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The War on Prejudice Must Be Fought In The Classoroom

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Western education is overwhelmingly inward-looking, which distorts the perspectives of young people. In Mandarin class, I realized how pervasive Anglo-American dominance is.

Sweeping changes to public education are essential for  shaping a new generation of more tolerant global citizens.

Western education is overwhelmingly inward-looking, which distorts the perspectives of young people.

I still remember my surprise upon learning in a Mandarin class that world maps printed in China were laid out to feature China in the center, rather than to the east. This provided a simple illustration of how pervasive ethnocentrism is, and challenged me to acknowledge how such bias might impact other aspects of my education.

While studying the Catholic-Protestant Northern Irish conflict, my history teacher urged us to consider how our textbooks might be influenced by the author’s religion, sympathies, and political views. Equally we were told to consider how our books on the Cold War, all written by American or British scholars, might be biased. The skepticism these teachers fostered influences more than my academic reading. For example, I have a greater awareness of how bias may influence how current affairs are portrayed.

We live in the shadow of hatred-fueled tragedies like the Charleston church shooting and the Paris and Brussels attacks. Today’s children will be tackling such issues tomorrow. We must reform education now to ensure effective, tolerant, and compassionate leaders for the future.

 

Shaping a new generation of more tolerant global citizens

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The world get involved!
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Adjusting a curriculum is no light matter, but it may be essential to shape a new generation of more tolerant global citizens.

Dr James Bank has written extensively about reducing prejudice through multicultural education. He advocates following “five dimensions”, from simply ensuring minority figures are a larger part of the curriculum, to examining teaching methods or schools’ social and leadership structures to consider how various groups are represented and catered for.

My Mandarin and History teachers put Banks’ second dimension -unpicking underlying cultural frameworks and assumptions – into action for me.

In Mandarin class, I realized how pervasive Anglo-American dominance is. That realization forced me to address the obvious yet frequently ignored fact that the Far East is only geographically far east for people living in countries such as the US or the UK.

 

Reform of  public education

Changing curriculums is not the only means of adapting Western education to benefit a multicultural society. Positive intergroup contact reduces prejudice. This now widely accepted  fact, called the contact hypothesis, was first posited in Gordon Allport’s The Nature of Prejudice (1954).

An education system that celebrates diversity and provides opportunities to connect with people around the world will foster tolerance. Especially in Western society, we must expand young people’s perspectives and appreciation of others before we can pursue meaningful connections.

During a Young Enterprise competition for students from across Europe, I immediately connected with over 250 young people from 38 countries. We ate together, celebrated competition success, discussed mundane aspects of life in our respective countries, taught each other basic phrases in various languages. I came away with an impression of our underlying similarities, not differences. Creating friendships with those of different religions, nationalities, races, sexual orientations and so on is key to breaking down barriers and being able to label everyone first and foremost as a fellow human being.

A global outlook should underlie every stage of educational process. Encouraging students to relate what they learn to people and situations around the world can shift the perspective of future generations and foster a sense of global community and responsibility.

We live in the shadow of hatred-fueled tragedies like the Charleston church shooting and the Paris and Brussels attacks. Today’s children will be tackling such issues tomorrow. We must reform education now to ensure effective, tolerant, and compassionate leaders for the future.

 

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  • Excellent piece on the importance of diversity in education! As an educator, I can confirm at least from my anecdotal experience that a more diverse classroom fosters a broader learning experience for everyone involved.

About the author

Maddeline Hicks

Maddeline Hicks

Maddie Hicks is a freshman at Yale University. She moved to London from Chicago nine years ago, and has just finished studying A Levels. Maddie was part of Orenda, the UK's national-winning Young Enterprise company in 2015, and has since acted as a student board member and mentor for the charity. Maddie was a Yale Young Global Scholar in 2015 in the Politics, Law, and Economics session. She is passionate about global affairs and international relations, but has not yet decided on a major.