is, we just thought OK, so these are the chapters that we want to include who are the best people to write these chapters. 

And graciously everybody agreed to do it, and I think this book I don’t know how to describe it. But it’s like when you write a book or anything to get published and peer reviewed, and it comes back with like no edits. We didn’t have to make any, none of the chapters it was like. This website isn’t working or you need to include a reference here, It was no content reconstruction at all and that never happens, and so I think it’s just I don’t know to me It’s just like, OK we did the right thing. 

00:23:14 Ebonyse Mead 

You know, once Jen and I talked about it being edited book that made a whole lot more sense it didn’t feel unmanageable, it felt like we could do this. And I know for me I wanted to have as many women of colour voices in this book as possible, so when we were thinking about, who could we partner with to write this book? And I was just going through my mental rolodex of black women that I know that are in early childhood education that could speak to the chapters in a very meaningful and authentic way.  

00:23:49 Jen Neitzel 

And now that I think of it Walter and I are the only white people in the whole book, which is a good thing. 

00:23:54 Will Mountford 

Well, to have a quick review of some of the chapters and the topics, there’s a cluster of chapters looking at the language, identity, construction and participation. 

Where are we now and what can be done to challenge and change those topics? 

00:24:11 Ebonyse Mead 

So Jen and I facilitate a what we call our introduction paradigm shift training and that training it changes, right? And when we initially facilitated that training a couple of weeks before COVID was just in the world and we all knew about it and the world shut down. It was very much culturally responsive, culturally competent. And we’re not suggesting that being culturally competent or culturally responsive is not, is not important, because it is it’s important. But we have to push ourselves as educators and advocates and practitioners and policymakers to move beyond just being culturally competent and culturally responsive.  

Because the issues are so deep and complex that we really need to understand the root causes of these inequities. And so looking at things like again, how white supremacy culture is embedded within the educational system in the ways in which things like anti blackness shows up in teacher child relationships and disciplinary practises. And all of those types of things, right? So it forces us to move beyond just being culturally responsive and culturally competent 

00:25:20 Ebonyse Mead 

And so because of that we felt like it was incredibly important to help people understand the various terms that are out there when you’re engaging in a discourse in race and racism. As we facilitate our trainings, we would have experiences where people would not understand the difference between prejudice and being a racist and thinking that people of colour could be racist, right? And you know, really, understanding the difference between someone being prejudiced and someone having the institutional, the political, the economic, the social power to oppress another group, right? And while people of colour can internalise racist messages, they cannot they don’t have that that institutional power to oppress. 

 And so because of those experiences, we felt like it was very important that we create a shared language. So within our training we spend about 2 hours, maybe just going over certain terms and doing different interactions and you know engagements with folks to help them really understand what those terms mean and how they how it relates to their life, right? And so, because that’s such a significant part of our training. It just made sense for it to become a significant part of the book as well. 

00:26:37 Will Mountford 

Jenn, if you could give a quick overview of the chapters that you did. The solo chapter on whiteness and then the combined chapter with Justin Perry on historical trauma as well. 

00:26:46 Jen Neitzel 

Sure, and so I think how I approached that whiteness chapter was because we go over what whiteness is in our training and how it shows up. In early childhood Education how it shows up in society, right? And so some of this is it comes back to the social construction of whiteness, where it is like the elites created. And I’m talking about the very elite, the wealthy landowning men created whiteness and anti-blackness at the same time to justify chattel slavery. But all of those elite values about what it means to be successful in this society what it means to materialism, and having a good education living in the right neighbourhood, having the right car. That’s all elite whiteness that people aspire to within our society, and it’s just it’s a false narrative. 

00:27:41 Jen Neitzel 


And I think for me, I remember I started out that chapter about me losing my job at FPG and how I was caught up in whiteness in terms of having a PhD from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and caught up in the white supremacy that is in academia. In terms of because to get promotion you have to publish these articles and it’s like. Some of these articles that people are publishing in early childhood the research they’re doing is just, I mean. I saw one the other day and I was like who is this for? Is it for you? Because this has no application whatsoever. Like we don’t need to know the hormone levels or what of the brain chemicals in young children’s brains and how that affects social emotional health. That has no relevance on everyday practice we don’t need to know that. So why is that research being done? 

00:28:37 Jen Neitzel 

And I think it’s really important for everybody who is working in early childhood education to understand how our early childhood systems, and this is hard. This is going to be hard for a lot of early childhood educators because of, you know, we take such great pride and loving our children and all of these kinds of things and just the history of early childhood education in terms of the pioneers and we we need to honour the pioneers in early childhood education.  

But we also have to move the field to be more inclusive of additional voices about what it means to be high quality, right? What assessments we use and who they’re designed for. Early learning standards, they’ve all been developed within this white worldview and so that all has to be challenged, which I think is going to be hard for a lot of people in early childhood education, but that’s fine.  

00:29:29 Jen Neitzel 

And so, with the historical and racial trauma training. So I wrote that with Justin, who he and I with another colleague, do our historical and racial trauma training. And so,the reason that we do that is because, and I think also how Ebonyse was talking about how our work started with cultural competence and that kind of stuff. It was really after the murder of George Floyd when Ebonyse and I separately and then collectively understood that our nation was in pain from the hundreds of years of racism and white supremacy, and that we all need to heal. 

 And so for us to heal it’s having hard conversations like Ebonyse and I were working with the school district and yesterday we had some really hard conversations with these people, but it was good and it has to happen because those conversations are healing in and of themselves. But we also have to understand the history of our country so that we can heal from that because a lot of white people and this is what you’re seeing with the backlash against the so-called critical race theory, which is not a thing. Is that they don’t want their children to learn the true history of the country because they don’t want them to feel ashamed to be white. 

00:30:42 Jen Neitzel 

And so that’s not the purpose of this work, right? Like we’re not out to label anybody a racist. That’s counterproductive, right? If that is triggering for you, that’s something you need to work on, but we’re not here to label anybody a racist? And so for us in the United States, we have to have a comprehensive understanding of the historical trauma and so in that chapter we cover the American genocide and the Trail of Tears.  

And I think specifically I wrote about wounded knee, where 250-300 men, women and children were massacred and put in a mass grave. And Native American tribes they have an extended view of what it means to be a family so the whole tribe is a family, right? And they also have extended grieving process like it’s a whole year and they weren’t allowed to do that. And then they saw all their family members these 250 to 300 people put in a mass grave. And they weren’t even allowed to grieve according to their own practises. The trauma of that. 

00:31:45 Jen Neitzel 

And then obviously we’re focusing on the American genocide and slavery are just like the primary traumas in our country. And so getting people to understand because it’s like you’ll hear all slavery’s in the past, was so long ago. When we put up the timeline of white supremacy in our trainings and you see that slavery, the end of slavery wasn’t that long ago and then you add Jim Crow onto that. It wasn’t that long ago like people are still alive. I think there was a the last grandchild of a slave died or something like that recently. Aand so we have to understand like it’s not that far in the past, but it’s like we’re not going to move forward collectively as a society until we heal all of us from those traumas. 

00:32:29 Ebonyse Mead 

And if I could just answer that, yes, it’s slavery and it’s Jim Crow. But it’s also the present injustices that people are still experiencing because of their race because of their religion. Whatever the case may be, and so when we do our processing sessions, we talk. Well our people of colour processing sessions? We talk a lot about racial battle fatigue. That’s a very, very real theme for black folks and not that other groups of colour that are fighting or none groups of colour that are fighting for justice don’t experience racial battle fatigue, but I think they experience it in a very different way. When you’re trying to fight for racial justice, but at the same time they’re living through daily microaggressions or just the fear of being black in this country. Like I can’t think of his name right now, Huey Newton wrote about that. I can’t think of the article, but he wrote about just the threat of being black in this country and living with that fear, you know that threat everyday that in itself is traumatic. 

00:33:31 Will Mountford 

Well, the second-half of the book and some of the chapters from Chapter 7 through to Chapter 10 and then your guys chapters 11 and 12 seemed to be going from the tools and language of oppression to structural reform necessary for healing for liberation, for restructuring, not just education, but family and society engagement in race and racial equity towards something that is more just, and how that builds towards systemic change that is so sorely needed. 

00:34:03 Ebonyse Mead 

I can talk about the family engagement piece. With that, we now do a separate training on culturally responsive family engagement. It used to be a part of our anti-bias training and maybe the best way to share this is with a story, right? 

And so my son is 20 now, but when he was in Headstart he was four and I was in grad school and I was working with Teen Moms at doing home visiting and case management and stuff like that. And I would never go to those parent meetings because I was in grad school, I didn’t have time for that. I had a very small window to get him to my dad’s, so I can go to class in the evening. And I remember one day I went to pick him up. The family advocate asks if she could see me. 

00:34:50 Ebonyse Mead 

And I said sure, so we talked and she was very concerned and very condescending about my lack of involvement in these parent groups meetings, whatever. And what I learned from that is that she didn’t take the time to even find out what was going on in my life. She just made an assumption that I wasn’t involved in the way that she thought that I should be involved in my son’s education because I didn’t attend these parent meetings. 

 And what I had to tell her was one, I could run your meetings for you because this is what I do for my own work. And two, I’m in grad school and I don’t have time to come to these meetings in the in in the evening, but on the weekend when I’m at the library, my son is with me and we’re doing work right, and so that’s kind of the essence of that chapter. It’s helping educators understand how family engagement is a central part of equity work, because too often we think about family engagement as a add on. Well, now we gotta get families involved because children aren’t doing X. So now we have to get families involved. 

00:36:01 Ebonyse Mead 

Well, that should be the way that you approach the work anyway, because children exist within the context of their families and their communities. And so if we can get educators and others to understand that, then we could move very, very far along in engaging parents and making them feel welcome. And a lot of times the family engagement efforts are very school focused they’re not family centred and they are rooted in this idea of whiteness. This idea of this is how you should be engaged, you should be volunteering in the classroom or and not to say that that’s not important, right? Or back to school nights, all of those things. But again they are very school centred and not family centred. 

What we train folks in our training and hope that folks will get out of this book is really centring the voices of families and one acknowledging how they are already involved with their children’s education, that might be different from the way that schools think families should be involved. And then really being intentional about viewing families from this strength-based approach instead of this cultural deficit model.  

00:37:03 Ebonyse Mead 

And also helping educators and others understand that families are one very resilient, they’re very resourceful. Again, this goes back to looking at families from this strength-based perspective. But having a thorough understanding of the cultural wealth that families bring to the environment, right? Especially when you think about families of colour, and this extended family network like that’s really important because you can have kinship.  They’re not blood but they’re close family friends, and those people may be the ones that pick the child up from school. 

And so just understanding the cultural wealth that family brings with them, the cultural capital that they have, the funds of knowledge that each family has and those things may be different from this middle class idea of what family engagement should be. 

00:37:50 Will Mountford 

Are there any actions that off the top of your head you can say, and this is going. To be an action that people listening to this podcast can read more about can put into practise. Can start to do something right in the world with? 

00:38:03 Jen Neitzel 

So when I think about this book, I really think of it as in three parts. So you have the foundational knowledge that people need to understand before they can even begin to address the practises, which is the middle part, and then the third part is like how do you change the systems? What is a transformed early childhood system look like? One of the things that we do in the training is we always start off with grounding exercises.  

And one of the things that we really encourage people to do is commit to non-closure, because it took us over 400 years to get to this place it is going to take time to get to that transformed early childhood system that we want. And more than likely, Ebonyse and I are not going to be alive to see that. But I think what we want educators and policymakers to do now policy makers need to start understanding the issues. They need to start understanding that early childhood educators need to be paid better, they’re underpaid. Those kinds of things looking at suspension, the expulsion policies looking at practises and curricula that they mandate. 

00:39:03 Jen Neitzel 

 The other thing is that for educators I think it’s important for educators to really start self-reflection and deconstructing how whiteness and anti-blackness show up within themselves. Because it affects the practices that are within the classroom. There’s a great amount of individual work that needs to be done. When we’re talking about anti racism, it can’t just be, I’m going to put this practise in place. It has to be intentional and individual learning self-reflection and it’s never-ending process like we never get to a point where I am an anti-racist. It’s continual self-reflection. It’s continual work and education. But in the meantime they can start. I encourage like an equity audit. 

00:39:49 Jen Neitzel 

Look at the materials in the classroom the pictures that are hung on the wall. Are they stereotypical? Making sure you have a broad range that the pictures and the books and the materials in the classroom reflect the children in the classroom, The languages that are spoken. So that children and families they see themselves in the classroom. They feel welcome and included and making sure that the play materials reflect what children are using it. 

Particularly when you’re thinking about like the dramatic play Centre, making sure that it’s not just stereotypical things that are just thrown in there. As a check that we met this criteria for this environmental assessment that we are being highly intentional about making things meaningful for children and reflecting their everyday lives. And so, Ebonyse  I don’t know if you wanted to add anything else. 

00:40:40 Ebonyse Mead 

Yeah, I think some other practises, again inviting families and asking families, particularly when we’re talking about positive racial identity development. Like what are things that families do at home and how those things could be incorporated into the classroom. Like I wholeheartedly believe that early childhood educators can learn a lot from families of colour and black families in particular, that have to have conversations with their children about race and racism at a very, very early age. 

One so they can help them navigate this system this racist system, but also, two a part of navigating that system is building their positive racial identity development. Because children internalise the negative messages that they see or hear, whether it’s in the classroom or through the media or even the segregated neighbourhoods that they live in. Young children of colour understand concepts of what’s not fair. They may not understand that this is oppression that’s too abstract for them, but they understand that I’m not being treated fairly. And why do I feel that way? Is it because of the way that I look, you know, is it because of my hair? You know those types of things, they experience that. 

So helping children understand, like the contributions of people of colour, whether it’s in society or even in their local community, right? ‘Cause there’s some unsung local heroes that are fighting for liberation and justice. And so incorporating that into the classroom, I think, is so incredibly important when we’re talking about building children positive racial identity and ethnic identity development. 

00:42:21 Will Mountford 

Well then, to look at the last chapter. The systems change chapter and some of the afterword to think about the healed world. Whenever it is, wherever it is, somewhere down the line. 

00:42:33 Ebonyse Mead 

I think I’ll just piggyback on what I said earlier about my role, ’cause I think a part of this book too is thinking about your sphere of influence and how you can address the inequities and start to promote equity in just Early learning programmes. And so for me when I think about systems change, my role as a faculty member in a teacher education programme is to change those mindsets. It’s to get those teachers to be to understand what the issues are, to understand the role that they have to be advocates not just educators. And to really build their capacity to like I said, be equity minded to adopt anti-racist practices and pedagogies until when they are in the classroom with young children. This is how they teach. 

00:43:24 Ebonyse Mead 

It’s not not that anything is wrong with learning new skills or anything, because it’s not. Growth is essential for all of us, but in my mind, when I envision a part of this transformed system, it’s building the capacity, New teachers that are will be going into the classroom to already have those skills. And so when they have those skills, not only are they educating students in a, from that approach from that anti racist approach, but they can challenge the policies within the school, the policies within the school district, because they understand what the issues are. And that’s where that advocacy piece comes in for me. 

00:44:04 Jen Neitzel 

Right, and when I think of a transformed early childhood system, one of the things that we say in the training is that we want young children to know that they matter simply because they exist. My pie in the sky dream for early childhood is that this transformed system. Every single child that goes into a classroom can be their authentic selves and they don’t feel like they have to shift who they are to conform to this definition of whiteness within our society. And that goes for black children and Latino children, Gay children. You know transgender children and they are entering and they know that they are loved and they don’t have to be anything other themselves because they matter simply because they exist.  

And that’s just going to take time because that’s like deconstructing so much stuff and policies and practices. And I have to take deep breaths sometimes ’cause sitting in meetings and seeing how far we have to go with people can be overwhelming sometimes. But we have to commit to small wins right now, just changing mindsets, working towards changing mindsets and then we can get to those policy changes. And practice changes so that we have a system that is what it’s supposed to be. 

00:45:22 Will Mountford 

To finally address backlash on critical race theory, what response do you have for people who would see this book as being device? 

00:45:29 Ebonyse Mead 

So I would say no, that our society is already divisive, and anyone that’s denying that, they’re denying it because they want to. They’re denying it just because they want to. And again, this goes back into that chapter about positive identity development, like children internalise messages and not just children of colour, but white children internalise messages too. About the value of children of colour, and they could not have any of those experiences in their home. I mean, they could live in a very colourblind and colour neutral home, but because it’s so prevalent within our society, there’s no escaping it.  

And so it’s important to have these conversations, not just because we want to build the positive identity development of children of colour. Yes, we want to do that too, but we don’t want white children internalising false narratives of superiority. And we want them to have exposure to other children, because when they don’t, they think that their experience is the norm. 

00:46:30 Ebonyse Mead 

I mean, that’s why this whiteness is the norm is a thing, right? Because they haven’t had the opportunity to be exposed to other children and it’s just interesting because when we do our trainings and I’ll say this quickly, like when we do our trainings, I won’t mention Nate but we were in our training and we talked about a particular topic. And the people was like I never heard of that before. And on the one hand, as a black person, that’s so frustrating for me to hear. But then I have to to slow down and remember, like why should they though? Like that hasn’t been their experience. 

The flip side is that though that’s the problem, because it hasn’t been their experience right? And so to the person that would say this is divisive, right? It’s like that’s the reason why we have to have these conversations because we want to build a part of it is also building the capacity of white children to have these cross cultural skills. So when they are in these experiences and encounters, they’re not saying things, like that. Or the white guilt doesn’t take over the meaningful and productive conversation we’re trying to have around race and racism. 

00:47:38 Will Mountford 

So, where can they get this book? 

00:47:41 Jen Neitzel 

So it’s coming out probably May 2023, but we communicated with our publisher last week just to get specifics and being published by Brookes Publishing Company; and they’re going to start marketing it to get presale and stuff like that at the beginning of the year. And just be keeping on the lookout at Brookes Publishing Company, particularly for announcements that come out. I guess you can follow them on social media to get like when it’s coming out, yeah, but we’re super excited. 

00:48:12 Will Mountford 

For anyone who can’t wait that long, where can they find more about you and your trainings and some of the other papers and publications that you have all put together? 

00:48:21 Ebonyse Mead 

Our website. 

The educational equity Institute, our e-mail address is on there. Your phone number is there. 

00:48:28 Jen Neitzel 

Nobody ever calls me though. Thank goodness. Well, sometimes people do Call me, but mostly it’s e-mail. But yeah, so it’s www.educationalequityinstitute.com , We have all our publications on there and we should. We’ve got our guiding principles really outlining our approach to this work. The trainings that we do, our team. 

00:48:48 Ebonyse Mead 

We have our own podcast, although we haven’t done one this year, but we did three last year so. 

00:48:55 Jen Neitzel 

They’re up there, right?  

00:48:57 Ebonyse Mead 


00:48:59 Will Mountford 

And are there any further readings or further notes? I mean, further reading is people can go and listen to that podcast now is there anything else that would be a useful resource to direct them to. If not your website and the podcast, anything else for educators or for you know the lay public who want to get involved in reforming their own engagement with education and attitudes towards it. Even if it’s just hey go to a school meeting, you need to be seen and be heard like a simple instruction like that could be the kick in the pants that they need. 

00:49:31 Jen Neitzel 

I would just say people just need to get engaged, we’ve got a really big election coming up November 8th. It’s really important that people educate themselves about peoples stance on equity and critical race theory and all the things immigration. What we’re seeing political stunts from 2 governors yesterday. I don’t know if you heard about that Will but governor from Florida and governor from Texas decided to ship some immigrants to Kamala Harris’s residence and up to Martha’s Vineyard. 

And they just dropped them off there, we have a very important election coming up November 8th, so I think the more people can educate themselves about candidates right now and where they stand on early childhood education in particular, where they stand on critical race theory, where they stand on immigration, abortion, all of those things. Needs to people just need to educate themselves. 

00:50:22 Will Mountford 

Well, I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got time for Jen, Ebonyse, thank you so much for your time and joining us and I look forward to reading the book when it comes out. 

00:50:29 Jen Neitzel 

It’s always a pleasure to be with you Will. 

00:50:31 Ebonyse Mead 

Will it’s nice meeting you 

00:50:33 Jen Neitzel 

I just have this feeling that this will not be the last podcast episode that we do with you. 

00:50:38 Will Mountford 

Until then, thank you again and goodbye. 


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