Adult Education and Family Literacy Week is an opportunity for programs to raise awareness about the diverse programs that serve adult learners, and that promote intergenerational learning. It is a good time to also raise our awareness of family diversity. Many of our adult learners are parents, and many are grandparents, step parents, family members or foster parents providing care for young children.
A very good friend and colleague had a sister who passed away leaving three young children behind. She stepped in raising her nieces and nephew, and shared her experiences of how traumatic it was for the children when they were asked to make something for their mom for mother's day, or to be sure that mom signed their form. I am certain teachers mean no harm, but when they exclude families that are represented, they can cause harm. In the same way, some children have two moms, or two dads, so hearing "your mom and dad" can be uncomfortable for them.
In adult education programs as we advocate for the students and families that we serve, the language that we use as we advocate for our programs can help legislators and other understand the diversity that exists in the families that we serve. We can also look at the language in our policies and forms to be certain that they are more inclusive of the families in our communities.
What are some ways that your program can acknowledge and respect family diversity? Look for ways that language may be exclusive of diverse family structures.
This is a really good question. I primarily teach ELA courses and the majority of my students have been in the U.S. for less than a year. I take a lot of time at the start of any new term to get to know my students. Additionally, I try to follow world news to better understand what is happening in other countries. I know that many of my students did not want to leave their countries; they had to. Many had to leave family members behind. The way that I approach discussions of family has changed over the years. I discuss family as those who you love dearly. They do not need to share the same blood as you. By expanding the definition of family, I hope to take the pressure off of students to discuss those members of their family who may still be in harm's way in other places. Instead, they can focus on the support network that they have in their current community.
All that said, I still make mistakes. There are certain phrases like "mom and dad" that are habit. Just as with any DEIA work, I acknowledge the error, reflect on why I made it, and make a conscious effort to be more aware of that phrase in the future.
Just to note: My friends in early childhood education are having similar discussions in their field. One mentioned trying to move away from events like "Muffins with Moms" or "Donuts with Dads" for the same reasons you mention.
We do have our automatic associations, and our cultural conditioning, and it sneaks in sometimes. I love your approach to acknowledge, explain, and work to raise your own consciousness. It is similar to my approach to learning that I have offended someone or used an incorrect term, or used a correct term incorrectly. Our community does a "Father's Walk" to emphasize the importance of fathers, but I wish that was more expansive too because many of their participants are grandfathers, uncles, stepdads etc. who are standing in the gap for biological fathers who cannot or or will not attend.