Celebrating Diversity in the 21st Century

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How many of you remember the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song, “Teach Your Children”? O.K., I must admit that song was a little before my time, but I do remember a similar tune from the mid-eighties titled the “The Greatest Love of All” which reminds us that children are indeed our future and it’s imperative that we raise them well so they can eventually 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 love, 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 1900’s 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 population groups 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 kids lives and be a good role model for acceptance of other cultures and ideas. 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, but it’s important that this behavior is not limited to schools and that parents concentrate on carrying this mentality over to their homes as well. 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 a wide variety of people and encourage children to avoid stereotyping and assumptions about people and families that may be different from them. Watching television shows or movies with your kids that accurately deal with these 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 that will create a better future for everyone.

Resources used were from a piece entitled “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 County Extension Director for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.