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In today’s ever-changing culture and political climate, diversity is a topic on everyone’s mind and in just about every media outlet on any given day. Students are being exposed to diversity more and more, in both good ways and bad, due to recent happenings in the US that have been heavily publicized. As diversity becomes more prevalent across the nation, how do we, as a culture, prepare the next generation to embrace diversity and handle it in a socially responsible and mature way? While big conversations about diversity and differences amongst people should happen at home, the classroom is a great place to begin the conversation and to educate students on diversity. Initiating discussions about tolerance, awareness, and the importance of diversity within the safety of a classroom will provide many benefits for your students both now and in the future.
Promotes Student Growth & Reflection
This is probably the biggest benefit of discussing or experiencing diversity in the classroom. When students learn about other groups’ struggles, perspectives, and experiences, they tend to reflect on and respond to that information. They are likely to ask themselves several questions that encourage personal growth: Would I act that way in a similar situation? Have I looked down on someone because of their race, gender, or other uncontrollable factors? Do I believe certain racial or gender-based stereotypes that are limiting my influence or making me appear judgmental? When honest, open-ended discussions about diversity occur within the classroom, teachers can facilitate productive conversation and embrace teachable moments to help promote personal growth in each student.
Fosters a Sense of Empathy and Awareness
Simply being aware of an issue isn’t always enough to bring about empathy. But when that “issue” is connected to names and faces of fellow students, awareness turns to empathy and a true desire to understand a new point of view. Allowing students to hear about real struggles or negative experiences dealing with race or culture will help them to understand more about the challenge some people face with diversity, or a lack thereof. At the same time, in schools that are not particularly diverse, bringing awareness to the importance of diversity and allowing students to see another perspective will prompt them to realize there is a large world beyond their small classroom, and they will be able to empathize more with people who are different than them.
Brings About Open-Mindedness and New Perspectives
It’s easy to remain in a bubble of your own thoughts and opinions, especially when you’re a young student. But when diversity is not only present, but also discussed, it brings about a great deal of new perspectives that generally leads to more open-mindedness. When a person has a respectful conversation with another person who has a very different point of view, their eyes are often opened to new ideas and new thoughts. When students can face situations by thinking of varying perspectives on that situation, they will experience great personal development and a new way of approaching the world.
Supports Mindfulness and Tolerance
Children who grow up around those of other races, ethnicities, or cultures are usually very willing to embrace a new culture, a new mindset, or a new perspective. But for children who don’t experience diversity from a young age, they often have to learn how to be mindful and tolerant of others in diverse situations, as well as understand that not everyone is the same as them. Having a diverse classroom and having quality conversations about diversity can support mindfulness and tolerance in just about any student.
Allows Students to Feel Unique, Yet Part of a Group
This point applies especially when diversity within the classroom itself is explored, discussed, and celebrated. As teachers, we know that every student is unique and an individual. But students often feel grouped—they’re one of the smart kids, they’re on the football team, or they’re so-and-so’s sibling— and therefore not unique. Even with diversity, the same happens. Allow students to explore their individual diversity, from their country of ethnicity all the way down to their immediate family. It will show students that we are, in fact, all a part of large, meaningful groups, but we also have individual characteristics and experiences that make us all individual and unique.
Prepares Students for Diversity in the Workplace
Regardless of the diversity of a school or a town, students can rest assured that they will indeed come face to face with diversity in the workplace. Once employed, whether at a fast-food restaurant or a Fortune 500 company, students will have to interact with those from different backgrounds—both racially and culturally— on a daily basis. In the world of business, intolerance and ignorance are simply unacceptable, and each employee of every company is expected to behave appropriately and act maturely in all situations, including those where diversity is involved. Having conversations about diversity and exposing students to diversity at an early age will benefit them significantly when they enter the workplace, as they will already be tolerant, understanding, and open-minded about differences in people.
School Is About Preparing Kids for Life—Not Just the Next School
With state standards, test grades, and report cards constantly on a teacher’s mind, it can be easy to focus solely on preparing your students for the next grade or the next school. But good teachers know that teaching is more than just that—it’s about preparing students to become well-rounded and educated adults. We all want our students to grow up and to be successful. However, money and fame are not the only means of success when it comes to education. Parents and teachers alike constantly strive to mold and shape their kids into the best versions of themselves, prepared to take on the world with understanding, empathy, and love. Encouraging kids to talk about and embrace diversity from a young age fosters those characteristics, and allows students to be more successful in life, not just as a businessman or woman, but as a human being who is kind to others and respectful of people’s differences.
Diversity is an important element of any classroom alike. Even more significant is teaching students the importance of acknowledging and accepting these differences as they make each individual unique. Encourage students to open their mind and explore new possibilities, and have diversity and acceptance, whether racial, ethnic, or other, become integrated into students’ daily lives.