When I dropped my four-year-old son off at school a couple of weeks ago, I found a memo of “Dates to Remember” taped to his cubby. It announced Picture Day, an upcoming visit by a dentist and the graduation ceremony for the kids going on to kindergarten. But another event caught my attention: a “Parents’ Day” breakfast. Its short explanation made an important statement about diversity and inclusion. “We will not be celebrating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day separately. We work in a very diverse field and not all children have a mother, father or either.”
… Or either. Consider that.
The school, known as Park Slope North, is among the most demographically diverse in New York City. It’s also socioeconomically diverse. Some students are raised by two moms, others have two dads. Some children live in foster care, and others reside with older siblings or extended family. Many families pay thousands of dollars in tuition, while others’ attendance is subsidized by NYC’s Administration for Children’s Services.
“It’s all about inclusion,” says Jewel Vaughn, the school’s educational director who came up with the idea. She adds that the goal is to embrace differences among children, “while they’re not noticing what society has normalized.”
According to the Pew Research Center data, family is complicated. Marriage rates are falling, and more than a quarter of children are raised in homes without fathers. Record numbers of Americans are living in multigenerational households and more than 3 million kids are being raised by grandparents — two demographics that experienced sharp upticks during the Great Recession.
Park Slope North’s staff see their new Parents’ Day as a small change that’s emblematic of a larger school culture aiming to level socio-economic divides in the next generation. “It is important to teach children at a young age about diversity, amongst themselves and their peers. The sooner we are able to embrace and accept it, the faster and easier it will be to close the opportunity gap,” Vaughn says.
The school’s liberal-leaning parents (myself included) welcome the idea. Some even suggested that to be even more inclusive, the celebration should be scheduled outside of normal business hours. That way, more parents would be able to attend.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea to celebrate the more neutral concept of Family Day,” says Khin Mai Aung, a mother in the school. “Not only is the concept more inclusive, but it is a good reminder to to be mindful of how families in our community are different.”
It’s important to note, however, that many people consider such actions overly sensitive. When a Canadian school took a similar action, media outlets picked up on the story and commentary spilled onto social media, with critics posting, “It’s called, reality. We must remember that these kids must learn to cope with these types of things,” and “Political correctness strikes again.”
Whether it’s providing free breakfast, adding a religious holiday to the school calendar or creating additional childcare services, schools stand at the frontlines of meeting the ever-evolving needs of children and their families. Is celebrating Parents’ or Family Day instead of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day any different? No, it’s not. Mothering and fathering can come from anyone and children should have an opportunity to celebrate whomever they have.