Ethnocentrism: Are Young Students the Next Victims?
Growing up, children are constantly being introduced to different forms of culture through language, music, routines, and behaviors. The child’s exposure to the media, television, and society are usually controlled and filtered by home and their primary caregivers. Therefore, at times, a young child’s stand point, the way at which they view society and it’s confines, is not one of their own, but instead, one they have been given1 .
Children cannot choose, when they are born into a family, what their race, ethnicity, social class, sex/gender, sexuality, or abilities will be. As the child ages, they may be subjected to adapting the concept of enculturation, in which they assume their way of life is the only way life could possibly be lived2. As stated in the book The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality (2009), “ often with enculturation…people view those who have other cultural standards or practices for behaving in a strange or unnatural manner3. This development of ignorance can cause a child to develop negative feelings and even actions towards people or groups of people simply because they are not the same as they are.
One hopes that children are being taught, from an early age on, how to embrace one another’s uniqueness and learn how to work together and to truly appreciate each person for who they are. Unfortunately, sometimes, this is not the way things work out. Instead, children are being inadvertently or purposefully taught ethnocentrism, “the practice of judging another culture using the standards of one’s own. Such judging is based on the assumption that one’s group is more important than or superior to other groups4. It is obvious that this can be detrimental to the development of a child. How are they to learn to work together and to appreciate the many wonderful opportunities that world has to offer, if they are being brought up to be intolerant?
It is a difficult and delicate task to gently guide children to develop their own sense of morals and views. A teacher’s, or any caring adult’s job should be to help teach the child skills, even at a very early age, of adapting what they are being told to believe (whether directly or indirectly) into a set of beliefs and morals that they can call their own. Hopefully, the guidance that the adults offer will invite the children/students to appreciate the people of the world and give the children/students the opportunity to gather their ideas and beliefs at their own pace. Adults may do this by introducing the child to different cultures through stories, games, movies, and even casual conversations that they have with the child. One of the most effective ways to bring a child into understanding the vast diversity of the world is to invite them to do a little exploring on their own!
When a child is given the opportunity to investigate and gather information on their own, their learning becomes real, relevant to their lives. For example, if a teacher gives students guiding questions and lets them figure out the answers on their own, the students are able to compile and create answers that are their own. This type of teaching is called partnering .5 Mark Prensky, author of, Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning, states in his book that real learning, “ involves students immediately using what they learn to do something and/or change something in the world. It is crucial that students be made aware that using what they learn to effect positive change in the world, big or small, is one of their important roles of school.” Teaching students that how they view the world can indeed change the world is a powerful message that even the youngest of students can say, “WOW!” too.
What will you do to help students move away from ethnocentrism and move towards understanding that they can change the world by appreciating everyone for their differences and working together?
- Ore, T. (2009) The Social Construction of Inequality: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education [↩]
- Ore 2009, ibid [↩]
- Ore 2009, ibid [↩]
- Ore 2009, ibid [↩]
- Prensky, M. (2010) Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning. Thousand Oaks: Corwin A SAGE Company [↩]
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