by Tara Bone, contributing writer

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day banks and post offices close and students get a break from school, but what does this day really mean to us and our kids?  Does it matter?  Because we live in quiet communities, some may think talk about diversity doesn’t apply to us in Cache Valley.  But according to Dr. Ross Peterson it does.

UST-Ross-PetersonDr. Peterson’s life work has been teaching about this very topic.  From his beginnings in Montpelier, Idaho, Peterson went on to graduate from Utah State University (USU) and then completed a PhD.  He eventually returned to USU in 1971 where he touched thousands of lives through his classes, which included African American studies.  Former students call his classes “life-changing.”

His perspective after years of research and teaching is clear.  Tension based on race, ethnicity, and religion in our world is real, and Peterson says now more than ever it’s important to teach love and forgiveness in our neighborhoods and homes.

“There’s a lot of world in front of us and it boils down to people being unable to understand and forgive one another,” Peterson said.  “The core values of people taking care of each other and not judging another are important to teach.”

“Families and schools should do everything they can do to avoid teachings of hate,” he said.

The task may seem overwhelming when looking at the big world, but Peterson provides some ideas we can use when teaching our children to love and respect all people.

1. Start in your home and neighborhood

Peterson says education is the key and it starts with parents as the example.  Simply be aware of how you talk about and interact with others.  Think about the concept of “we the people” and how you can be more inclusive.  Look around your neighborhood and local schools; you may be surprised at the opportunities to interact with people of different backgrounds.

In fact, according to Peterson diversity in Cache Valley has increased dramatically within the last 15 years.  Teach your kids how to respect and interact with others now because as Peterson says “you live life a long time and you will run into some people.”

2. Introduce your children to different cultures

Invite people from different backgrounds into your home and support events that introduce your children to different cultures. Peterson points out that many International students who attend USU may never be in a home during their studies if they can’t travel home. If you’re interested in hosting a student in your home, contact the USU Office of Global Engagement at 435.797.1124.

Another tool available to families is the dual language immersion program in local elementary schools.  Information for Cache County School District’s program can be found at www.ccsdut.org under the departments tab in the curriculum section. You may also contact Shauna Winegar at 435.245.6093, ext. 103. Holly Hansen is the Logan School District dual language coordinator. She can be contacted by calling the district office at 435.755.2300.

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3. Use appropriate media

Television and movies can provide effective teaching tools if you seek out the best programs.

“Instead of watching Transformers blowing things up, let’s watch human beings getting along and overcoming challenges,” Peterson said.

Children of all ages can relate to, and learn from books that teach concepts of inclusion and give examples of characters working through challenges.  Click here for a list of children’s picture books and novels on this theme: Children’s Books

Peterson cautions media users to beware of stereotyping that can accompany TV and movies.  If you introduce your children to people of all backgrounds in real life, they can sift through media stereotypes.

“Race relations have declined in part because of stereotyping,” Peterson said.  “Homes, schools, and churches are where opinions should be formed, not TV and movies.”

4. Tell children they can make a difference

Finally, tell children they make a difference.  Teach them that every person counts.  Discuss family, neighborhood, and historical examples of people living with love and tolerance.  Instill in children the belief that their actions affect others.

Live everyday of the year thinking about inclusion and respect for all, not just on one day of the year when the post office is closed.   “Don’t think someone else will do it,” Peterson said.  “Make the world a better place.”