In the “No Child Left Behind” era, so much time is devoted to preparing students for test-taking that old school subjects like good citizenship, social behavior, and community values may get short shrift.
Multiculturalism — so widely emphasized in the Marlo Thomas 70’s — often ends up limited to theme days and special projects.
Here are 5 simple suggestions from a Dad on the front lines:
- Don’t wait till Martin Luther King Jr. Day to discuss diversity. Halfway through the school year is hardly the time to discover the topic. Keying it to one month implies it is not an ongoing issue and keying it to this one specific day makes it inescapably linked to violence.
- Don’t use race as the sole definition of diversity. Diversity of ethnicity, country of origin, socioeconomic status, family configuration, religious belief, physical status –t here are a lot of points of entry reflecting the diverse lives of the children who make up a class. And with younger students, one approach is to begin even more simply, examining differences of any kind (house color, preferred breakfast cereal, kind of car) and talking about why those differences don’t divide us.
- Focus on the twin values of the civil rights movement: fairness and possibility. By helping children focus on how they and their culture can be most fair, and encouraging them to dream about what actions they can take to better their world, you encourage active citizenship.
- Model diversity when not talking about it. From the names of children used in sample sentences to the characters who are featured in storybooks and activity sheets, you can make sure diversity becomes part of the fabric of learning — even (and especially) when diversity itself is not the topic.
- Remember that diversity is not an “us” versus “them.” Teaching diversity is not about making some kids feel included while educating the rest about “others”; it’s about finding language to acknowledge the real world as it already is and making all children feel at home in sharing it.