Their laughter traveled across the water park as they chased each other in the shallows. I watched my son from the distance encourage the other boy to continue the game. They were about the same age, four years old, and obviously enjoyed similar games.
What was different was that each boy spoke a different language. “H” fluent in English and this other boy who appeared to be of Middle Eastern decent spoke a different dialect. Although the boys faced a language barrier they did not let it detract from their game. As they continued their “super hero” game, the other boy’s mother came up to the water’s edge and watched the boys at play. We both looked at each other and smiled.
In a World where it seems the media and politicians want to so often highlight our differences as a thing to fear, these boys could not care less. It got me thinking – when do we start caring? When do stereotypes start impacting us?
It got me thinking – when do we start caring? When do stereotypes start impacting us?
Leading Anti-Bias Educator, Lousie Derman Sparks, states in a lecture, to the UUA Assembly in 2012, that at around 6 years old we start exploring our self and group identity e.g. gender, cultural and racial. At 8 years old we can identify and critically think about interpersonal dynamics of racism, sexism and classism, and how to interpret them. They understand scientific explanations for skin color and how individuals get their skin color. Understand nature and harm of stereotyping. This understanding continues to grow and with it the impact of misinformation and stereotyping.
This impact was highlighted by recent comments from political leaders at home and abroad. Peter Dutton, Australian Home Affairs Minister, declared that Melbourne residents were afraid to go out to restaurants because of African Gangs (Peter Dutton says Victorians scared to go out because of ‘African’ gang violence, The Guardian, Wed 3 Jan 2018). The leader of the free World, Donald Trump, then decided to refer to African nations as “shitholes” (African Union, African UN envoys demand Trump apology, CNN Politics, Jan 13 2018).
Rather than put our hands up in the air, it should make our belief in the need for schools to combat this stereotyping and fear mongering, even stronger. In my teaching career I have been fortunate to teach in schools where multiculturalism and diversity were celebrated. My first permanent teaching position was in a school that at the time had students from around 82 different cultural backgrounds and over 57 different languages spoken at home.
What have these experiences taught me? That often it is the adults that impose the stereotypical views and barriers upon young people. Children have an amazing ability to see past differences, be it cultural, racial or socio-economical. I have seen Vietnamese girls Greek dancing, African students singing traditional Maori songs and Caucasian kids understanding the meaning behind Aboriginal artworks. I have seen friendships blossom oblivious to the cultural and social divides that may make it impossible to outside the school gate. Children, families and colleagues have taught me not to tolerate cultural diversity but to embrace it.
As Thomas R. Hoerr explains in his book, The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy, and Other Success Skills, “Embracing diversity means understanding that we should recognise and appreciate the difference among us. This attitude acknowledges our history of differences while empowering every person to succeed and enables all of us to come together in a caring, respectful, and productive way.”
“Embracing diversity means understanding that we should recognise and appreciate the difference among us.” ~ Thomas R. Hoerr
It is the easy option to use our differences to form negative stereotypes and judge others. As teachers we must challenge and support our students to not take the quick and simple option. We understand that teaching children to embrace diversity can be challenging. Hoerr explains why “teaching children to embrace diversity will be an uphill struggle because we are running counter to centuries of prejudice; we aren’t starting from zero.”
The struggle is worth it. Through appreciating and embracing diversity we are ensuring our students are tearing down the mountain that centuries of prejudice has created.