Diversity & Inclusion
We are fortunate to live in an incredibly diverse community, where differences in language, ethnicity, culture, religion, physical disability, gender, and other areas 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 as a parent
Children listen to what parents say as well as 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 majority white community and the children have had very limited interactions with blacks.
However, if her children hear their mother telling friends that “the blacks” with whom she works are so lazy that she has to do their job and her job, the children hear a message equating blackness to laziness. If we are to teach our children to make decisions that are not based on stereotypes, then we must do the same. In this example, the people may in fact have been lazy. However, it is not their blackness that makes them lazy - they are just lazy.
Get out of your comfort zone
Americans tend to segregate themselves into fairly homogenous communities. Teaching our children to accept differences may require that we use the power of the internet to learn about differences, that we seek out cultural activities that are out of our community and explore the strength and value in diversity. It is not enough to simply visit cultural events, eat ethnic foods and thus learn 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 question 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 Jouain has a different sounding name or that Yasmeen always wears a head scarf to school, or that Jameson uses 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 to children what seems strange or different to them, we will never be successful in teaching children to understand and appreciate differences.
Parents teach children how to brush their teeth, to comb their hair, to be responsible and to be successful. We do so by introducing and reinforcing behavior that helps achieve these goals. We should do the same when it comes to appreciating diversity.
Logan City School District Superintendent