photo of Ilana Dvorin Friedman
Ilana Dvorin Friedman, PhD

Child development consultant, instructor, and researcher.

Ilana Dvorin Friedman, PhD is a child development consultant, instructor, and researcher. She is an instructor in AJU’s Early Childhood Education degree programs.

“In every generation every one of us is obligated to regard ourselves/show ourselves as though we had left Mitzrayim [Egypt]” (Haggadah).

Social justice themes are embedded in the narratives and practices of the Passover holiday. As we tell the story of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, we reflect on oppression, fairness, and human rights. We try to identify with the Exodus experience and exercise empathy as we pursue justice in our own society. We can never understand the lived experiences of others, but we can engage in learning, reflection, and compassion as we elevate the voice and needs of others and build a more equitable world.

Similarly, early childhood educators thoughtfully and intentionally create anti-bias classrooms that foster belonging as they engage in self-reflection about identity, diversity, justice, and activism.

In its emergence, the field of early childhood education was fraught with fragmentation and inequities; today, racism, sexism, and classism, for example, continue to echo throughout our early childhood systems and pedagogies. In EDU 685 Equity, Diversity, and Social Policy in Early Childhood Education, we learn about policies and practices that continue to be plagued (Passover pun-intended) by injustice and consider our roles as educators, leaders, and activists in advocating for change.

In our class, we aim to better understand ourselves as cultural beings and implement collaborative strategies to support young children and the diversity of families within our communities. Through our assignments and discussions, we consider how educators can cultivate social, emotional, and cognitive skills, such as empathy, critical thinking, perspective-taking, and problem-solving as young children construct their identities and understanding of the world. We reflect on how educators play an important role in nurturing young children’s sense of self-worth and positive engagement with the diverse ways people experience life.

But the goals of anti-bias education do not stop there; it is imperative that early childhood educators help children make sense of the hurtfulness of bias and prejudice and strengthen children’s skills to act against discrimination and hate. Jewish values inform our commitment to actively seeking ways to make the world a more equitable place, a place where all children thrive.

The seder, the traditional Passover meal, is designed to elicit questions and conversation that help us draw connections between history and the status quo. So too, students in EDU 685

champion ongoing learning and reflection to infuse early childhood education with the values of justice and belonging that are so needed to raise competent and compassionate people.