written by Frank Schofield, superintendent, Logan City School District
We are fortunate to live in a diverse community, where differences in language, ethnicity, culture, religion, physical ability, gender, and other differences surround us. This local diversity reflects the diversity that our children are likely to face as they grow and become part of an increasingly global society. One challenge parents face is determining how to help children accept, respect, and value diversity in their own lives and community. This appreciation can prepare them for future success, both professionally and personally, as they grow and interact with people from diverse backgrounds.
Dr. Christopher Metzler, a leading authority on issues of diversity and inclusion, has the following four suggestions for parents:
START WITH YOURSELF
Children listen to what parents say and watch what they do, so parents must be willing to address their own diversity deficits. For example, one parent may tell her children not to judge people by their color. The family lives in a predominately white community and the children have very limited interactions with diverse populations.
However, if her children hear their mother telling friends that people with different racial/ethnic backgrounds with whom she works are so lazy that she has to do their job and her job, the children hear a message equating diversity to laziness. If we are to teach our children to make decisions that are not based on stereotypes, then we must do the same.
GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Americans tend to segregate themselves into fairly homogenous communities. To teach our children to accept differences and explore the strength and value in diversity, we may need to make concerted efforts to seek out cultural activities outside of our community and read books, or search online to learn about differences. It is not enough to simply visit cultural events and eat ethnic foods, thus learning about differences from a “tourist” point of view. Instead, we must make a deliberate effort to get out of the familiar and show our children we mean it. Accepting differences should be how we live our lives.
LISTEN AND RESPOND
When children ask about differences, start by listening to the questions they are asking and the language they are using. If in asking questions about differences they are using hurtful or stereotypical language, explore with them why such language is hurtful. Explain, in an age-appropriate manner, why stereotypes don’t tell the whole story and are divisive.
DON’T BE BLIND TO DIFFERENCES
Parents often say that they want their children to be “difference blind.” This is both unrealistic and misses the point. Children will notice that some kids have a different sounding name, that others dress differently, or that some even use a wheelchair. As parents, we must help them appreciate and learn about those differences, not pretend that they do not exist. The question is not whether differences exist, it is what message we are sending by teaching children to be “blind” to differences. Unless we, as parents, are willing to help explain what seems strange or different to children, we will never successfully teach them to understand and appreciate differences.
Parents teach children how to brush their teeth, comb their hair, be responsible, and be successful by introducing and reinforcing behaviors that helps achieve these goals. We should do the same when it comes to appreciating diversity.