The Value of Diversity

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Linguistic Diversity

Cultural Diversity

Racial Diversity

Gender Diversity

Recognizing our differences from one another is a first, easy step in coming to know, understand and hopefully accept those unlike us. We humans immediately detect those who don’t fit familiar or comfortable impressions of how things are supposed to be. We also pick up on the qualities of those with whom we have much in common, which can support a belief that what we think and feel is “right.” DIVERSITY GRAPHIC_V6 3

Such first impressions can be powerful, long lasting and, as often as not, wrong. They’re the fertile ground for sowing what could grow into bigotry. That’s one reason enlightened parents and educators are so intent upon ensuring children have abundant interactions with and about individuals, communities and families unlike their own.

The earlier the better

The value of getting to know those from other backgrounds can support the ability to explore cultural perspectives not found in their own homes and to appreciate others’ diverse points of view, eliminating the potential for defensiveness or aggression. Culturally diverse play groups and classrooms, where parents and educators take the time to encourage and address confusions and questions about playmates and classmates offer a pathway to appreciating differences, eliminating the common expectation of conformity and homogeneity in their peers.

Discovering diverse beliefs and ways of behaving can be the source of stereotypical thinking for children. When predictable experiences of diversity are accompanied by support from adults, scaffolding youngsters in delaying judgement and turning to engagement, children grow. Rather than jumping to the apparent safety of rejection and othering, children can take in individual differences without generalizing to any particular group.

Familiarity can breed contempt. Unless children see that expressions of unfamiliar beliefs and disorienting behaviors associated with a particular racial or ethnic group are in and of themselves racially and ethnically neutral, they are likely to jump to safe but sadly negative conclusions. With sufficient opportunity to express their confusion, and to reflect upon and express a more welcoming response to others, however, children can come to appreciate diversity without adopting or rejecting the life styles of others.

Gender is an ever present issue in social interactions. As early as age 2, children know their genders and those of others. In the absence of interactions with women and men who take on societal and occupational roles different from those of their parents, children can become confused about what to them are anomalies. Interactions with boys, girls, men and women, who are comfortable in a range of roles beyond those found in the child’s home, can prove disorienting for youngsters. Adult recognition of this likelihood and making room for gentle conversation around these experiences can broaden the vision of possibilities that children have for themselves and deepen their appreciation for others.

So, how do we address diversity as early as possible for young children? How can parents and teachers deal with each of these kinds of differences without spending all of their time seeking out or engineering foreign situations?

Books are the answer

For young children, picture books, read at home, can offer scenarios and information that can be dealt with productively and in ways that parents and children find comfortable.

The current call among adults who see books offering an opportunity to enrich children’s education in these ways is “We Need Diverse Books!” That’s fine if you seek books for gifts or if you are just looking for ideas to focus a trip to your local library. Online libraries, however, like the International Children’s Digital Library for older children and Unite for Literacy for new readers, offer on-demand, free books brimming with cultural, linguistic, racial and gender diversity.

Books can lead our children to embrace and enjoy the array of powerful diversities in this world. They also add value by carrying forward important discussions like those about diversity—early, frankly and joyfully.



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4 Responses to “The Value of Diversity”

  1. Rachel June 8, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

    Loved this graphic! It says so much and this post will be required reading for my grad class on multicultural lit this fall.

    Did you consider economic diversity at all?

    • Mark Condon June 9, 2015 at 8:56 am #

      Glad you like it. We are very proud of our diversity commitments.
      But, great question, Rachel. No, I didn’t address economic diversity this week at all (The post was a bit long as it was ☺). Last week in my Hooray for Summer Slide piece, economics was the clear focus, though.

  2. Angela J Cassity June 12, 2015 at 8:35 am #

    Thinking about diversity lead me to the concept of educational diversity, both in genre or subject matter and among institutes of learning and education. I am glad you posted this important concept and plan to pursue it in both my profession and as a continuing student. Thank you for your thoughts.

    • Mark Condon June 12, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

      It’s a rich area for research and development to be sure, Angela.
      Good luck with your studies and with the contributions you intend to make to the field.