Cultural understanding—Not just tolerance

School Ways

With all of the racial turmoil that dominates our lives today, I continue to be both amazed and disappointed by how little we have seemingly learned over the ages and how intolerant we still are of other races and cultures.

I never would have believed that in 2017 we would have neo-Nazi and KKK demonstrations in our own backyard; have leaders who are not peacemakers; have hatred and bigotry surfacing throughout our communities.

So how is it that we have still not arrived at a place in our society where we embrace our fellow beings regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation? Where and how did we develop our own prejudices? We did not come to them naturally. I believe that all prejudice is taught or learned either directly or indirectly from our parents, our teachers, our political and religious leaders and our peers.

No child ever has reason to question the ethnicity or race of another child. They are truly “color” blind, curious maybe, but indifferent to skin color or country of origin—inquisitive but never prejudiced.

My own case in point. Growing up in Ireland, where we were 99 percent white and 95 percent Catholic, we were most assuredly “taught” prejudice: prejudice against Protestants—a bigotry that was beyond my comprehension and one that caused me a great deal of distress, particularly as my father was a Protestant—a secret we guarded lest we be shunned by friends (how naïve we were!).

I rarely saw a person of color during my young impressionable years unless he or she was a student at one of the prestigious universities in Dublin. Even then that person was referred to as a “foreigner.” It was only after I myself became an immigrant and I had now become the “foreigner” that the irony struck me.

Socio-economic prejudice was everywhere. Where someone lived was the first question I was asked if I wanted to visit a classmate’s home after school. Ironic—yet again—as we ourselves were just “plain ole’ middle class,” yet forbidden to play with those of the working class.

Despite the fact that children are more “wired” than ever before and have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, they often remain ignorant of the world around them. Facebook, with great possibilities for worldwide connections, often has more pictures of what people had for dinner or who’s at the party or club, than making truly meaningful connections with others. Is anyone really using their devices to expand their knowledge of the world?

In the Montessori environment, we introduce globes and maps to our students at a very early age. Dr. Montessori believed that a child could not find his place in the world unless he understood the world in which he lived. This continues today. True understanding comes from knowledge.

There are so many different ways to expose children to the world beyond their own experiences, thereby enhancing their understanding, appreciation and acceptance of others. You’ll be amazed that not only will your child’s world be enriched but so will yours!

  • Read age-appropriate books about other countries and cultures.
  • Discuss the homes, dress and customs of others.
  • Talk about what we have in common and how we might differ.
  • Talk about different religions and even attend a variety of religious services.
  • Try foods and cuisine from other countries and cultures.
  • Attend local cultural festivals and celebrations.

Most of all, take care of the messages you give to children—either subtle or overt—in your tone, your gestures, your comments, your actions—yes, they are watching, listening, absorbing and emulating.

Dorothy Knox is Head of School at Hampton Roads International Montessori School in Oyster Point Park. She can be reached at or at 757-873-8950.

About Dorothy Knox 5 Articles
Dorothy Knox is Head of School at Hampton Roads International Montessori School in Oyster Point Park. She can be reached via email at or at 873-8950.

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