What is the role of parents in helping students understand diversity in order to live meaningful lives?

There is no question that U.S. society is becoming increasingly diverse. This diversity spans race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, geography, educational background, ability (cognitive, social, physical), religion, and language.

Schools across the country are not exempt from diversity; they are also increasingly diverse.

When one thinks about diversity, he or she might begin by looking inward rather than outside of the self. Each of us brings layers of diversity to particular social contexts, and acknowledging this diversity can be an important precursor to living and learning with others in a school community and beyond.

In this article, I provide what can be considered some strategies or suggestions for parents to help their children more deeply understand human diversity. A central theme of the article is captured in the title: What’s a Parent to Do? 

Perhaps more than a set of strategies or suggestions is the importance of parents having the mindset to lead their children in ways that are welcoming and supportive of all people in a school community. In some instances throughout this article, I have intentionally shared personal stories to help elucidate the points made.

I have included these narratives to (1) suggest that I am consistently and persistently learning about myself and others; (2) emphasize the richness and possibility embedded in personal experiences; and (3) invite others to think about their own stories related to diversity and how those narratives have shaped who they are and what they believe thus far about themselves and others. 

Four Suggestions on What Parents Can Do To Help Their Kids Understand Diversity

Broaden Social Network Comfort Zones 
An important step to deepen understanding about diversity is to socialize with people whom you may not normally (or naturally) associate. The idea that we learn best from those who challenge our own ways of thinking and being in the world is relevant when thinking about diversity. The point is that broadening social networks can be important to the ways in which we better understand ourselves and others. Invite new friends over to dinner parties or simply set up opportunities for coffee with other parents in your child’s classroom.

Engage in Real Conversations About Diversity…   continue reading

H. Richard Milner IV is associate professor of education in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of Start Where You Are, But Don’t Stay There: Understanding Diversity, Opportunity Gaps, and Teaching in Today’s Classrooms(2010).

He speaks to teachers, students, administrators, and parents across the country, and can be reached at rich.milner@vanderbilt.edu.