Raising Culturally Aware Children; An Interview with Louise Gomer Bangel
As we grow in awareness of one another – whether two people beginning a romance or two disparate and far-removed strangers taking an interest in the other’s culture – a wonderful thing begins to happen: we begin to care for the other as if the other is part of us. This is the magic of life that our ancient teachers have bid us to see; the invisible filaments of interconnectedness that bind us together in love and appreciation.
– Scott A. Hunt
This week, it was my honor to interview Louise Gomer Bangel, an educator, world traveler, social activist and founder of the Center for Peace Education and the Greater Cincinnati Center for Social and Emotional Learning. Louise started her career teaching math and quickly became a leading activist and advocate on peace and social justice issues including the rights of women, minorities, the economically disadvantaged and exceptional children. She founded the Center for Peace Education in Cincinnati thirty years ago where I served as an Executive Director for a time under her respected board leadership. She has authored multiple curricula on social and emotional skill building with a particular expertise in teaching bias awareness and cultural and diversity appreciation.
As I look around at the school where I am sending my son, I am aware that there is some diversity but there are so many more cultures in our community and in the world that I want to learn about with him. Global awareness and the appreciation of differences is high on our list of parenting priorities. But where do we begin? I asked some questions of Louise to get us started in hopes that it might help you and your family too.
How do parents raise children with open minds and an awareness of social issues?
Talk about social issues with your children. Give them the opportunity to hear different viewpoints. Take them to events that offer the opportunity to learn more about different cultures. It’s helpful if both their schools and religious congregations do that too.
Participate in activities and create friendships with people not like you. It’s very important to do things as a family with other people in the community from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Help your children learn about other cultures and people who look different and do things differently than your family.
Develop friendships with African Americans, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, immigrants from other nations, and people who are gay, lesbian or differently abled. Make it a point to do things with these friends. If your children attend a school with a diverse population, encourage the development of friendships with children different from them. Hopefully, these friendships will arise and develop without any help from you but your support and encouragement is important.
Find businesses that are owned and operated by people different from ourselves and become their customers or clients. These can be restaurants, medical professionals, shops, etc. It’s especially important to support African American businesses because of the special challenge white Americans have feeling comfortable doing that. Entrenched housing segregation and other aspects of our society mean many white Americans have very little chance to have positive and natural interactions with people of color, especially black people. It takes some special effort to counteract that.
Subscribe to newspapers and magazines that give children an opportunity to learn about the lives and interests of people of color or others different from themselves. In Cincinnati, you can subscribe to ”The Cincinnati Herald”; wherever you are, it’s easy to subscribe to Ebony, American Legacy Magazine and other magazines that teach children about different ethnic or cultural groups.
Take your kids to Atlanta to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center) to expose them to its message of peace and justice as well as what people went through to improve civil rights for African Americans. Visit Montgomery, Alabama to see the Civil Rights Memorial and the Southern Poverty Law Center which seeks to bring justice to people wrongly accused or imprisoned or who have been attacked by hate groups. SPLC also works on improving prison conditions for teens as well as many other civil rights and justice issues.
In Cincinnati, visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center which teaches visitors about how important it is for each of us to be treated with respect and fairness. Besides telling the story of the Underground Railroad and the Civil Rights movement, The Freedom Center focuses on the effects of enslavement all over the world and how to help stop slavery. Seek out groups in your own community that are working to raise awareness and fair treatment for various targets of discrimination and misunderstanding. You and your family may want to take part in some of the activities of these groups.
Give your children the opportunity to learn at least one other language. Along with that will come awareness, knowledge and greater understanding about the groups speaking that language.
How do parents give their children a global perspective and help them not only become more locally aware but also aware of other cultures around the world? I know you travel extensively. If people do not have the resources or ability to travel, are there other ways parents might help their children become more globally aware?
If it is not realistic for your family to do much traveling, pick a country or area of the world to study as a family. Among other things, learn the important beliefs of these cultures, their life-cycle events, their dances and the games they play. Perhaps try some of the games yourselves and maybe with another family. Attend international festivals being held in your community or a festival celebrating just one particular group or culture. These usually occur spaced throughout the year.
Discuss world events with your family. Ask your children what they think about what is happening. Ask them if they have some ideas about what might help manage a conflict two or more countries are having or within a country.
Check out books from the library that offer stories, photos, art and information about other cultures, ethnic groups and nations around the world. Share information you discover through your own reading and other activities that will shed light on another country or the world as a whole.
Ask your children to share what they are learning in school about other countries and the way the world operates. Discuss environmental, economic and political concerns and how that may affect them. Talk about what might help resolve some of these concerns and if there are some actions you and your family could take that might make a positive difference.
Thank you, Louise for your excellent suggestions. Here are some websites, activities and picture books to support your family in taking next steps in learning about other cultures.
The World’s Harvests – photos of farmers harvesting their crops all over the world
Where Children Sleep – photos of bedrooms of children from around the world
Breaking Bread Everywhere, Plentifully or Pitifully – photos of typical meals around the world
Culture Crossing – “A community built guide to cross-cultural etiquette and understanding”
Read the story of the “Big Bad Wolf” from the wolf’s perspective and discuss with your children what they think of the different perspective. Talk about a time when they might see things differently than you, a peer or a teacher.1
Remember this picture? What do you see first? Can you see both the old and the young lady? View this with your children who likely have not seen it yet and help them understand that each individual sees with a different perspective.
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox – The below video is a simple recording of someone ready this lovely book.
All Kinds of Families by Mary Ann Hoberman
All Kinds of Children by Norma Simon
1. Educators’ for Social Responsibility. Originally developed by Uvaldo Palomares et. al., A Curriculum on Conflict Management. San Diego, CA: Human Development Training Institute adapted from Fearn, L. (1974). The Maligned Wolf. San Diego, CA: Education Improvement Associates.