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Why parents should take a more active role in promoting multiculturalism at home

I’m busy. We’re all busy. We are all busy because we are parents, challenged with the daunting task of raising children. This is on top of all the other responsibilities we have in our lives, which might be our careers, managing the household, caring for a loved one, and in my situation, working on completing my doctorate program. I shared this information for two reasons; the first is because this is actually a social scholarship assignment that requires me to initiate a conversation via social media (hence the inclusion of references), and the second reason is because I’m about to suggest we parents take on another responsibility – taking a more active role in promoting multiculturalism at home.

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As we are busy, I thought I’d offer some context to multiculturalism and how I am approaching this subject as a white male raising three other white males, and then structure the article via a few simple questions so you can pick and skim the article if time is short.

What do we mean by multicultural?

My boys are learning that the Soccer World Cup is a big deal, and I have an expectation that they support England over USA
My boys are learning that the Soccer World Cup is a big deal, and I have an expectation that they support England over USA

When we talk about culture, we could be talking about a few different things. Rather than extend the article into another topic, let’s assume culture to be something that considers behaviors, actions, and beliefs commonly associated with a group (e.g., English culture, white culture, European culture, etc.) or a time period (e.g., 18th Century Culture) (Mason, 2014). Furthermore, let us agree that culture is something that changes and remains complex.  It is likely that we belong to multiple sub-groups associated with a culture (Mason, 2014), for example I am White; I am a White European; I am a White European Male; therefore, I most likely have behaviors commonly associated with being white, but also being of European descent, and of being a male. You see how complicated this can be… I’m going to stop…. The point is raising my boys to increase their awareness of cultural norms other than their own, is moving in the direction of promoting multiculturalism. Rather than perceiving events only from a White European Male, I want them to accept or even acknowledge that this perspective is unique perspective they offer, but it will be different when comparing an experience through another cultural lens.

Ultimately, I want my three boys to develop a capacity to expand their perceptions and understanding of the world beyond the single cultural lense of their upbringing.

What do we need to know as parents?

Pedersen (2000) explains that a major challenge to promoting multiculturalism comes from the fact that us humans like to see things almost exclusively from our perspective; so we measure difference based on how it relates to what we consider to be normal; we measure correct or incorrect behavior based on what our parents (or teachers) taught us was correct or incorrect behavior. Unfortunately, these “rules of the game” (p. 23) become our norm before we develop the cognitive capacity to reflect, compare and even challenge our expectations of the world and its inhabitants.

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Many learning theories, most notably Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, highlight how influential parents are when it comes to the upbringing of their children. They sit quietly, making observations of or actions and behaviors, they construct knowledge about their world from the questions they ask at the dinner table, to the conversations they hear on the ride up to visit their cousins. Ultimately, our children will “group into the intellectual life of those around them (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 88), and that means we need to consider how we are socializing our children to participate in a multicultural world (or reflect on whether we are unconsciously limiting their perception and judgment of the world to one cultural perspective only).

On October 31st we dress up for Halloween, and going trick or treating. I don't spend many time reflecting on the origins of Halloween, its just something I did as a child, and am passing along to my boys.
On October 31st we dress up for Halloween, and going trick or treating. I don’t spend much time reflecting on the origins of Halloween, it is just something I did as a child, and therefore something I expect my children to do as well. What other cultural habits am I passing along?

Why is this important?

There are many reasons why promoting multicultural awareness at home is essential; for a start, we shouldn’t assume that schools can tick every single box when it comes to sharing information about different cultures (which is particularly essential for me as my boys attend parochial school). We also need to recognize the influence we have over how our children are being socialized. For example, if I never engage in actions associated with preparing meals in the kitchen, and my boys only see their mother engaging in these actions, am I inadvertently, though my actions, passing on this cultural pattern to my boys? Might it develop into an expectation of all women? Likewise, as we celebrate religious and national events within our culture (i.e., Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.), what meanings do my children interpret from these events? For example, as an outsider living in the U.S., it seems that the meanings given to Thanksgiving have now assumed more of a celebration of Americanism, as opposed to honoring a historical event. Therefore, my boy’s interpretation of Thanksgiving feels very much connected to freedom, religion, and thankfulness for everything this great country has to offer, as opposed to its colonial routes. I am not suggesting I destroy their perspective of Thanksgiving, but when older perhaps I could ask them what Thanksgiving might mean for a Native American’s perspective, or help them avoid the conversation I often have to experience each year.

PERSON A: Do you celebrate Thanksgiving on the same day (I’m assuming this is because they know of a country to the North that celebrates Thanksgiving on a different day)

ME: No, we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in England

PERSON A: Really, why?

ME: Because we’re not American

Ok, I’m not that harsh, I usually find a more respectful way to inform them that not everyone celebrates Thanksgiving.

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Where might we start?

For this course, we are asked to read Joan Wink’s (2011), Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the Real World. What I’ve shared in this blog article would be referred to as a mess, and my challenge would be to identify something within the mess to address. I think a good starting place is to find ways to expose my children to other cultures, and then find ways to facilitate discussions through questions. For example, having them ask why I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, is an opportunity to expose them to the simple fact that Thanksgiving is part of American culture, and not something that should be expected outside of the Americas. Likewise, exposing my children to other cultural events could help generate questions about those events, and this might lead to exciting discoveries for me as well as my children. The key to promoting multiculturalism is raising my children to understand they will share likenesses and differences with people of other cultures (Pedersen, 2000); however, they must work hard to resist the temptation to limit their viewpoint and judgment to one perspective only.

For those interested, here’s a list of the citations used in the article above:

Mason, M (2014). Comparing Cultures.  In M. Bray, B. Adamson, & M. Mason (Eds.), Comparative education research: Approaches and methods (2nd ed., pp. 19-46). Hong Kong, China: Comparative Education Research Centre. 

Pedersen, P. (2000). The rules of multiculturalism. In A handbook for developing multicultural awareness (3rd ed.; pp. 23-41). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Pedersen, P. (2000). The rules of multiculturalism. In A handbook for developing multicultural awareness (3rd ed.; pp. 23-41). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

Matthew Worwood
Matthew Worwood is Associate Director of Digital Media & Design at the University of Connecticut, as well as a Doctoral Student at Johns Hopkins University. He works within the learning sciences, with a particular focus on instructional design and the use of digital media for learning.

Matthew Worwood

Matthew Worwood is Associate Director of Digital Media & Design at the University of Connecticut, as well as a Doctoral Student at Johns Hopkins University. He works within the learning sciences, with a particular focus on instructional design and the use of digital media for learning.

One thought on “Why parents should take a more active role in promoting multiculturalism at home

  1. Very thought promoting and do true regarding children absorbing what they see and experience. Women traditionally raised the children. including the boys who would become men. Yet many women bemoan the fact men font help around the home or cook dinner. Well who trained them that way? The mothers.

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