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November 21, 2008

Everyday Diversity

4 My son started kindergarten in 1989. This was halfway through his father's graduate school years in a small Northeastern city built around a prestigious research university, and it was early in the development of the concept of "political correctness." We lived in student-family housing, where many of our neighbors were from other countries and traditions; I used to call it "living in the U.N." You never knew what languages you might hear in the laundry room or at the school-bus stop. My son's public school was populated with the children of the university's international students and faculty; its T-shirts proudly invited the kids to "share a world of learning." We didn't put a lot of effort into teaching about diversity in those days - it was just part of everyday life for us.

A couple of years later, my son's dad finished grad school and we moved to a much less diverse locale, but our years in that college town had laid the foundations. My son always had friends of various national origins and ethnicities, and half the time I'm not sure he even thought much about it. They were just people he had things in common with and liked to hang around with. But I don't mean to imply he had blinders to any differences between himself and his friends - on the contrary, when one is growing up as a white male in the South, it's hard not to be aware that not everyone is part of that subgroup. He's just never seemed to see it as an issue or an obstacle. While I don't think his dad and I were especially PC about how we raised him, I think we all got a good life education during those grad-school years - even if we don't necessarily remember the details, we absorbed the concepts.

Living and working in greater Los Angeles is also a daily exercise in diversity, although I don't think my stepchildren have had any formal indoctrination into its concepts. My stepdaughter in particular has a color-blind circle of friends, and she seems to like it that way. As it happens, my stepkids themselves are fine examples of SoCal diversity. Their Irish/British first names, fair hair, and blue eyes are an unexpected mix with their Latino last name (their father, of half-Mexican descent, also has the blue eyes and light hair). But as it happens, they're really not all that unusual around here. There are so many cultures represented here, each staking a claim to space and attention, that teachable moments can come up at any time - again, without a lot of effort on our part. In a way, I'm still living in the U.N.

They are much younger than their stepbrother, and they're growing up two thousand miles west of where he did, but one big thing my stepkids have in common with my son as far as their exposure to diversity goes is public school. Granted, in both cases we are talking about suburban public schools, which are generally less challenged and better supported than their big-city counterparts, but they still serve a population that comes from a variety of ethnic, economic, and intellectual backgrounds, and they have to meet all their needs as best they can. The fact that their schools have been a pretty good reflection of the communities our kids will become part of when they're older is one very big reason I have never been enthusiastic about private schools for them (cost being another, but that's not the point of this discussion). Even if the schools don't make "diversity training" or "awareness" a deliberate focus, just being part of their mix every day is part of our kids' education in living in a diverse world - which is what they have to do anyway.

An original LA Moms Blog post

Florinda Lantos Pendley Vasquez blogs at The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness, which also covers some pretty diverse territory.

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