Home Education

Going Beyond Commemorative Months: How to Really Teach Your Kids About Culture

If you’re not already familiar with the commemorative “American” months, they range anywhere from African American History Month in February to American Indian Heritage Month in November. In between that you’ll find both Jewish American and Asian Pacific Heritage commemoratives in May and Irish-American Heritage Month in March.

The Law Library of Congress will tell you that these months have been established as a way to celebrate the contributions that these people groups have made to American history, society, and culture. They even went as far as to say,

National African American History Month in February celebrates the contributions that African Americans have made to American history in their struggles for freedom and equality and deepens our understanding of our Nation’s history. 

I am thankful that they at least said this about the Natives,

National American Indian Heritage Month celebrates and recognizes the accomplishments of the peoples who were the original inhabitants, explorers and settlers of the United States.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had a problem with how people groups are portrayed in America. Every single nationality that migrated here (after its takeover from the Natives) has a deep, rich culture that goes way beyond the foundations of America. And this is what most children are not being taught.

A Lifetime of Learning

We could all spend our lifetimes learning about different ethnicities, and I mean really learning about them. However, most of us aren’t willing to do it. Instead, we will settle for reading a book or two, watching a movie or two, and maybe let our kids participate in a Geography Fair. I for one will say that this is not only hindering a child from learning truth about other people groups, but it also doesn’t do them justice.

Did you know that most people think of African Americans in terms of slavery and civil rights movements? Yep! Just ask my sister-friend Marciea. She taught an African History & Arts COOP class and she had questions rolling in asking why she wasn’t starting with the civil rights era. Marciea plainly, but powerfully said, “Our people did not start with slavery or civil rights. We actually came from a very rich culture of Kings & Queens and thriving communities.” If that doesn’t make you think twice about what you’ve been taught about any people group, I don’t know what will.

In efforts to help us all see how we can do a better job of really teaching our children about culture, I want to share five ways you can incorporate learning about other people groups into your everyday life.

Go Beyond the Commemorative Months

I understand that these months serve a purpose, but don’t hesitate to go beyond them. While most people are waiting for February to talk about black inventors who helped create many of the things we use today, you don’t have to. These can be topics of discussion any time of the year.

Try planning to study a different people group bi-weekly, or per month. Get out that fancy homeschool planner and start jotting down different countries. You can also get a calendar like this to help with ideas of where to start.

Go Beyond the Textbooks

It’s pretty safe to say that as time moves on, true history becomes more and more distorted, if not completely lost. The textbooks are formatted in a way to teach children from a specific perspective, rarely from the one whom they are attempting to teach about.

This is why I actually commend Jenny Phillips, owner of The Good & The Beautiful curriculum series for homeschoolers. She is on a mission to be more diverse in her curriculum resources and I believe she is setting the stage to which other curriculum-creating companies should follow.

Not saying that all textbooks are lacking, but I challenge you to go to your public library and check out a book dated before the 2000s, or even the 1950s for that matter. Then compare it to what is being written about cultures today. BIG DIFFERENCE. Case in point, go beyond the textbooks.

Go Beyond the American Perspective

Yes, there is a such thing as an “American perspective.” If you’ve spent any time as a student in the public and/or private institutions, then you were taught from the American perspective. We were taught from an absolute point of view. This is what that is, and that is what it means. Period.

Instead, we should incorporate the perspectives of those that we are teaching our children about. What was life really like for the Native? Not from the poor, genocidal point of view (not to discredit that). But, how was every day life in the community? How was life for the average African family before coming to America? Questions like these will send you (and your kiddos) on a deep history journey – one that isn’t always talked about.

Go Beyond Simply Learning About Other Cultures

Honestly, I have yet to make it to our local International Festival, and quite honestly, I’m not sure I really even want to go. Probably because I fear it will be just like our local POW WOW. When I was a child, it seemed so much more real, non-commercialized, and authentic. Now, any and everybody is claiming to be Indian and it’s taken a whole new turn.

When I visit an International Festival, I want authenticity. Give me how it really is from wherever you are from. From the food to the clothing… I want legit! (LOL) Needless to say, if you can’t be part of a legit festival or gathering, do it yourself. Thanks to Google, pretty much anything we want to know is at our fingertips. And just in case you want to go old-school with it, use your public library.

Find recipes you can cook, clothing you can try to make and wear, and even find out how they dance (that will make for a hilarious family memory). And if you really want to go out on a limb, take a trip and put feet on the ground in other countries.

Go Beyond What You Think You Know

I want to sum it up with this point because we’ve been taught a lot in school. That’s why the homeschooling journey is so bittersweet. We get to approach education from a different standpoint. Learning becomes embedded in our children and not some systematic “learn-for-the-test” type of motion. It becomes a journey.

So, if you’re like me and most other parents who were taught from the textbooks of public (or private) schools; taught by teachers who cared but could only teach from what they were given; and, raised by parents who could only instill what they knew – go beyond that. Start a deep historical journey with your children and truly learn about (and embrace) other cultures from their perspective.

CHIME IN: How do you incorporate learning about other people groups?

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