According to a recent NPR article, the “majority of parents” do not talk to their children about social identity, which refers to group membership based on characteristics such as religion, gender, national origin, race, family makeup, and socio-economic status. The article presents results from a report, co-published by The Sesame Workshop and NORC at the University of Chicago, called the Identity Matters Study. The study includes survey responses from 6,000 parents about their children’s sense of identity at home and in the classroom, as well as results from a second survey of 1,046 educators’ perspectives on identity development in school.
Many readers were quick to respond that NPR’s headline was misleading, pointing out that the wording should have been, “White parents rarely, if ever, discuss ethnicity, gender, class or other identity categories with their kids…” This objection has merit. The report does show parent responses by race for just five survey questions, but the data confirm that White parents are far less likely than Black parents to talk about identity with students, with 6 percent of White parents and 22 percent of Black parents answering that they often talk about race. Nevertheless, the study concludes that, overall, 60 percent of parents rarely or never talk about race, ethnicity, or social class with their children. In the second survey, which queried educators, the study found that one third of teachers had a student affected by a negative comment targeting their social identity, but that most teachers feel unprepared or uncomfortable when it comes to navigating conversations on the matter.
It is clear that we need more comprehensive survey data, including more questions broken down by race and other demographic indicators, in order to have a better understanding of how children are developing a sense of social identity at home. In the meantime, what we can gather from this article is that many students, particularly White students, do not develop an awareness of their own complex social identity until they get to school, and that this awareness often comes via negative comments.
How can schools do better?