Monday, December 6, 2010

Teaching Tolerance and Diversity

From Babble, an article giving ten tips on how to explain other cultures to kids:
1. Start with things, not people

Rather than jumping right into skin color or religion, try introducing the concept of difference to very small children through objects. Maureen Costello, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program, explains that it can be as simple as showing children a bunch of balloons and discussing how they are different colors, but they are all balloons. . . .

2. Remember that recognizing difference does not equal discrimination

* * *

3. Use language children can handle

* * *

4. Bring other cultures into your children’s lives

You can use books, toys, and electronic media to introduce different languages and cultures. . . .
5. Avoid censorship

This is what I call the “Little House on the Prairie Dilemma.” You’re reading Little House to your kid when suddenly Ma Ingalls tells Laura she is as brown as a savage. Do you read that sentence or do you leave out Ma’s racist comment? Costello cautions against censorship. . . .

6. Talk about diversity before the topic comes up

* * *

7. Use the situations that arise

Don’t shy away from answering your child honestly when she asks about a person’s accent or clothing. “Children are naturally curious about things that are different to them,” Gay explains. . . .
8. Be natural

“Treat differences as natural,” Nieto advises. [Don't make] a big production of talking about diversity. . . .

9. Be considerate of other people’s feelings

* * *

10. Bring different cultures into your life

“Become more of a multicultural person,” Nieto advises. “You need to enact it in some way” if you want your children to value diversity. . . .
In number 9, be considerate of other people's feelings, the author continues the story she uses to introduce this piece;  she mentioned that her son stared and pointed at a woman wearing a burka and she was at a loss at how to deal with it. Should she answer his question right then, "completely objectifying the woman," or she could pretend he was pointing at the emus and ignore it?  She chose to invite her son to ask the woman why she was dressed the way she was.

What do you think of this approach?  Isn't this a version of what we sometimes complain about, strangers approaching us to ask personal questions?  Making us and our kids feel like a living experiment in diversity? Being just another stop on the "diversity fieldtrip?"

The expert advice given in the article was this:

“I do think that most adults would prefer to be asked than to have someone just staring at them,” says Nieto [author of Affirming Diversity]. “But it doesn’t always work out. You have to use your judgment.” She adds that adults should demonstrate “respect and humility and broach the issue in a respectful way.”
The article's author says it was a good choice for them to ask the woman about why she was wearing the burka:  "Fortunately, the woman at the zoo was cool. She simply told him, 'I dress like this because I am a Muslim.'”

What have you done in similar situations?  How do you approach it when your child points out something "different" about a stranger?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that I would let my child just go up to someone like that. I feel that parents have a responsibility to teach their children and putting someone on the spot like can be seen as kind of rude. As you pointed out, adoptive families get really tired of being walking diversity lessons and the constant questions that come with that. So, why wouldn't an obviously Muslim woman get tired of people staring at her outfit and asking her questions about it?

Also, as a mixed-blood Native, I have to disagree with the "avoid censorship" or "Little House on the Prairie Dilemma" advice. Should we teach our kids about stereotyping and racism? Yes, of course. But kids need to see positive and affirming representations first and they have to be old enough to critically think such topics. Want proof that we're teaching about LHOP in the wrong way? Talk to any Native child who endured recess during the LHOP unit.

And honestly, it's not like LHOP has a lot of literary value anyways. There are incredibly hurtful and racist comments throughout and many of the facts in the stories are disputed. In fact, Debbie Reese, a Nambe Pueblo from the Upper Village, has a whole section of her website dedicated to LHOP's representations of Natives and historical accuracy (or lack thereof). http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/

And if you need another reason to rethink LHOP, or any other children's book, try replacing "Indian" with "black". You'll be amazed what it does to your perception of different books and their age-appropriateness.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that I would let my child just go up to someone like that. I feel that parents have a responsibility to teach their children and putting someone on the spot like can be seen as kind of rude. As you pointed out, adoptive families get really tired of being walking diversity lessons and the constant questions that come with that. So, why wouldn't an obviously Muslim woman get tired of people staring at her outfit and asking her questions about it?

Also, as a mixed-blood Native, I have to disagree with the "avoid censorship" or "Little House on the Prairie Dilemma" advice. Should we teach our kids about stereotyping and racism? Yes, of course. But kids need to see positive and affirming representations first and they have to be old enough to critically think such topics. Want proof that we're teaching about LHOP in the wrong way? Talk to any Native child who endured recess during the LHOP unit.

And honestly, it's not like LHOP has a lot of literary value anyways. There are incredibly hurtful and racist comments throughout and many of the facts in the stories are disputed. In fact, Debbie Reese, a Nambe Pueblo from the Upper Village, has a whole section of her website dedicated to LHOP's representations of Natives and historical accuracy (or lack thereof).
americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/

And if you need another reason to rethink LHOP, or any other children's book, try replacing "Indian" with "black". You'll be amazed what it does to your perception of different books and their age-appropriateness.

osolomama said...

Anon has a huge point. The *only* way to deal with racist verbiage is to read to the end of the paragraph and deal with it immediately. DD and I had these conversations several times while watching Disney's Pocahontas, which features an entire song about "savages". Even when she was little it wasn't that hard. Let them hear the song, ask them what they think the word means (if they are really young they may not know but the attitude of the speakers or singers may tip them off) and then walk them through what you need to about European attitudes to NA/SA indigenous peoples, etc. Kids should also know that there is a difference between the POV the writer has and the POV the artistic creator is trying to show in a certain character.

If you are First Nations or Native American, you may still not feel this is adequate, of course. I get that--would probably feel the same way.

Anonymous said...

Recently, my son and I were on the bus when he began staring at a couple where both partners had dwarfism. I asked him if he likes it when people stare at us because we are different races. When he replied, "no", I asked him how the couple across the aisle might feel about being stared out. He said, "bad" and stopped staring. He then asked why they were so little? I said I didn't know why, and that it was none of our business--just like our family story is nobody's business but our own. Once home, we googled "dwarfism" and were able to learn about this condition without making anyone in our community uncomfortable.