America is often referred to as the “melting pot” of the world. No other country has such a vast amount of people coming from different cultures, races, and religions. We work hard as a country to uphold a heterogeneous image of open arms and open gates. We celebrate cultural diversity in many different ways, including Martin Luther King Day, which is just a couple days away.
With this strong multiculturalist belief system, why then do we still see segregation and struggle with cultural superiority on a daily basis? Why are there neighborhoods with an unwritten set of rules dictating who is welcome and who is not? And, perhaps most importantly, why is there so much cultural confusion amongst the students in our classrooms?
While it can be hard to pinpoint exactly why these issues are still so alive in our country, one thing is for sure; as educators, we have a duty to educate our students on the importance of cultural acceptance and why cultural differences are actually a good thing. We should be celebrating our differences in the classroom! When our children are properly educated about their differences, they grow a greater appreciation for all cultures rather than a sheltered view of their own.
Make no bones about it; educating young minds about different cultures can be challenging. Many of your students will not have had any prior education on these things, and in some cases, it has possibly been ignored or even discouraged in their homes. Despite these obstacles, we still have an obligation to educate our children on the beauty of cultural awareness and acceptance. There are certainly many ways to go about doing this, but here a few ideas to get you started:
Develop Lessons That Revolve Around Different Cultures. It is not sufficient to just say that other cultures should be accepted; we need to teach this. During group reading times, take the opportunity to read books that deal with practices and traditions from all parts of the world. In music class, sing songs that come from different ethnicities. When studying history, don’t just look at the perspective of America; acknowledge all perspectives of the parties that were involved. As you teach about different cultures, your students will grow a much greater understanding and appreciation for those things that they may have never even known existed!
Don’t Ignore Differences. Many people think that looking away is the same as fixing a problem. This just isn’t true. We shouldn’t teach our students to be “colorblind”; we should teach them to celebrate and embrace their differences! Our students should feel encouraged to inquire about another student’s culture. If one student celebrates Christmas and another celebrates Hanukkah, the key isn’t ignorance—it’s education. They should know that it is ok to respectfully ask about what someone else does and why they do it. When we truly understand the way people from cultures different than our own operate, we can develop a very real appreciation for them.
Invite Guest Speakers From Different Cultures. There are many organizations that focus specifically on educating young minds on the importance of cultural diversity. Professional speakers ranging from Native Americans to international activists are always available to come speak to a classroom that is eager to learn about new cultures. Few things are more compelling than hearing someone speak about their own life experiences and how they relate to others.
Let Your Students Teach Each Other. There are many different ways to do this. Students can talk about things their family does at home, what they do for holidays, and where their parents and grandparents came from. The important takeaway here isn’t so much the “how” as the “why”. When a child sees and hears one of their peers talk about how they are different, they start to understand that not everyone is the same, and that’s ok! When our students teach each other, they will better learn that everyone is unique and special in their own way.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that we need to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” If our students are properly educated on multiculturalism and the importance of accepting all cultural differences, we can truly make a difference for future generations.