October 18, 2021 | By William Osmulski
Policy Issues
Culture Education

Teaching Fourth-Graders About Equity And Gender Identity In Eau Claire

WATCH - How 4th grade teachers in Eau Claire are using a book about crayons to teach children about being transgendered.

Teachers who want to use children’s books to promote transgenderism, social justice, and other liberal goals in the classroom have no shortage of resources these days.

“Instead of having the problem of not having enough books to talk about certain topics, it’s almost a problem of I have too many books,” Abby Oleson, a fourth-grade teacher at Lakeshore Elementary in Eau Claire, said on Wednesday.

Oleson’s students are 9 to 10 years old. She shared her favorite progressive children’s books and teaching strategies at the Toward One Wisconsin virtual conference on diversity, equity and inclusion. The conference was hosted by the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service, a University of Wisconsin think tank. Dozens of private companies and government organizations participated.

Even though Oleson teaches fourth-grade, she finds picture books are very effective at getting students to accept lessons on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Picture books aren’t just for elementary,” Oleson said. “I find picture books are an entry point to conversation. You know it’s a shorter text, which means it can be read in one sitting with the adults or young adults that you’re using.”

Oleson read a book during the session called Red, which uses personified crayons to talk about transgenderism. (“Red” is a blue crayon that has been mislabeled “red.”)

“It’s very safe to read, no matter your comfort in talking about equity and identity, because the characters in the book are crayons,” Oleson said.

Oleson added that this is the first year she’s had a “non-binary” student in her fourth-grade class and the book Red is helping her other students wrap their heads around that concept.

“My student uses the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them,’ and that is new for my class in general. My students don’t have a lot of experience using ‘they’ and ‘them’ for a singular person, and I don’t want to other the student in my class, but I wanted to create conversations where the students understand a little bit more,” she said.

Oleson said she is part of a big push to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the classroom.

“We’re on the journey and in the process right now of centering our curriculum basically around thematic units that center around student’s identity, understanding race, understanding community, understanding how to use their own voices,” Oleson explained.

The last time the State of Wisconsin evaluated student achievement at Lakeshore Elementary in Eau Claire, it found less than half the students there were proficient in math and reading.

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