Holding Up Mirrors, Looking Out Windows

Holding Up Mirrors, Looking Out Windows

For years, Penn Charter educators have sought to create “windows and mirrors” when teaching about and discussing diversity, equity and inclusion. The concept was introduced in 1990 by Rudine Sims Bishop, professor emerita of education at the Ohio State University, in her essay “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” which called on educators to select children’s books that both reflect the students’ lived experiences as well as provide a view into others’ experiences and cultures.

At PC, the concept has been extended beyond Lower School’s book offerings. All teachers are encouraged to provide opportunities for students to see themselves mirrored not just in the books offered, but in coursework, programming and assemblies. At the same time, teachers also ensure that students encounter windows into the perspectives and identities of others.

“The analogy of providing windows and mirrors helps us understand the importance of bringing diverse voices to learning experiences for our students,” Director of Lower School Marcy Sosa said. “What teachers teach, talk about and share with our students matters because our students matter. Our job is to choose texts and speakers that provide a window into another culture or a mirror that reflects their cultures.”

“As a Friends school and an intentionally diverse community, we are dedicated to creating spaces to explore our unique identities,” said Naté Hall, director of enrollment management and interim director of diversity, equity and inclusion. “Our DEI coordinators in each division work alongside colleagues to plan age-appropriate presentations and assemblies that draw connections to our curriculum.”

Two recent special events underscored this commitment. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Rodney Eric Lopez, an educator, artist and former executive director of Dancing Classrooms in New York City—where his teaching was featured in the award winning documentary Mad Hot Ballroom—visited students in all divisions to share principles of Latin vernacular dance and its important place in Hispanic traditions. Lopez is a master instructor of Latin and social dance, and has taught children and adults for over 25 years. He not only provided students a view into his experiences and culture, but reflected the rhythm inside them by inviting them to join him for a dance.

teacher of lessons playing flute

A month later, Lower School welcomed Tchin, an Indigenous storyteller, as part of Penn Charter’s celebration of Native American Heritage Month. A nationally known and award-winning artist, Tchin is an accomplished musician, flutemaker, folklorist, jewelry designer, educator, author, painter and clothing designer. As a “teacher of lessons,”
he engaged the students through a variety of activities to convey the rich tapestry of Native cultures, wisdom and talents that contribute to the vibrancy of our community and world.

“These assemblies bring the stories and lessons from the classroom to real life, and we are grateful for the gifts that these presenters offer to our students by way of their authentic, lived experiences,” Hall said.

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