Educating kids in a diverse society

diversity-1350043_960_720By Dhanya Nair

As a counselor-in-training, I am constantly attuned to the issue of diversity because my clients come from different cultural and racial backgrounds; respecting their cultural and racial moorings is important to understanding and exploring their emotional world. But, I must confess, the idea for penning this piece came to me when friends of me and my husband came to pay us a visit last week.

Our friends have a nine-month old infant son who has Indian, Native American and Caucasian ancestry. Watching the little fellow play and listening to stories about him from his proud parents made me realize what a wonderful thing heterogeneity is! I could not help but marvel at the wide range of influences which will mark his upbringing. His parents are eager for him to learn Hindi and the tongue of his Native American tribe, and to be exposed to the Indian, Native American along with — of course — the American ways of life (he also polishes off Indian food readily). I assume that he will grow up to be an individual with a great degree of sensitivity towards people from diverse backgrounds. And, hence I think heterogeneity is the greatest gift we can provide our children with.

Listening to the recent narrative of heightened xenophobia in Europe and the United States makes me wonder if insulating children from diverse experiences is a sound idea. I say this because I grew up in a country which has long been exposed to various cultural influences. I shudder to think how different my life would have been had African sailors not brought coffee to India (student life without caffeine is unimaginable!). I owe discovering the pleasures of reading Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl and Oscar Wilde to a great degree to India’s colonial past. Though I read in English, my affinity towards Indian languages and the Indian way of life did not diminish. History bears witness to the fact that wars and conflicts have often arisen because of a yearning towards maintaining homogeneity. Closer to home, in India, arranged marriages were and are so vehemently encouraged because families do not want their children to intermingle with those from other communities. This fear of “muddying” normative influences is rather strange in my opinion. Food, to me is an excellent example of marrying diverse influences, I cannot remember eating a meal in India without potatoes and tomatoes, but these crops were introduced to India by Europeans.

I believe, humans are capable of assimilating numerous influences in a cogent and harmonious manner. Assimilation can, I believe, only make the world at large less fearful of foreign influences. In an increasingly mobile world, migration and exchange of thoughts, customs and traditions are bound to happen. Fighting external influences is a bland and prosaic way of living. The best sort of learning, according to me, happens at home. Children tend to emulate their parents or caregivers more often than not. Hence, parents can play an important role in inculcating awareness and tolerance towards diversity in their children. Discussions about diversity and multiculturalism need not be restricted to the classroom, children can be encouraged to embrace multiple experiences by having friends from different backgrounds. Curiosity about the wider world and an eagerness to learn as much as they can from different cultures will help children to create a more tolerant world in the future.

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