Learning the Value of DiversityBy Leah Davies, M.Ed.
Children’s identity and self-respect are related to how others treat them, and ultimately to their future success. Therefore, school personnel need to promote a safe, humane environment where inclusiveness, justice and an appreciation of individual differences are evident. When staff are respectful toward students no matter what their gender, social class, race, nationality, religion, disability or cultural background, children will follow their example.
How can administrators and staff help children value diversity?
Hold anti-bias, diversity training workshops or support groups for all personnel. Include sensitivity awareness of racial and cultural differences present in your school. Invite community members representing various groups to speak about their customs and/or concerns. Require staff to speak and act in an unbiased manner.
Develop a clear “School Standard” that staff can support and enforce. For example:
- Every child is unique and has value.
- Every child will be treated with respect and caring.
- Every child can learn.
- Everyone in our school has the responsibility to stand against prejudice and injustice.
- Our school is a peaceful place where bigotry is not tolerated.
Decide which age-appropriate consequences will result from various student infractions. Depending on the student’s age, some suggestions are:
- Write a paper on another culture.
- Meet after school with a staff member and a diverse group of students to discuss differences and commonalities, and/or to work on a project together such as beautification of the school.
- Use punishment such as detention or suspension.
- Make contact with a parent, school counselor, principal, or law enforcement officer.
Inform the student body that harassment of any kind against other students or staff will be dealt with swiftly and firmly. Follow through with action.
Encourage peaceful student interaction and cooperation. Institute a peer mediation program that trains children to mediate conflict among their peers.
Provide a safe, consistent classroom atmosphere where children’s strengths are accentuated and their differences are respected. Establish a climate where children feel free to share their thoughts and feelings. Teach each child to stand up for him/herself, and to uphold the rights of every other child.
Use multiethnic, culturally-sensitive materials, curricula and textbooks whenever possible. If biased materials such as old history books must be used, ask the children in what ways they present a prejudiced view. Include equitable concepts as an integral part of daily classroom life.
Have the children participate in activities that uncover discrimination, examine diverse viewpoints, increase sensitivity toward others, and improve their thinking skills. The following are a few examples.
- Ask all the children with January to June birthdays to sit on one side of the room, and the ones with July to December birthdays to sit on the other side. (Or, divide by gender, eye color, height, etc.) For a day, give special treatment to one group of children. Process the experience at the end of the day by having the children from each group share their thoughts and feelings. List their reactions on the board.
- Ask questions such as: “What do you know about African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, European Americans, Mexican American or other peoples?” List the ideas and discuss. Then ask the students to name things all children have in common. Some ideas are:
- Everyone feels sad, angry, jealous, lonely, embarrassed, scared at times.
- Everyone wants to have a good life.
- Everyone needs healthy food to eat and clean water to drink.
- Everyone wants love and respect.
Put the list on a poster to display in the room.
- Have the students close their eyes and picture a “bum.” Then have them open their eyes and write down a description of the person. Ask the children to do the same thing for a nurse, doctor, rock star, scientist, etc. Discuss their stereotypes.
- Lead a discussion on how media, especially television and movies, reinforce stereotyping of various groups. Together have the children watch a prerecorded video of an age-appropriate cartoon or popular television show. Have them name the stereotypes they observed. Then have them watch it again and rate each one on a 1 to 3 point scale, 1 = little and 3 = extreme.
- Develop an awareness of which holiday celebrations are appropriate for inclusion in your classroom. For example, at a Thanksgiving celebration, the settlers celebrated a plentiful harvest, but to Native Americans Thanksgiving may be a reminder of broken promises. Try to emphasize what various religious groups have in common. For example, the idea that people should treat others the way they would like to be treated.
- After studying immigration to the United States, create a bulletin board of faces cut out of magazines that represent the diversity of our citizens.
- Discuss the problem-solving skills necessary for children to get along. Some examples are:
- Never make fun of a child’s comments or the way he/she looks or speaks.
- Show respect by listening carefully to each other.
- Let everyone have a turn to talk.
- Work out a solution to a problem together.
- Have a poster contest depicting the skills needed. Entitle it, “Live Together in Harmony.” Display posters at school or at a business location. Find a sponsor who will donate a grand prize for the best poster, or a multicultural field trip for the entire class.
- Have your students visit a Holocaust Exhibit, serve a meal at the homeless shelter, or partner with a class in a school whose majority of students are of a different race or culture. Have the students write and exchange letters, e-mail and/or participate in an exchange project.
- Read aloud an example of hate literature found on the internet. Discuss the truthfulness of the reading. Ask the students why certain individuals or groups hate other groups. Have older students report on hate groups that dehumanize certain minorities and glorify violence against them. The reports may include an examination of speeches, music, symbols and/or slogans of extremists.
- Read biographies about leaders from various ethnic groups or books concerning racial or biased topics. To raise awareness of diversity issues and to further communication, sponsor a program where the members of a class, school or community read and discuss the same controversial book.
- Celebrate diversity by inviting parents and others representing different cultural groups to share their customs and/or traditional foods in the classroom or during a school multicultural event.
- Encourage your students to form friendship clubs that seek diversity. Foster active involvement in groups that stand against racism, discrimination, and prejudice. For older students, encourage them to sponsor nonviolent, racial awareness activities in their school or community.
For more ideas, visit tolerance.org at http://www.tolerance.org.