Dear LA Teacher,
We see so much bullying in our schools rooted in prejudice and ignorance. What can be done to educate our children about diversity, prejudice, and acceptance?
Dear Concerned Mom,
Our children begin their education on prejudice by their third birthday. By that time they know the differences between physical traits such as hair color, height, weight, and gender. Once they enter preschool, toddlers know that skin color and gender affect how others perceive them and their friends.
By the time children start public or private schools with their prejudices in tow, they begin to demonstrate behaviors of intolerance and discrimination. According to an article, “Bullying and School Climate Statistics,” almost 1/4 of students from K-12 report being harassed or bullied at school based on their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. According to the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 90% of LGBT teens have been harassed verbally at school, 44% report physical harassment, and 22% report being assaulted.
So what can parents do to reduce intolerance and discrimination in our schools? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Talk to your kids about racial, ethnic, and sexual diversity. With parental guidance and encouragement children can think through their beliefs about race, ethnicity, and religion. It is the parent’s job to create a loving and accepting environment at home where difficult issues can be discussed.
For example, while waiting on line at Walmart three-year-old Susie stared an African American girl in front of her. Susie said, “Mommy, why is that girl’s hands so dirty?” Her mother diffused the issue openly and directly. “That child’s hands are as clean as yours. Her skin color is just different from yours.”
When first grader Glenn came home from school he told his dad, “Juan talks funny.” His dad took this as an opportunity to teach his son about ethnic diversity. Glenn’s dad said, “Juan’s primary language isn’t English. He speaks Spanish at home. Since he is learning English, he’ll need a good friend. Why don’t you play with him during recess, introduce him to your friends, and have him come here for lunch Saturday afternoon?”
Glenn’s dad knows that when children increase their exposure to other children from many different backgrounds they develop tolerance and understanding of groups of people different than themselves.
2. Invite friends from various ethnic, racial, and sexual orientation groups to family events like Thanksgiving, Fourth of July celebrations, picnics, and birthdays. This will increase children’s exposure to diverse groups of people and witness first hand their family’s acceptance of the family of man.
3. Select books and toys that include persons of different racial groups or disabilities to help a child develop empathy.
For example, Fly Guys Monday Madness by Bobby Thandi and Emma Leverton engages young children about the complex issues of prejudice. Parents could read the book with their child as they discuss the roots of prejudicial behavior.
In his novel, Goodbye Tchaikovsky, author Michael Thal writes about a teen violinist who becomes deaf. Teens and adults alike will learn about the difficulties of deafness and develop empathy and understanding for the plight of the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
4. Finally, visit museums featuring exhibits about different racial groups, their cultures, and religions. Celebrate cultural events like Cinco de Mayo, attend a bar mitzvah, or Christian confirmation service.
The more our children see their parents being open minded through action, discussion, and the people with whom they socialize, the more tolerant and accepting our children will become.