SYF: Teaching Acceptance

The face of American is forever changing. We are, more than ever before, a nation composed of all races and ethnicities of the world; and this diversity will continue to grow. According to the U. S. Census, by the year 2056, there will be no majority group in this country. Americans will be composed of multiple minority groups – a true tossed salad of diversity. For much of the population, this will be a huge change, not being a member of the majority racial group.

In the blink of an eye, your school-aged children will be grown and working with all types of men and women – young and old, conservative, moderate and liberals; all races, religions, languages, ethnic backgrounds, and with persons having various physical and mental challenges. Learning to understand, accept, and respect individuals who are different will be a ‘must’ for your children. Our children will no longer be the majority; but they will be living and working in an America comprised of various minorities. 

This point was brought home to me as our daughters entered the workforce. When our older daughter began her career, she was the only woman working in her laboratory. Her supervisor was from Cuba, her mentor from Thailand, and her coworkers from India, the Philippines, Puerto Rico as well as mainland United States. When our younger daughter interned, she was the only Caucasian, English as first language individual in her office. Thinking back, I knew there was great diversity in her worksite, due to the various first names she mentioned. But I was still surprised to see the extent of this diversity and her obvious comfort with it. Today our younger daughter is teaching English in Thailand. We have every reason to believe that such diversity is the future worksite for our children and grandchildren. 

As parents we have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to help our children develop a good understanding, appreciation and respect for individual differences in themselves and in others. Listed below, I’ll share some ways you can help your children and grandchildren to learn about and to appreciate and value diversity.

Be ready to talk about diversity issues with your children when they come up. The media can provide many talkable moments. Watch television together with your children. Point out stereotypes and misinformation depicted in movies and television shows. Listen to music from different cultures.

Be sensitive to your nonverbal communication. Our discomfort with certain groups of people will be obvious. Without speaking a word, your facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice send messages to your children. These nonverbal messages are received loud and clear by our children.

Confront prejudicial remarks made by other children. This can include remarks about people with physical or mental challenges, people with different religions, people speaking in a different language, and people with limited financial resources. Encourage your children to learn about the rich cultural histories of their own ancestors. Talk about the lifestyle, the values, the special celebrations, the food, and the dress of grandparents and great grandparents.

Encourage your children to do community service in an organization of their choice that provides exposure to diverse people. If possible, set the example by doing community service yourself.

The following Web site provides tools and strategies to help parents and adults engage in meaningful discussions and activities so that children can learn about the causes and effects of prejudice and bias-driven behaviors.

http://www.partnersagainsthate.org/publications/

Our children’s neighborhood and world will be quite different from the neighborhood and world we grew up in. So unless your children will never leave this small rural community, we are doing our kids a disservice by not providing them with opportunities to become comfortable with all types of people. As our exposure and comfort increase, these differences are overshadowed by the similarities of all people. The desire for good health, secure families, meaningful work, safe communities, etc. 

Additional information is available from Andrea Bressler at awb1@psu.edu; or http://clearfield.extension.psu.edu; and your local office of Penn State Cooperative Extension.  In Clearfield, the office is located in the Multi-Service Center, or by calling 765-7878.  In Brookville, the office is located at 180 Main Street, or by calling 849-7361.  And in Ridgway, the office is located in the Courthouse, or by calling 776-5331.  Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce.

Andrea Bressler, Penn State Cooperative Extension

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