Extension News: Celebrating diversity in the 21st century

Apr. 10, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

How many of you remember the Crosby, Stills and Nash song, “Teach your Children Well”? O.K., I must admit that song was a little before my time, but I do remember Whitney Houston echoing these same sentiments in her composition, “The Greatest Love of All.” In this tune, we are reminded that children are indeed our future and it’s imperative that we raise them well and let them lead the way. Now I know the message in both these songs may sound a little cliché, but let’s keep in mind the value that can be found in the lyrics.

As adults, it is our duty to help raise children to be the best they can possibly be by providing them with as much education, culture and life experience as possible. In today’s world, it does not take the census bureau to tell us that demographics are rapidly changing. In fact, the United States has not seen such a rapid change in cultural makeup since the early 1900s during the first major wave of immigration. Experts predict that by the year 2050, nearly one half of the United States will be made up of the population group currently referred to as “minority.”

So what can parents do to prepare their kids for life in the 21st century? One way is to be active in their children’s lives and be a good role model for acceptance of other cultures. Parents can start by being active in groups such as the PTA or other school organizations. Working positively and openly with people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds sets a good example for children to follow.

It is important, however, that this behavior is not limited solely to school. Parents can also concentrate on carrying this mentality over to their homes. When buying dolls, books and toys for children, try to keep diversity in mind. Listen to your kids when they talk with you about their school day, and encourage them to treat each of their classmates with respect and equality. Take the time to acquaint yourself and your family with people of other races and ethnic groups to avoid stereotyping. Watching television shows or movies with your kids that accurately deal with racial issues can also encourage them to appreciate other cultures as well. And, most importantly, it will benefit kids immensely when adults take the time to re-evaluate their own attitudes and work through any stereotypes and prejudices they may have.

It’s wonderful to take pride in one’s own heritage, but it’s becoming increasingly important to celebrate other cultures as well. In order to function effectively in this modern era, we must reach beyond our cultural borders and work to foster understanding among all people. With a little awareness and respect for all people, we can make the future a better place for everyone.

Resources used were from a piece titled “What is Multiculturalism?”, an interview with Dr. James A. Banks, professor of education and director of the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington, and from “Bringing Up Open Minded Kids” on Family Education.com.

Bill Stone is 4-H Youth Development Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.