How to Approach Cultural Diversity with Acceptance, Not Prejudice
Some differences are obvious, like speech patterns, the manner of dress, and etiquette. Others may seem obvious at first, but the subtle disparities become more apparent on further consideration. While these differences are less blatant, they can create tension between students and be the cause of teasing or even bigotry.
Be Aware of Sensitive Subjects
For example, the restaurants in the United States that feature foods from other countries demonstrate a common understanding of how the cuisine differs from one culture to another. However, students of particular cultures may be sensitive to certain issues regarding this seemingly innocent subject. Some foods are considered taboo in certain societies. Followers of Hinduism consider the cow a sacred animal. Treat the subject gently and explain that, in the United States, cows are raised either for beef or for milk.
Beyond religious beliefs, some vegetarians have moral and ethical concerns with the consumption of animals in general. Consider the feelings of these students by avoiding graphic discussions about the slaughtering of animals.
On the other hand, students from some countries may not relate to students from the United States who keep cats and dogs as pets, since these animals are considered types of food in their native lands. Explain that these animals become a part of the household and people in this country develop an attachment to them.
If a student mentions eating an exotic food, consider discussing the topic. Explain that in some parts of the world, creatures like cicadas, ants, scorpions, and starfish are considered delicacies. Depending on students’ ages, consider having them research the amount of grain it takes to feed an animal raised for meat. Point out that in countries where oats, rice, and corn are needed to feed people and meat is a luxury, insects are used as a source of protein.
From gourmet restaurants to everyday homes, people are exploring alternative protein sources, including insects and other animals. In the United States, the insects or animals are sometimes ground up to be more acceptable to the American palate. Explore restaurants that feature exotic foods on their menus to help students be more aware of how these foods can be prepared.
Set the Tone
It is normal for students to have difficulty understanding customs, beliefs, and preferences they are not familiar with. Particularly in elementary and middle school, students may react with unkind comments, laughter, or even disgust. Ultimately, it is up to the teacher to set a tone of respect and tolerance for diversity in the classroom.
Model for students how to be kind to an understanding of one another by welcoming them to share their experiences. Respond with sensitivity and curiosity. Students will learn by this example that it is okay to be different. As students come to appreciate the diversity of foods and sensitivities toward some of these foods, they will begin to appreciate their classmates from diverse backgrounds. And, perhaps, they will begin to appreciate all the diversity the world has to offer.