Learning From the World Cup

How many of us have spent at least a few hours the past 2 months watching the World Cup?  We may be cheering for our home country, watching the pure athleticism of the players, or bonding with new and old friends. Beyond the competition of the matches, there is something more for us to examine about these games.

If we look at the soccer players’ appearances, we will notice there are a significant amount of players that have similar features, though they are from different countries.  The players may be people of the African and Asian diaspora, Indigenous heritage, or European descent; however, if they were not wearing their country’s uniform, the players’ homeland may not be easily identifiable.  These games provide further evidence of the world’s growing heterogeneity.  When we translate this into our work as early childhood professionals and parents, we are reminded to be even more purposeful about getting to know the children in our lives instead of basing our conclusion about their culture solely on their appearance.

For me, this understanding of appearance vs. culture has been evident to me both in my personal experiences of attending international studies schools as a child and working with children of various cultural backgrounds as a professional.  One particular experience that comes to mind is a 1st grade student I was tutoring in an after school program.  If I had judged her based on her appearance, I would have assumed she was African American or possibly mixed with African American and European American ancestry.  However, I made a point to get to know her parents and discovered that the student’s mother was from the Dominican Republic and her dad was from Mexico.  If I have assumed she was African American, I would have missed an opportunity to learn about her family and their culture, along with compromising the potential to build a connection with the student and her family.  By being aware of her culture and developing a relationship with her parents, I became very conscious of the books I was choosing for her and found ways to integrate her family’s culture along with her individual interests into her tutoring sessions.  I even managed to learn some Spanish words to greet her parents.

Putting myself to be in the position of the learner created a space for open and meaningful conversations with the parents.  They felt comfortable talking to me about their family life and culture and asked me questions about my cultural heritage.  It’s important to remember as professionals and parents we are all learners and can learn from one another.  Building connections and community comes from creating a safe space where people can listen, share, and reflect.  When using this approach, technology and media can be used to enhance those connections and support diversity in educational settings and the home.  I also want to note that it’s very important not base an entire idea of a culture on one child, one family, and one educator.  While we each bring with us our cultural customs, we also bring our own individual character traits and values.

As the World Cup winds down and the Olympic Games begin to gain momentum, let us continue to observe the growing similarities and differences of people across the globe.  Perhaps these sporting events will compel us to inquire about different countries, customs, and language and realize the depth of diversity in this world that goes beyond appearance.

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