Homeschooling against bigotry
“ARE WE BREEDING BIGOTRY AT HOME?” so asked a journalist in a recent article. Are kids being conditioned to ‘look down’ on others with different beliefs? A concerned homeschooling parent responds.
THIS ARTICLE IS A GOOD REMINDER for parents to nurture an appreciation of diverse worldviews in their children. Particularly so in a multicultural place like Malaysia- where we share each other’s cultures e.g. food, language, games, movies and stories.
But, what is worrying is the glibness with which the writer points the accusing finger- at the home. No home exists in a vacuum. Children are in school for at least 6 hours a day. Does our school system promote integration? Forget about superficial activities, for example, donning traditional clothing, singing patriotic songs, and reciting pledges. The questions that beg to be asked are: Do our school children – from different ethnic and religious backgrounds- play together? Do school textbooks, teaching practices, teachers and the curriculum forge integration or force us further apart?
Homeschooling has been liberating for us, and for many of the families that we know. Because of a common dream for our children– to nurture compassion, kindness, wisdom and hope – homeschoolers from different religious and ethnic backgrounds pull up our sleeves and actually work hard together to form friendships and interactions. We are often found gallivanting about in parks, beaches, galleries – you name them! – together. Isn’t this what Malaysia should be about? People with shared hopes for the next generation, willing to seek common ground instead of quibbling over differences?
In the article, the teens’ comments sound like thoughtless wise-cracks typical of youths, so I wouldn’t take these too seriously. (How many of our children have made remarks about a certain smell, food, or habit belonging to another community, group, person, etc? We, too, fall easily into the myth of stereotyping another individual, or community). And young people usually have knee-jerk reactions . For example, “You INVADED my privacy!” – when a parent opens a wardrobe door. And bigotry is a hefty word to swing around, especially when referring to young teens whose views are still being shaped.
Also, what did the journalist-teacher hope to achieve by organizing such a trip? Did she prepare them for this new experience of visiting other houses of worship? She should have, especially when these places of worship are so different from theirs.
Did she explain to them the religious practices of each faith-community, thereby bridging the youths’ understanding of how others practice their faiths and how they practice theirs? Good teachers mediate and build understanding.
Without first doing that groundwork, the teacher would reinforce stereotypes and prejudices. She could have guided the youths’ reactions to reflect more deeply about the multicultural society from which they derive their identity, belonging and sense of selves.
Without these explanations, such field trips lose much meaning, and worse, become a poor replacement of real encounters with other faith-communities.
As a teacher, I deliberately choose texts- stories, poems, articles- that reflect the diversity of our world: our capacity for beauty, ugliness, truth, and brokenness. During lessons, the children sometimes react with odd questions, outlandish remarks, and yes, even red herrings about what’s for lunch. But, there have been gems as well.
For instance, we read a story, ‘The Jacket’ by Gary Soto, about a boy from a poor inner-city neighbourhood who blames the whole world for his misery and one day, is given an ugly jacket that is the colour of ‘guacamole’, which was the only thing his mother could afford. The children’s responses were colorful, to say the least.
“Such an ungrateful guy!”
“He deserves the jacket!”
As we continued reading the story aloud, the children’s responses grew fewer, and more muted. At the end of the story, they were silent. Then, these insightful comments came:
“So, he accepts his lot in life.Hmm..”
“I think he was quite brave after all.”
“ Poor thing.”
“I know how it feels.”
“What’s for lunch?”
(Okay, red herrings are omnipresent in my classes.)
I guess learning is a process. Learning to truly appreciate other cultures and faiths is an especially long process, but one that is worth the effort. It takes patient and grace-filled parents, teachers and adults to walk alongside children and to point them in a life-affirming direction.
As for the youths in this article, I’m not sure where they are in their journey of understanding other faiths. But, surely, the journalist could have been more gracious in her depiction of their reactions.
I also find it hard to believe that the responses of the teens were so skewered to one side. Were there positive and affirming responses by the teens at all? Why weren’t they mentioned?
And if the reactions to the houses of worship were as negative and ‘bigoted’ as stated by the article, could this be attributed to a lack of guidance and explanation on the part of the journalist-teacher prior to the field trip?
Also, the terms ‘Chinese’ and ‘Christian’ were used so often to pigeon-hole these youths and their families. Well, my family is Chinese and we are followers of Jesus. But, some of our beliefs differ from that of other Christians. And as for being Chinese, I don’t even know where to start because our ancestry’s so mixed up. Therefore, in labeling (that’s what the repetitive references seem like) this group of youths and their parents as ‘Chinese’ and ‘Christians’, and thereby ascribing some false sort of homogeneity to them, it seems like the journalist-teacher herself is making the error of stereotyping her students and parents.
SIEW HOONG educates her daughters in their PJ home and conducts creative writing classes for other homeschooling children