Given the ever-increasing diversity in our nation and schools, it is essential for parents to address their children’s cultural development. Although engendering cultural awareness and sensitivity in all children is important, gifted students tend to have an especially keen sense of justice. Hence they tend to be concerned about inequities, racism, and prejudice. Parents must provide their gifted children with experiences that encourage them to make a positive difference in society. At the same time, parents should caution their children that they can neither change the world at large nor solve every social problem.
Of course, parents should not take it for granted that a child who is gifted will possess cultural sensitivity and a sense of justice. Gifted children, no less than other children, need to be taught awareness of racial and cultural differences and inequalities.
Culturally responsive adults see diversity as an asset.
Can parents encourage their children to undertake a small local action to acquire the sense of contributing to a solution? Should parents explain to their children that they will not be able to change the world at large? How can parents ease their children’s distress over this fact? Here are a few recommendations:
- Give children opportunities to learn about their own cultural heritage. Such opportunities promote cultural pride and self-understanding and help children see themselves as cultural beings. Research your family tree, focusing particularly on your ancestors’ involvement in the struggle for human and civil rights and immigration.
- Invite friends from different cultural backgrounds to your home and to events in your community.
- Along with other families in the community, let your children see you welcome all new neighbors into the community.
- Start a neighborhood welcoming committee that sponsors ongoing social and cultural events.
- Encourage your children to develop cross-cultural friendships and to choose friends based on their integrity rather than on cultural background, socioeconomic status, language background, and the like.
- Plan family outings in diverse neighborhoods in and outside your community. Visit museums and attend celebrations and events that are culture-oriented.
- Be mindful of making stereotypical remarks about culturally diverse groups. Both negative stereotypes (e.g., all African American teenagers like rap music) and positive stereotypes (e.g., all Asian students are smart and diligent) can be harmful.
- Speak out against jokes and slurs that target groups. Your silence only sends your children the message that you agree with those jokes and slurs.
- Acknowledge social injustices. Do not minimize them. Talk with your children about racism, prejudice, discrimination, and poverty. Give your children credit for being able to handle such discussions. (Otherwise, when and where will young people develop their attitudes about diversity and social injustice?)
- Prevent your children from watching television shows and listening to songs that promote forms of social injustice (stereotypes, discrimination, etc.). If they do view such shows or listen to such music, teach them to evaluate their content critically.
- Visit historical cultural landmarks in your community.
- Talk about your cultural heroes from the past and present.
- Talk with your children about holidays and events celebrated by other cultural groups (Juneteenth, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo, Yom Kippur, etc.).
- Read and have your children read multicultural books and books that promote cross-cultural understanding. Ensure that the books are of high quality, authentic, and written by culturally diverse authors.
- Talk with your children about peace negotiations regarding racial, ethnic, and religious conflict in the United States and around the world.
- Invite students from exchange programs to live with your family.
- Encourage your children to focus on topics and issues concerning diversity and culturally diverse groups in their school assignments (e.g., famous Latino scientists). Request that their teachers and other school personnel provide them with a multicultural curriculum and other multicultural experiences.
There is no magic potion or recipe for ensuring that our children become culturally competent adults. However, parents can ill afford to ignore this area of their children’s development. The United States is more culturally diverse today than ever. One legacy to leave our children must be a thorough grounding in diversity. Imagine a society in which a majority of the citizenry is culturally responsible and culturally responsive.
—Donna Y. Ford, PhD
Donna Y. Ford is professor of gifted education at Ohio State University.
- How to Make the World a Better Place: 116 Ways You Can Make a Difference, by Jeffrey Hollender and Linda Catling, rev. ed., Norton, 1995
- “Preparing Children for a Diverse World,” Parenting for High Potential, September 1998, 22