Promoting Multiculturalism in Our Homes and Schools: It Starts with a Story

Huffington Post (New York, NY) , July 18, 2012
By John McCormick


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, minorities represent almost one half of America’s population under the age of 5. This statistic portends a more ethnically diverse America, with new and growing populations playing more significant economic, social and political roles. Perhaps it’s no surprise that kindergarten and elementary school teachers today recognize the importance of teaching a curriculum that reflects this multicultural and multiracial world.

The trick is this: How do you instill respect for other cultures and traditions without singling out a particular group of students because of their race, religious affiliation or cultural heritage? And more importantly, how do you engage children and their parents in an open, honest and gentle dialogue about diversity, while avoiding any misguided approach that “force-feeds” diversity principles to them in a dogmatic fashion?

For me, the answers to these questions came from an unexpected source, an introduction courtesy of HuffPost Parents. After reading one of my recent posts on storytelling with kids, Carole Bloch, the director of a non-governmental organization in South Africa, The Project for the Study of Alternative Education, wrote to introduce me to their nationwide reading-for-enjoyment project called Nal’ibali.

Nal’ibali means “here’s the story” in the African language of isiXhosa.

Nal’ibali is aimed at getting South Africans — children and adults — passionate about telling and reading stories. Many South Africans undervalue African languages in written form, so an important part of the Nal’ibali initiative is to promote the increased use and appreciation of stories — both oral and written — in African languages as well as international languages such as English. Bloch said:

What’s lacking in our schools are alternative ways that parents can nurture their children and build meaningful relationships for and with them,” says Bloch. “Storytelling is a way for parents to connect in their home language with their kids and appreciate what a significant role they play in their children’s lives. Storytelling, which is so much a part of being human and is a proud African tradition, has been seriously neglected and undervalued in terms of schooling as a bridge to reading, writing and the development of cultural awareness.

First, fostering diversity begins at home.

Second, storytelling is an ideal way to promote a child’s appreciation of multicultural values. Tales from their own or other cultures never cease to instill in kids a feeling of awe and mystery.

Finally, the act of telling a story is a shared experience that people from all cultures and backgrounds can relate to.

Subjects Covered: diversity, education

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