NAEYC Member Spotlight: Meghan Gowin
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Second Grade Teacher, Fort Worth, Texas
In Meghan Gowin’s second grade classroom, “heavy topics” are encouraged. During her time in AmeriCorps in Washington, DC, young children asked her some difficult questions. She had a “lightbulb moment,” thinking, “Wow—children are interested in really, really heavy topics. How can I help them gain deeper understanding?”
Teaching second grade in Louisiana, Meghan found that the children, most of whom were White, often asked about race and racism. “I think I was one of the first people like me they saw in a position of authority,” Meghan says. Some students asked questions like, “Ms. Gowin, why are you not like the other Black people that I know?” Meghan says she and the children began an ongoing discussion about race and identity and how the world around us affects the way we see people.
Searching for how best to respond to the children, Meghan found resources on anti-bias education and began to implement it in her classroom. Her students participated in a read-aloud about Nelson Mandela, and they began making connections between apartheid in South Africa and the police brutality they had witnessed in their own community and seen on the news. “The connections they made between those topics were just so rich for 7-year-olds. They were very aware of what was going on in the world around them.”
Meghan studied anthropology in college, so she has always been interested in other cultures and in seeing the world through a social justice lens. But it wasn’t until she brought anti-bias education into her classroom that she applied that lens to the children she was teaching. Still, it was relatively easy to incorporate since she was already striving to create a collaborative culture: she invites and encourages questions, and discussions are integral to her teaching philosophy.
Recently, Meghan had a student in her class who had just moved from Mexico. Together, the class read the book My Name Is Yoon, by Helen Recorvits, about a young girl who loves the way her name looks when it’s written in her native Korean but not when it’s written in English. The children picked up on the parallels between Yoon’s journey and their new classmate’s journey, realizing that there are many difficulties in transitioning to a new classroom, language, and culture. Meghan’s students thought of ways they could support friends in challenging situations.
Meghan is currently one of the cofacilitators of the NAEYC Interest Forum on Diversity and Equity Education for Adults. Anti-bias education has helped her to get past the mind-set of simply exposing children to different cultures, which can amount to cultural tourism rather than true understanding. Meghan believes that children are very capable of delving deep into serious issues (more so than many adults think).
While Meghan has not received much pushback from parents or other caregivers regarding the topics she discusses with her students, she has perceived some hesitation on the part of her colleagues. One of their main questions is a simple one: What does implementing anti-bias education look like? Meghan’s classroom, with its heavy topics, deep questions, and empathetic discussions, is a good place to start.
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