I love the juxtaposition of these two quotations:

"Hell is other people." - Jean-Paul Sartre

"Relationships are assignments." - Marianne Williamson

         What I most appreciate about the difference between these two statements is their inherent placement of responsibility for oneís happiness. >From Sartreís perspective, the other people in our lives are the source of our pain, suffering, and misery. Itís a vision of arrows being shot from others toward the speaker.

         From Williamsonís point of view, each of us needs to understand that there is something to be learned about ourselves from our relationships with others -- hence her deliberate choice of the word "assignment."

         Given their disparate attitudes, which of the speakers do you envision as having a happier and more fulfilling life? Toward which direction do you want to steer your child?

         It is with this in mind that we must take a look at the attitudes we present to our children about the variety of other people in their lives.

         The 2000 census shows that our country is becoming increasingly diverse in its population. Many of us live and work in communities with an assortment of members of various religious, ethnic, and racial groups, though many do not. We owe it to our children to prepare them for a future in which they will interact with people whose beliefs, practices, and rituals emanate from faraway places.

         Racism is still a force that we must confront. Just because we have come a long way since the abolition of slavery and segregation doesnít mean that we donít have a long way to go toward the time that there really is "liberty and justice for all" Americans.

         Consider these steps suggested by Dr. Debra Van Ausdale, co-author of The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism:

  • Actively form friendships with adults who belong to other ethnic and racial groups.
  •  Do not place these friends in the position of being experts on racial and ethnic issues.
  •  Recognize and encourage your childís curiosities and abilities to explore the world with a sense of fairness.
  • *Accept that most youngsters have more social insight and understanding than adults want to admit.
  • Point out instances of everyday racism and discuss them, even with a very young child.
  • Take your child to multiracial events and multicultural activities in your community.
  • Encourage your child to make friends with children of many racial and ethnic groups, then incorporate these fiends and their families into your familyís activities.
  • Be watchful for instances of people combating racism in the community, and bring positive examples of anti-racism to your childís attention.
  • Encourage children to read books that offer stories they can identify with and that actively promote greater understanding of all people.


  • Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice, by Caryl Stern-LaRosa and Hellen Hofheimer Bettman
  • Iím Chocolate, Youíre Vanilla, by Barbara Mathias and Mary Ann French
  • Raising the Rainbow Generation: Teaching Your Children to be Successful in a Multicultural Society, by Darlene S. Hopson and Derek S. Hopson.
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race," by Beverly Daniel Tatum


          Children will benefit by seeing people of different cultures and races in their lives, per Dr. Van Ausdaleís suggestions. An additional step that parents can take is to be sure that children see a wide variety of books in which people of different races and cultures are portrayed as working and playing in a peaceful co-existence. Here are some choices:

  • The Magic School Bus series, by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Bruce Degen, shows children learning and exploring with a multiracial group of peers.
  • Jamaica and Brianna by Juanita Havill, illustrated by Anne Sibley OíBrien
  • I Hate English! by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman
  • Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco
  • The Best Way to Play, by Bill Cosby, illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood
  • Amazing Grace, Boundless Grace, and Starring Grace, by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch
  • Under Our Skin: Kids Talk About Race, by Debbie Holsclaw Birdseye and Tom Birdseye, photos by Robert Crum

Jay Davidson has been teaching in San Francisco for 31 years; he teaches first grade. He is the author of Teach Your Children Well: A Teacherís  Advice for Parents, which is available for $12.95 from He can be reached through his website at

This column has been incorporated and expanded in Teach Your Children Well: A Teacherís  Advice for Parents.

All columns are copyright © Jay Davidson.  Permission is hereby granted for individuals to download and copy them for individual use.  There is a modest charge for printing these columns in any publication.  To receive that permission, contact   Jay Davidson