Last week I posted the first article in a three-part series. This post continues the discussion about teaching our children to look beyond their immediate interests and concerns to care about people from other places and cultures. (If you missed it, check out Raising Globally Conscious Children, Part 1. This article provides the background Part 2.)
Depending on your worldview/political leaning/background, this post may be the most controversial of the entire series. (It’s not meant to be.) Nevertheless, I encourage you to read and consider each suggestion. As always, I welcome your (respectful) comments in response!
Review/Preview: 15 Ways of Raising Globally Conscious Children
- Travel with your children
- Talk about your travels
- Explore International Cuisine
- Learn (or review) another language together
- Read about people in (or from) other countries
- Listen to world news, not just US-based news
- Know and refer accurately to geography
- Know and refer accurately to people groups
- Teach an accurate view of our own history
- Watch your attitudes, watch your words
- Seek out friends from other countries
- Get involved helping immigrants
- Invest in a foreign ministry run by nationals
- Pray for other countries
- Celebrate God’s view of the world
And now for Part 2…
6. Listen to World News, Not Just US-Based News
Some families feed solely on “liberal” news, and others eschew anything except “conservative” news. (I don’t like to be defined by either limiting term.) Either way, both sources predominantly report on events and politics affecting Americans. Only certain world events (usually those that directly affect the United States) makes it to our news.
Whatever our political leaning, it is easy to remain self-focused and believe that the only important issues are those affecting us. It is easy to forget everyone else on the planet when we only watch and listen to news about ourselves.
A well-known source of world news is BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation. While it does report on British and American news, it also reports on world news from other countries. Perhaps equally important to reading or watching world news is simply paying attention to how others view us and comparing that to how we view ourselves. It can be a humbling experience.
I remember the first time my husband introduced me to the streaming news and documentaries available on Al Jazeera. Issues being reported from other countries were water shortages, electricity outages, protests over political corruption, etc. Real people experiencing real problems, the whole world over!
The world is full of many more needs than our own. Watching world news reminds me that people in any culture care about basic human concerns.
7. Know and Refer Accurately to Geography
Our words reveal either our understanding or our ignorance. Our words can show respect or give offense. Part of training our children to look with interest, respect, and compassion on the world outside our own country lies in the words we use.
Have we taken the time to know our geography? Political lines and country names have changed even since I was a child. (I remember a missionary kid visiting our church gave me a coin from the newly non-existent Czechoslovakia.)
Does our language show the same consideration for accuracy regarding places (and therefore people) in other parts of the world as much as we automatically show ourselves?
Specific vs. General
What I mean is this: We usually speak of our travels (or of events in other places) by the name of the country (or city): “I went to Mexico,” or Japan, or London. “I heard the news about Beirut,” or Iran, or Syria. But rarely is the same attention to proper names afforded the nations on the continent of Africa. “I’m going to Africa.” “My friend is from Africa.” “Giraffes live in Africa.” These statements may be innocuous and true, and even appropriate if we MEAN to speak in generalities. But if we are not speaking about the entire continent (like “I’m going backpacking in Europe”), what does the lack of reference to a specific country or city suggest to listeners? Maybe all of the continent of Africa seems the same to us (who are from somewhere else), so why bother to differentiate Kenya from Sudan from Nigeria?
Maybe because how we view the places of the world reflects how we view the people who live there. And because we would like for others to take the time to know our geography.
An Example Closer to Home
When I married my husband and moved to West Virginia, I quickly learned the ignorance West Virginians deal with from fellow Americans. The conversations go something like this:
“Where do you live?”
“We live in West Virginia.”
“Oh, I have a friend who lives in Virginia.”
Like West Virginia’s not even a state.
In these cases, though unintended, people’s ignorance of geography feels a tad bit like disrespect. So let’s model for our children (and others) the knowledgable use of place names…and of respect.
8. Know and Refer Accurately to People Groups
Similar to the reasons for knowing our geography, we should also take care with the proper nouns we use to designate people groups. Names have meaning and names have power.
In my years of teaching, students HATED my frequent, absent-minded switching of names. I knew the student I was addressing, but the wrong name came out of my mouth anyway. As much as I sincerely meant no harm and profusely apologized EVERY TIME, I think more than one student held it against me. They felt disliked.
How is it any different with the names we use to designate collective groups of people—people from one nation or country? (By the way, there is a difference, as I’ll explain later.) Cavalierly using the wrong names to refer to people (or things associated with them) show either an ignorance, a disinterest in learning, an arrogance, or a disrespect. Let’s not be guilty of that.
A Middle School Disconnect
When I taught English as a Second Language to middle school aged children of immigrants in a small town/rural school, I was shocked at the disconnect I observed. Most of my students were from Hispanic backgrounds—their families had come from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Honduras, and Guatemala.
Sometimes they complained about the prejudices of other students. Ironically, though we had no Asian students in our class (or maybe even our school,) I picked up on some anti-Asian sentiments from my Hispanic students. For reasons I could not identify, they made fun of Asians (“Chinese” they called them all) for smelling like noodles.
One day our reading passage was about Japan. Finally, maybe I would have some teachable moments. Instead, my students’ prejudice was immediately obvious as they loudly objected to having to read about “the Chinese.” They read the passage reluctantly. I explained how each country in Asia is separate and has its own name, and likewise the people are not all the same culturally or linguistically. I tried to convince my students that not all Asians are Chinese. There are also Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese people, among others. But my stubborn students would have none of it.
Finally I stopped the lesson and asked my class if I could call them all “Mexicans.” Sharp breaths were sucked in, forceful objections thrown back at me. They were offended, appalled that I would dare suggest calling a Puerto Rican a “Mexican.”
I hope that a tiny seed of understanding and humility was planted that day.
I could fault my students for their stubbornness, but I also know that language habits die hard.
I was young when it became politically correct to start calling the tribes in our history books “Native Americans” instead of “Indians.” I may have resisted that change at the time, but 25 years later, when I still hear that term applied, I wonder if the speaker knows those people weren’t actually from India.
I am currently reading through the Little House on the Prairie series with my 6-year old. As a child, I didn’t notice how much of the book dealt with the Ingalls’ family’s interactions with and opinions of the “Indians.” Now, as an adult, I’m shocked at their attitudes. Yet I am also finding that reading these books presents good opportunities to talk about the words we use and how we treat people.
First, I explained to my daughter why the family’s use of the term “Indian” was mistaken. Then I searched and discovered that the tribe in the area of Kansas where the Ingalls family settled was most likely the Osage tribe. So, wherever I could, in place of “Indian” I read “Native” or “Osage man” etc.
“Native American” may be more accurate than “Indian.” But just like not all Asians are Chinese, North America was populated by many diverse tribes. Why not, if possible, use their proper names instead of lumping them all into one?
A Note About Country vs. Nation
Political boundaries and ethnic boundaries are not always parallel. “Country” and “nation” are not synonymous, as we Americans tend to think. I thank my history professor in college, who was from Lithuania, for explaining how the rest of the world views these terms. “Country” refers to political boundaries. “Nation” refers to a people group having a common heritage, culture, religion, language, etc. There may be multiple nations in one country, or a nation spread throughout multiple countries. The leaders of a country hold the governing power; a nation may have no power in the country in which its people reside.
Russia is not simply populated by Russians. Russia is populated by Russians and Poles and Germans and Tatars and Georgians and Kazakhs and Uighers and many other people who have ended up in the country of Russia, but whose bloodlines are from somewhere else.
Resources for Learning
The Joshua Project has an amazing catalogue of people groups searchable by country, region, language, religion, etc. It focuses on people groups who have not yet been reached with the Gospel, and also has some children’s resources. I am amazed at the data collected here—there are so many people groups I have never heard of in my life!
9. Teach an Accurate View of Our History
Sometimes to clearly see and understand others, we need to take an honest look at ourselves. To respect others, sometimes we have to humble ourselves and recognize our own failings.
All our lives, Americans have been reared with the patriotic pride of being the “best” and “greatest nation in the world.” The COVID-19 pandemic has brought our country to its knees. We were not prepared, we did not have enough protective supplies, we were not able to stop the spread of the virus. Boastful attitudes hinder close relationships with those from outside, and prevent us from learning valuable lessons from other peoples and cultures.
This summer, American news has been saturated with the demolition of statues and the condemnation of our country’s founders. This is not the history revision I am advocating. But we do need to carefully evaluate: Does the history we learned (and are teaching to our children) tell the whole story? For all parties involved?
When I was young, Christopher Columbus was lauded as the discoverer of the New World and missionary to the Americas. I didn’t learn until much later of the atrocities he committed and the diseases introduced to people groups. George Washington was praised as our strong, honest leader who fought the Revolutionary War and became our first president. Books failed to mention how many slaves he owned. I’m sure you can think of many more examples of figures who were venerated for their virtues but whose flaws were brushed aside.
Growing up, books about early settlers filled my imagination with stories of adventure and courage. I felt the strength of our country reading about the blood, sweat and tears poured into exploring, traveling, building, and planting new land (such as in Little House on the Prairie).
Reading this book as an adult opened my eyes to the reality of this westward expansion. The settlers, while strong and courageous, were also displacing the native tribes and stealing their land. Just because the government opened the land for settlement and pushed the native peoples west didn’t make it right.
Sparking Conversations with Our Children
Again, Little House on the Prairie provided many opportunities to talk with our daughter about history.
Reading this book, we certainly felt the consternation of the Ingalls family as they were suddenly forced to pack up and leave the house, stable, and well they had spent a year working hard to build, and the fields they had just finished planting. It didn’t feel fair.
But the same thing had been happening to the Osage and other native tribes of North America, over and over again.
I asked my daughter, “How would you feel if we were living in this house for years, working hard in our yard and garden to make them nice, and then another group of people from far away suddenly came with guns and pushed us out, saying, ‘Get out. This is ours now. You can’t live here anymore.’ How would you feel?”
She instantly launched into a passionate tirade against the imaginary people chasing us from our rightful belongings.
“This is what the government and white settlers were doing to the Native Americans. Does that seem fair?”
The silence of realization settled for a moment. Then she shook her head with an appalled “No.”
These are the kinds of conversations you can have with your children as you read books together or discuss history lessons learned in school.
Some may disagree with me, but this is my opinion: We don’t need to trash historical figures, completely vilifying them and removing them from our cultural awareness. But we do need to recognize the flawed humanity in each one, celebrating their achievements and good character qualities, while also admitting and mourning their flaws, mistakes, and sins. (Wouldn’t we desire the same mercy when standing before God or having all our private lives and thoughts laid bare before a jury?)
We should no longer gloss over the sins of our forefathers. At the same time, neither should we highlight their flaws and ignore their good. We need to tell the truth, the whole truth, as much as we know.
10. Watch Your Attitudes, Watch Your Words
Most of us probably have good intentions about respecting other people and cultures. But sometimes our words belie our intentions. This is especially true in children’s perceptions of our words.
When the coronavirus pandemic first came to the attention of the world, some people’s fear turned immediately to blame and then hatred. Because of the news, my local Chinese friend was concerned about maltreatment by Americans angry at China for starting the coronavirus. I was appalled to find more news stories –and anecdotes from friends around the country—about Asian people being targeted with insults and violence. (Some of the targets were not even Chinese! I guess that shows people’s ignorance.) What was sparked from factual words (the coronavirus came from China) turned, in people’s panicking minds, into something insidious around the world.
These are the kinds of mistaken attitudes children pick up on so easily.
Three Careless Words
It is easy to say something not really meaning it, and have children pick up and take it a mile further. (Children have a knack for applying the words we say and concepts we teach them far more extremely than we would ever have dreamed.)
Recently my husband became exasperated at some “stupid Chinese junk” he had purchased that turned out to be poor quality. Our daughter—who cares about her Chinese friend, who understands that the coronavirus came from China but Chinese people are not bad—picked up on that phrase she heard. She started saying derogatory things about China, things my husband and I would never condone. It took some extra re-teaching to reshape her attitude about China. All this, sparked by 3 careless words.
Part 2 Wrap-Up
The topics discussed in this article are heavier than last week’s, but well worth considering. Next week, the third and final part of this series will end this discussion with some actionable, relational steps for leading our families in caring about other people in the world.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you address these topics with your children. Feel free to share additional resources in the comments section! And if you have found this content valuable, share it with others using the links below!