Pollyanna Racial Literacy Curriculum & Parent/Guardian Companion Guide

Pollyanna’s K-8 Racial Literacy Curriculum launched summer 2019 and the team that worked on it was creative, dedicated and diligent. The Curriculum is designed to help students gain knowledge about race as it has been constructed in the United States. Please register to gain access to this free curriculum.

For children and adults living in the United States, race is a topic of great impact, and importance. Even though “race” dominates our media and news cycles, our sense of identity and psyche, race is often not comprehensively taught in school, nor do all households proactively speak about it. Many have questions, such as how and when to discuss race and how to maintain and embrace unity while doing so. A team of educators from Pollyanna have created a comprehensive and innovative Parent/Guardian Companion Guide to share essential knowledge about race, and how to engage in productive conversations about race and racism.



Pollyanna Curriculum Summary

Pollyanna’s Racial Literacy Curriculum for Grades K-8 is designed to help students gain knowledge about race as it has been constructed in the United States, and aims to help students acquire an awareness of their own racial socialization and skills for engaging in productive conversations about race and racism. Both fiction and nonfiction texts––such as picture books, primary sources, historical articles, current events––and other forms of media are incorporated throughout the curriculum to serve as talking points for classroom dialogue and to widen students’ cultural lens. For younger students, lessons may take place during read-aloud or small group instructional periods, and for older students, lessons may be implemented during elective or advisory periods, and may also support humanities courses. Grade-level goals will continue to increase in complexity, for instance:

  • To encourage kindness, bravery, and empathy when exploring and better understanding the cultural and racial diversity of local and global communities.
  • To develop more inclusive and positive perspective of self, others, and the larger world in regard to race, ethnicity, and culture.
  • To analyze history and other social assertions that fabricate myths of innate racial superiority, in order to dispel myopic, discriminatory perspectives of race.
  • To analyze race as a primary institution of the United States.
  • To critique the biological fallacy of race, while simultaneously unpacking its social truths.

The underlying goal of the curriculum is to build bridges and connections––for all students to recognize similarities among their peers along lines of race, while also celebrating perceived differences. We hope to plant seeds that will encourage and enhance racial literacy, geographical awareness, and cultural competence both in the classroom and throughout one’s life.

Curriculum by Grade Level


UNIT : The Physical World Around Us – A Celebration of Skin Colors

The full collection of Racial Literacy Kindergarten lessons focuses on the physical world––including an introduction to colors––and celebrates our physical selves and identities, especially our skin colors. Picture books will be used a primary method to launch discussions about how we assign labels for the visual world. Once the curriculum of colors moves into a discussion of skin tone, we no longer recommend using picture books that feature animals to generate dialogue. On a final note, some lessons are suggested to be conducted in collaboration with, or led by, art and science teachers.


Grade 1

UNIT : We Are Part of a Larger Community – Encouraging Kindness, Social Awareness, and Empathy

The full collection of Racial Literacy Grade 1 lessons are designed to actively build a positive sense of self and expand students’ social awareness in an effort to create a more open-minded, inclusive community –– one that celebrates diversity. To enhance communication and social skills, classroom discussions and activities aim to examine the roles we play in larger groups and the impact we can have on the well-being of our peers in the classroom, as well as the larger community beyond school walls. Aspects of our identities will be explored, such as our names, neighborhoods, and cultures/ethnicities, with the goal of developing a sense of pride and a positive awareness of others. An underlying theme is the idea that despite differences, we also share similarities, with the binding force of humanity being love –– or our capacity for respect, kindness, acceptance, and empathy.


Grade 2

UNIT : Diversity Around the World – How Our Geography and Our Daily Lives Connect Us

The full collection of Racial Literacy Grade 2 lessons use nonfiction and fiction texts to explore the role and impact geography has on our lives, including the development of culture. Through this lens of geography, students will learn more about how people live around the world, as well as the experiences they themselves bring into the classroom. By investigating aspects of our daily lives and routines––housing, clothing, hobbies, traditions, family, food, etc.––students will understand the interconnectedness of humans and the environment, or how our physical and cultural space shapes us and vice versa. With a focus on celebrating differences and recognizing similarities, an ultimate goal is for students to apply a lens of inclusivity while expanding their sense of self and awareness of our larger world––which is a big, diverse place, filled with beauty and commonality.


Grade 3

UNIT : Stories of Activism – How One Voice Can Change a Community (and Bridge the World)

The full collection of Racial Literacy Grade 3 lessons feature different stories from around the world, focusing on voices of people who have felt different, “othered,” discriminated against, and/or persecuted and the various ways such people––both “everyday” heroes and famous figures––have responded to their situations. By reading these stories, students will unpack concepts of agency, individual and collective empowerment, as well as personally relevant and applicable ideas like fairness, courage, and friendship. Using a micro to macro progression, classroom dialogue will move into more sophisticated, mature topics such as discrimination––including racism and racial segregation––and a brief introduction to the institution of slavery. Students will also explore the counter concept of cultivating acceptance and the importance of building/bridging diverse communities. Ultimately, through an exploration of a multitude of voices, students will understand and analyze the power of an action and/or voice, both “big and small,” and how we can be agents of communal, social, political, and environmental change. By the end, students will comprehend the rippling effect of acts of kindness, and that when we work together, we are stronger.

Grade 4

UNIT : The Development of Civilization – How Geography Gave Some Populations a Head Start (Dispelling Myths of Racial Superiority)

The full collection of Racial Literacy Grade 4 lessons are designed to help students understand how geography influenced the emergence of civilization. Humans are the only animals to build vast civilizations, and geography provided or denied the resources that allowed some groups of former hunter-gatherers to become farmers and herders and eventually develop some of the world’s first civilizations. Students will explore the various engineering, technological, scientific, and mathematical innovations of such civilizations, tracing cross-cultural patterns in order to develop a more informed and eclectic worldview––enhancing their own cultural competency. A goal is for students to realize that humans of a given time and place created similar structures and/or inherited ideas to establish a common pattern that was dictated by geography. With such a lens, students will be able to analyze history and other social assertions that fabricate myths of racial superiority, including the ability to critique and dispel Eurocentric perspectives that favor a myopic view of race.


Grade 5

UNIT : How “Immigration” Shaped the Racial and Cultural Landscape of the United States –– The Persecution, Resistance, and Contributions of Immigrants and Enslaved People

The full collection of Racial Literacy Grade 5 lessons will trace the history of immigration to the United States, a country “made by” and “made of” immigrants. Unfortunately, a dominant narrative for immigration often presents the false image of a melting pot, without analyzing the structures of power that dictated either the exclusion or inclusion of various groups of people, and how such treatment simultaneously impacted the idea of what an “American” –– or more accurately, a resident or citizen of the U.S. –– should “look like” and be. This unit will investigate the following: How did immigration policy impact the conceptualization of race and the overall racial and ethnic landscape of the United States? Why do Eurocentric perspectives dominate the historical narrative of immigration? How did demographics in the U.S. change over time? And what were the forms of resistance and various contributions made by those who lived in the U.S.? Finally, it’s important to note that not all “immigrants” came to the U.S. by choice, as many were captured and forced to endure a life of enslavement. In an effort to explore general patterns of immigration and the forced movement of people, some lessons will follow a general structure –– including a review of the cultural contributions, persecution, and resistance of such populations –– but obviously cannot represent all groups of people and all stories. More stories are included in Grade 6.

Grade 6

UNIT : The Historical Construction of Race and Current Racial Identities Throughout U.S. Society – The Danger of a Single Story

The full collection of Racial Literacy Grade 6 lessons builds upon the Grade 5 unit, which introduces the history of immigration in the United States. Grade 6 lessons aim to create a more nuanced, eclectic conceptualization of race. The unit begins with Chimamanda Adichie’s idea of the “Danger of a Single Story,” which highlights the importance of considering multiple perspectives when categorizing people. Subsequent lessons will create a historical timeline, mapping the social construction of “race” by providing a brief overview of the treatment and conceptualization of various racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. In an effort to provide a humanistic lens, such lessons also include current and literary voices of people who identify as a particular racial group: Native American, Black American, White American, Latinx American, Asian American, as well as “Other” American voices. The unit aims for a balanced “both/and” approach –– one that faces both the unpleasant social and historical truths and acknowledges the humanity of individuals and groups of people, such as those who dared to love and embrace their cultures and identities while living in a society that’s plagued with violence and efforts of dehumanization. As an interviewee in one of the lessons states, “Existence is resistance.” How have such marginalized voices survived and dared to thrive? While various perspectives are considered, the curriculum cannot represent all groups of peoples and all stories. Yet, as a whole, the unit provides many voices, so students realize that no group is monolithic, nor is any group inferior or superior. For a final lesson, students will begin to tell their own story.

Grade 7

UNIT : What is Race? – How Science, Society, and the Media (Mis)represent Race

The full collection of Racial Literacy Grade 7 lessons addresses an overarching question: What is Race? An exploration of how race is viewed or “defined” by science and pseudoscience will be explored, as well as the (mis)representations of various racial communities in the United States over time. Students will examine the relationship between historical events, pseudoscientific ideologies, and current perspectives, and how implicit bias shapes our understanding –– such as how we view ourselves and others. Lessons will distinguish the sociological reality of race from its biological fallacy, as well as dispel myths of “biodeterminism,” or the racist ideology promoted in the era of pseudoscientific racism, which ascribed traits like intelligence to race. Unfortunately, such erroneous beliefs persist within current U.S. society. A media analysis will follow, which will explore the ways race has been portrayed and perpetuated in the past and how it continues to be “seen” today. Students will explore the power of positive representations, and consider the role they think race will have in our increasingly multicultural, multiracial future. This unit challenges historical and modern conceptualizations of race and ethnicity, so students may deconstruct the more troubling, erroneous aspects and applications of race, to reconstruct it into something new. Some lessons are suggested to be conducted in collaboration with, or led by, history and science teachers.


Grade 8

UNIT : Racism as a Primary “Institution” of the U.S. – How We May Combat Systemic Inequality

The full collection of Racial Literacy Grade 8 lessons explores race and racism in the United States, and the importance of developing anti-racist frameworks. The overarching goal is for students to develop a deeper understanding of racism as a primary “institution” in the United States. Students will explore and analyze both historical and current forms of racism, including individual levels and systemic levels of racism, with a greater focus on the latter. For example, students will upack sophisticated ideas like white privilege and white supremacy, as well as analyze the various manifestations of separate and unequal institutions and structures that generate and reify racial discrimination in the U.S., such as housing, education, and mass incarceration. Lessons will encourage students to think about their own agency and responsibilities. By the end of the unit, students will set commitments for rectifying current social ills, such as learning and planning how to carry out anti-racist activism and/or social advocacy in their communities and/or to improve their everyday lives.