Working Definitions: Explaining it to Our Students

How can we, as teachers, explain diversity to even the youngest students?

Walt Disney Pictures                                                                                                      Wikimedia Commons

I am a HUGE Disney fan. I will watch every Disney movie at least once, even the most unpopular and unknown. One of my new favorites is Finding Dory. This is partly because there is FINALLY a Disney character that shares my name, Bailey the Beluga whale. Every Disney movie comes with underlying messages and life lessons that teach the viewers to be kind and respectful. This is important for every audience member, regardless of their identity. Finding Dory is no different. Ellen DeGeneres, the voice of Dory, perfectly sums up the movie and the lesson Disney is trying to teach.

“…the other animals help Dory—animals that don’t even need her, animals that don’t even have anything in common with her. They help her even though they’re complete different colors, because that’s what you do when you see someone in need—you help them”. – Ellen DeGeneres

(Please note: this quote came from DeGeneres as she talked about a political topic. This blog post is not about the topic DeGeneres is talking about, I only found the quote fitting to describe the movie.)

This quote helped me form my working definition of the term diverse cultures. It is important for us to define diversity and diverse cultures so we can credibly and academically teach it to students.

To me, diverse cultures are people, individual people, who are different but still come together to form a unique group. These differences can be language, skin color, gender, politics, likes, dislikes, anything at all. However, the thing that makes diverse cultures so important, similar to the one in Finding Dory, is that everyone comes together, sees past the differences, and accepts others for who they are. Being with people who are different brings out the best in everyone. It allows us to become better-rounded people who are willing to see things from different perspectives. Don’t we want this environment for our students?

Aristotle says, “whatever creates or increases happiness or some part of happiness, we ought to do; whatever destroys or hampers happiness, or gives rise to its opposite, we ought not to do”. Diverse cultures allow us to grow as individuals and become better versions of ourselves, and become better teachers. Happiness is learning from others. Happiness is being comfortable with other’s differences because you are comfortable with yourself.

Looking back at the quote, Aristotle says, “…whatever destroys or hampers happiness, or gives rise to its opposite, we ought not to do.” This is power. Power destroys diverse cultures. Power pits people against each other. Power makes people feel the need to be better than others. Power breaks the happiness of growing together and forces people to grow apart. Power creates a single story. Power forces stereotypes.

“the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but they are incomplete.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Stereotypes do not show a whole person. They only show the parts that are different from those that hold the power. Everyone can be stereotyped in some way. Stereotypes tear us apart.

“Studies indicate that by preschool age, young children reveal stereotypes and negative behaviors towards those they perceive as different. These learned attitudes are fostered by the views of parents, caregivers, educators, and peers and by the social messages that reading materials convey about a particular culture.”                    – Jamie Campbell Naidoo, The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children

A person’s identity can easily be determined by a stereotype and by their differences, even before they believe themselves to be different. However, diverse cultures thrive on differences. They help erase stereotypes. It is like the group in Finding Dory. Bailey the Beluga whale uses echolocation, Hank the septopus uses camouflage, and the otters use cuteness. The group is different in so many ways, but they find comfort in their differences and use them to help each other. This is what happens when people begin to look for the positives in our differences. Diverse cultures are not negative, but positive. Diverse cultures present opportunities to grow. Diverse cultures present opportunities to come together.

“Friends and friendship: for a friend is desirable in himself and also productive of many other good things.” – Aristotle


One thought on “Working Definitions: Explaining it to Our Students

  1. I’m impressed with the way you used “Finding Dory” both as an example of the concept of diversity and a way of bringing up Ellen DeGeneres’ comments on the recent White House showing of that film and her disagreement with the administrations dialogue about diversity.

    Great writing strategy!


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