Learning about cultures with kids.

“A first grader should understand that his culture isn’t a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than on truth; that there are lots of alternatives to our own society.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

Oh Alabama, why this novel disgrace? Now, activists, missionaries, and those who work to make life better for Alabama’s poorest families must make sure that they never give a ride (or drive a bus) that takes an “illegal immigrant” to the pediatrician for their children’s vaccines. What about public transportation? Will bus drivers or metro train drivers be held responsible if an “illegal immigrant” uses public transportation? What warms your social and your faith about xenophobia made law?

One of the reasons we learn at home, rather than school, is because American education tends to glorify and sanctify a particular type of culture as the best, the brightest, and the most successful. Certainly we benefit from an extraordinary amount of material wealth in comparison with other cultures- our materialistic culture reflects this. But there are many ways to eat an Oreo. And the way we think is best usually happens to correspond with the way we eat an Oreo.

Though we prefer to think differently, cultures do not serve as repositories of goodness, kindness, virtue, or moral values. Instead, they serve as foundation for rituals, social conventions, taboos, festivities, and specific social hierarchies with their corresponding roles. Learning about cultures with kids requires us to keep an open mind and try to understand why certain cultures have found certain practices to be useful.

For example, watching everyone stand up and put their hand on their heart while asserting the Pledge of Allegiance to a symbolic flag on a football field strikes some international visitors as spooky. Imagine if you were not accustomed to this social practice, if you had not been socialized and acculturated to percieve it as a valuable component of group life… How would the pledge appear to you? Might you think that these people were engaging in a pagan ritual of honor to a sanctified piece of fabric? When you watched how Boy Scouts carefully caressed and folded this same flag, how this flag hung near doors like a mezuzah, would you not begin to wonder (just a little) what sort of ideology convinced people to treat this particular piece of fabric with more reverence than baptism?

What if, by some crazy fluke, our culture is not as sacred as we pretend in the grand scheme of things? Shouldn’t we raise our children in a way that allows them to appreciate the diversity (there, I said it) of other cultures and cultural practices? What if we are supposed to love not just our enemies but also those who speak a different language and don’t watch American Idol?

Some good places to start:

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