This post was first sent to the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) membership as a Letter to the Field on June 1, 2020.
Children’s museums were born of the education reform movement in the early 1900s as a way to support children’s learning through play. Since then, children’s museums have remained focused on how to support children, guided by the tenets in the United Nation’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which state that children have the right to “develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually, and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity.”
We mourn the death of George Floyd. We mourn that America is built upon systems that oppress Black people and people of color. We mourn the violent protests that occur after peaceful protests go unheard and unrecognized. We mourn the repetition of this cycle over decades and centuries. We hope that this is a time for lasting and meaningful change.
Children’s museums have a responsibility to the children and families in their communities. This time is an upsetting one, and children feel this keenly. Over the past few days, many children’s museums have shared statements responding to ongoing protests throughout the United States, often including thoughtful resources for caregivers to talk about race and racism with their children. We are collecting these statements and sharing them on the ACM blog, which we will update as needed.
Children’s museums also have a responsibility to their employees to operate in equitable and anti-racist ways. At ACM, we have incorporated operational changes to help interrupt unconscious bias in our workplace. For example, when we hire, we publish a salary range, and also require salary ranges in the ACM Classifieds section of our website. Our family leave policies provide equal paid leave time for all employees, no matter their gender, who are new parents or caretakers for family members. We explicitly prioritize diversity in the recruitment of members to our Board of Directors, committees, task forces, and speakers in all of our programs. We recognize there is still more we can do, and we encourage you to take this time to inventory and assess your museum’s operational practices.
This moment comes at a time of transition for children’s museums. We encourage you to look at your internal practices, both to celebrate existing practices and establish new ones during this time of rebuilding. The Cultural Competence Learning Institute (CCLI)’s recent webinar, Reopening with Equity in Mind, may serve as a starting point for these conversations. You can find helpful resources and discussions on ACM Groupsite, as well as through the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture’s new online portal, Talking About Race.
Finally, we want to encourage you to consider the digital experiences you share with your community, particularly this week. These experiences are an opportunity to address race and systemic racism head-on in appropriate ways. Story time can feature books that address race and racism in age-appropriate ways. Parent resources can focus on talking to children about race and racism. Look to your peers for examples of content that your museum can share.
In ACM’s Strategic Roadmap, we affirm our belief that pursuing equity and inclusion is a best practice that reflects a commitment to serving all children and families and advancing the growth of our field. For more than a hundred years, children’s museums have spoken up about the needs of children—all children. Together, we envision a world that honors all children and respects the diverse ways in which they learn and develop. To create that world, right now, our children and their families need the spaces we create to model empathy and boldly stand for healing and justice.