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Teaching diversity: tales from public school

Welcome to the July 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Learning About Diversity

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how they teach their children to embrace and respect the variety of people and cultures that surround us. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


One of the reasons my son is in public school – and that we live in the greater Washington, DC area – is because I think there is no substitute for living in diversity.

You can read all the multicultural books you want and eat lots of different kinds of foods at home, but I think there is a unique benefit in living and breathing daily with people who have different beliefs and habits and home languages but who are united in a common purpose.

At my son’s school, there were at least four or five language spoken by the children in his K-1 class. He’s in the minority as a white kid in the classroom, but he is in the majority – and in a position of privilege – in so many other areas of his life. My hope is that growing up always knowing that not everyone talks and thinks the same way he does will make it impossible for him to see himself as the center of the universe.

At the showcase for the We Are the World expedition at an Expeditionary Learning school ( Students placed their countries of origin along with the stories, myths and traditions shared by adult visitors who had presented on their home countries or places they had lived.

When my son was at a private Waldorf school, there was also plenty of diversity; I loved that one of his buddies spoke only German and Arabic before coming to school, another German and Japanese, and another Spanish and French. But still, the pricetag of the school meant economic class was always of a certain level. I wanted him to be a part of the community in which we live and not apart from it.

If my son grows up only being inside the homes of people who can afford five figures a year on one child’s education, I think it will be harder for him to see people as people and not fall into some kind of conservative assumption that everyone can be rich if they just work hard enough. He knows that some of the kids have to translate for their parents but that the parents are also happy to chaperone the trip to the National Mall. They are all people.

If I thought I could be a decent homeschooler, I might make it my project to create a diverse community of learners. But, for a variety of reasons, that’s not an option for us.

The research I did for my master’s degree in women’s studies was focused on what students in an 11th grade English class thought about “diversity.” I spent months talking with them and observing and reading theory to support my 70-page analysis. Now some 13 years (and six years teaching high school) later, I feel like I just didn’t have the guts to see the clear storyline: that it matters who is in the classroom.

It’s important not to expect members of any one group to “represent” that group or be its voice in the face of an ignorant majority. That’s why I like living in a place where there are so many variations. It provides the opportunity for people to just be people, at least in children’s eyes and I think for all of us adults, too. We can learn about one another’s differences without anyone being on the spot. This doesn’t mean that all the high school students I’ve taught here in Northern Virginia haven’t still have a lot to learn about one another. But they sure have a different sense of the world than I’ve experienced elsewhere.

There are times when I think the DC area is too high strung and public school too focused on testing and too reliant on technology for my natural-minded tastes. I do fantasize about living elsewhere at a slower place and with fewer cars and people. But I think lessons about the world are important enough to keep me here because, even with the best of intentions, I don’t think any private or homeschool situation that I could create could approximate the community experience my son is getting in public school.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon July 9 with all the carnival links.)

  • A gift for my daugther — Amanda, a special education teacher for students with multiple exceptionalities, discusses at My Life in a Nutshell how she will enrich her daughter’s life by educating her the amazing gifts her students will bring to the world.
  • The Beauty in Our Differences — Meegs at A New Day writes about her discussions with her daughter about how accepting ourselves and those around us, with all our beautiful differences and similarities, makes the world a better place.
  • Accepting Acceptance and Tolerating Tolerance — Destany at They Are All of Me examines the origins of and reasons behind present day social conformity.
  • Differencessustainablemum discusses what she feels to be the important skills for embracing diversity in her family home.
  • Turning Japanese — Erin Yuki at And Now, for Something Completely Different shares how she teaches her kiddos about Japanese culture, and offers ideas about “semi immersion” language learning.
  • Celebrating Diversity at the International House Cottages — Mommy at Playing for Peace discovers the cultures of the world with her family at local cultural festivals
  • Learning About Diversity by Honoring Your Child’s Multiple Heritages — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at the importance of truly knowing your roots and heritage and how to help children honor their multiple heritages.
  • People. PEOPLE! — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is trying to teach her children to use language that reflects respect for others, even when their language doesn’t seem to them to be disrespectful.
  • Call Me Clarice, I Don’t Care – A True Message in Diversity — Lisa at The Squishable Baby knows that learning to understand others produces empathetic children and empathetic families.
  • Diversity of Families — Family can be much more then a blood relation. Jana at Jananas on why friends are so important for her little family of three.
  • Diverse Thoughts Tamed by Mutual Respect — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work thinks that diversity is indispensable to our vitality, but that all of our many differences require a different sort of perspective, one led by compassion and mutual respect.
  • Just Shut Up! — At Old New Legacy, Becky gives a few poignant examples in her life when listening, communication and friendship have helped her become more accepting of diversity.
  • The World is our Oyster — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot is thankful for the experiences that an expat lifestyle will provide for herself as well as for her children.
  • Children’s black & white views (no pun intended … kind of) — Lauren at Hobo Mama wonders how to guide her kids past a childish me vs. them view of the world without shutting down useful conversation.
  • Raising White Kids in a Multicultural World — Leanna at All Done Monkey offers her two cents on how to raise white children to be self-confident, contributing members of a colorful world. Unity in diversity, anyone?
  • Ramadan Star and Moon Craft — Celebrate Ramadan with this star and moon craft from Stephanie at InCultureParent, made out of recycled materials, including your kid’s art!
  • Race Matters: Discussing History, Discrimination, and Prejudice with Children — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy discusses how her family deals with the discrimination against others and how she and her husband are raising children who are making a difference.
  • The Difference is Me – Living as the Rainbow Generation — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, is used to being the odd-one-out, but walking an alternative path with children means digging deeper, answering lots of questions and opening to more love.
  • My daughter will only know same-sex marriage as normal — Doña at Nurtured Mama realizes that the recent Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage will change the way she talks to her daughter about her own past.
  • Montessori-Inspired Respect for Diversity — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about her multicultural family and shares Montessori-inspired ideas for encouraging respect for diversity.
  • EveryDay Diversity — Ana at Panda & Ananaso makes diversity a part of everyday living, focusing on raising of compassionate and respectful child.
  • Diversity as Part of Life — Even though Laura at Authentic Parenting thought she had diversity covered, she found out that some things are hard to control.
  • Inequity and Privilege — Jona is unpacking questions raised by a summit addressing inequity in breastfeeding support at Life, Intertwined.
  • 3 Ways to Teach Young Children About Diversity — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama recognizes her family’s place of privilege and shares how she is teaching her little ones about diversity in their suburban community.
  • Teaching diversity: tales from public school — A former public high school teacher and current public school parent, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama values living in a diverse community.
  • 30 Ideas to Encourage Learning about Diversity While Traveling — Traveling with kids can bring any subject alive. Dionna at Code Name: Mama has come up with a variety of ways you can incorporate diversity education into your family travels (regardless of whether you homeschool). From couch surfing to transformative reading, celebrate diversity on your next trip!
  • Diversity, huh? — Jorje of Momma Jorje doesn’t do anything BIG to teach about diversity; it’s more about the little things.
  • Chosen and Loved — From Laura at Pug in the Kitchen: Color doesn’t matter. Ethnicity doesn’t matter. Love matters.
  • The One With The Bright Skin — Stefanie at Very Very Fine tries to recover from a graceless response to her son’s apparent prejudice.


9 Responses to “Teaching diversity: tales from public school”

  1. I really appreciate your perspective here. We’ve made the decision to homeschool for a variety of reasons, and I’m even now considering how to expand our sons’ experience with a diverse range of people. We had been in a highly diverse church, but since we’ve left we haven’t had as many friends or networks. I’m thankful for the people we do have around us, of course, but I don’t want to be ignorant of my responsibility as a parent to offer a broader exposure for my kids. So, yes, I can see how a (diverse) public school would be an easier bridge for that to happen! Of course, I still see plenty of (intentional or not) group segregation even within a diverse school setting, so if we end up in school, I’d want to be encouraging of my white, middle-class kids seeking out the company of friends who aren’t exactly like them.

  2. jana says:

    I had never thought about WHO is in the classroom as part of the decision criteria for evaluating schooling options. Even though we’re still several years away from that point, this is definitely going to be in my mind when I’m thinking about it!

    Thank you.

  3. ana z. says:

    I agree that living and experiencing diversity creates a much stronger realization that simply reading or thinking about it. As my son inches closer to school time, one of the things I look forward to through having him in school is the diversity he’ll encounter on all fronts, whether he’s at the public or moderately-priced Catholic school (more like low four-figure rather than five).

    I also agree that it’s never good to make assumptions about a group of people based on one or two encounters with one or only a few people. No one person represents their “group” wholly.

    Thank you for sharing : )

  4. Like Lauren, we have to create opportunities to introduce diversity as homeschoolers. Living in the Midwest, that is hard! Thank you for the reminder that diversity is best learned by being lived.

  5. Jessica says:

    Great point, Lauren. I have noticed self-selection some, and I’m hoping that next year a different make-up might shake that up. He’s been in a K/1 split with two of the same boys for two years but I expect they will be broken up as they move into 2nd (which then is the same group/teacher for 3rd). My son is very friendly with everyone — plays soccer with and says hi to whomever, whether they initiate contact or not. But the playdate requests have been mostly for white boys. I’ve been too busy attending to my health and my toddler and focusing my school efforts on fundraising for a wetlands/schoolyard project and the gardens to do as much on the social front thus far but hope that will not be the case for long!

  6. Jessica says:

    Thanks for reading, Jana! I’ve always loved hearing from people with older kids, even if it takes years for me to put that knowledge to use! Funny now that I am one of those people. Time flies!

  7. Jessica says:

    Thanks for reading, Ana. I’m glad this post seems to have come across as I intended!

  8. Jessica says:

    I thought I was at a diverse school in the Detroit suburbs but later, doing my student teaching in Ann Arbor, I got a wake-up call and saw a whole other slice of the world I hadn’t known. I think that is partly what I am trying to avoid — a we’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore sort of moment, at least with respect to the community in which we live. I was out with my toddler and some homeschoolers today and admire and envy a lot of what they are doing with and for their children but know I am just not up to the task!

  9. Courtney says:

    Thank you for writing this and being a champion of public schools! The discourse about public school and public school teachers right now is disheartening and I see more and more people who consider themselves to be thoughtful, liberal people turning towards private and home school experiences. The fact of the matter is that sending your child to diverse public school reflective of the community in which he lives is not only a gift to your child but all the other children in the class as well. Children of color and poor kids won’t experience the gift of diversity either if all the affluent, white kids go elsewhere. We’re all in this together!

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