Diversity in Schools
It’s become popular and, indeed, a must in most primary schools and nurseries worldwide to have some sort of diversity woven into the curriculum. From black dolls to books featuring kids in wheelchairs, you shouldn’t have to look too far to find diversity in the classroom.
I remember visiting my daughter’s nursery in England when she was just 1 year old and seeing the array of greetings on the door in 17 different languages. I was impressed! Probably only 1 other non-white kid in the nursery and no teachers who spoke any other languages but… that didn’t matter did it? As long as they had the obligatory black doll and the greetings in foreign languages.
I quickly learned that diversity in the classroom is more than just a nod in the right direction. When it affects your child and how she relates to herself and other people, it means building self-worth and acceptance of difference by every means available. It means not just the dolls but the books and the magazines they cut from and the short videos they teach from… and the songs you sing and the teacher and the teaching assistant and the festivals they celebrate… everything they do should reflect diversity.
My daughter has now entered primary school in inner city London- a much more ‘diverse’ school in terms of its student population. And yet, sometimes I feel their nod to diversity is just a box-ticking exercise. When it came to a superhero theme in her first year, visiting ‘heroes’ from the community including a local policeman, a vicar and a doctor were all white and male. Really? I thought. When asked about it, my daughter said “I’m not a superhero, that’s for boys”.
I spoke to the teacher about getting some more diverse experts and images. But the answer came back that images of female superheroes were too racy online and that they can’t be too choosy about the ‘experts’ that come to visit. We have to take what we get.
Defeated, I left. But, looking a bit deeper, I found dozens of images of female superheroes online that were not too ‘racy’. As for the experts, why couldn’t they make a request? Yes, it means putting yourself out there. And yes, it means rocking the boat a little. But that is exactly what teaching diversity- really teaching it- is all about.
When it comes to teaching, perhaps the odd nod in the direction of diversity in the classroom is sufficient but if we’re talking about understanding and making a difference… we need more. Because we are a multicultural family living in a diverse society, valuing and understanding difference is not only part of our being. It is essential.
But just because we as a family wear our diversity on our sleeve, why shouldn’t other families understand it in the same way? Children should know that difference is not bad… it is interesting and it is worth learning about.
As a society, we shy away from difference because of political correctness or because we don’t want to offend. But with my daughters, I want them to be able to ask the question about the child in the wheelchair, to wonder about the boy who doesn’t speak or the girl who may be slightly more challenging. For her to know about difference and be comfortable. Well, that is when I know we are not just teaching diversity, we are living it.