COLUMN: Curiosity key to acceptance

The following article by Taslim Jaffer appeared in the November 22, 2017 edition of the Peace Arch News. The original article can be viewed here.

COLUMN: Curiosity key to acceptance

So far, fear of others’ ideologies has gotten us nowhere

Last week, I spent a couple hours with David Dalley from the Surrey Interfaith Council, and a group of students taking the Early Childhood Education program.

During their practicum and upon graduation, these students – many of whom are also mothers – will be guiding preschoolers in phonics, imaginative play, music, fine motor skills and more.

They will also support these three- to five-year-olds as they learn to share and socialize with others their own age.

This is a critical developmental period on many levels, and it’s also an age of interest for those who work in social change.

David and I were there to facilitate a discussion on raising children to be accepting, empathetic and peace-loving citizens.

We came with our own opinions, experiences and field studies, and also with great excitement to hear what frontline workers had to say.

It was a hopeful night after a long and tumultuous year.

Nobody can argue that anyone with even an ounce of hope for a more loving planet has had to struggle to keep that flame alive. Coming together with other like-minded individuals who believe that it is still possible is one way to fan that flame.

What I came away with that evening was that there are still a lot of questions. One that stuck with me the most was, “how do we teach acceptance of other faiths without stepping on anyone else’s toes?”

While it’s the parents’ responsibility and prerogative to pass down the beliefs that they most resonate with, it falls under the educators’ mandate to keep the classroom a safe space for each child to feel fully understood and accepted.

For example, my daughter’s preschool went on a bowling field trip the other day with a hot dog lunch served there. Knowing my daughter doesn’t eat pork, her teachers ordered her a plate of nachos.

This created an educational opportunity for the rest of the students (if anyone had asked why she had a different meal) where the teachers could pass on the knowledge that most Muslims and Jews don’t eat pork.

Learning these things as facts (without judgment) as children goes a long way to creating adults who are also non-judgmental and accepting.

When children learn, they are like scientists. They are curious.

They question, they investigate and they take in data without the kind of judgment that comes with decades of seeing things only one way.

Celebrating that curiosity and rewarding it by providing information, keeps the love of learning alive.

It was brought up in the discussion that some parents might feel that their children were being bombarded with different ideologies than their own and would find it unacceptable to mention religious/faith topics.

My response to that was to look at the underlying emotion behind such a statement, and that emotion is fear.

Fear that their child would be exposed to something different, fear that their child would realize there are differences among people, fear that their child might be brainwashed into other ways of thinking, and so on.

So far, fear has gotten us nowhere. Turning a blind eye has gotten us nowhere.

While we may not have all the answers, we have to remain open to many possibilities.

We have to be… like preschoolers. Be curious, investigate, ask questions, be open to the idea that there is more than one way to look at something. To be sure of who we are and to be happy to play with others just as they are.

We have such a long way to go – and it bears repeating that this past year has been heavy on anyone working toward change.

But spend some time with preschoolers and those who interact with them regularly, and your hope may be rekindled.

Taslim Jaffer writes monthly on multicultural connections

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