Yesterday, there was a post in New York City Moms Blog that parents of young school age children might give thought to. This NYC mom was upset because her seven-year-old son’s homework assignment was to answer the question, “By looking at the pictures in the story, why might you think the illustrator is Japanese?”
This mom’s anger was directed towards the mention of a nationality rather than the mission of the teacher to likely help her child “think outside the box.” Parents sometimes get anxious when another race/culture/ religion is mentioned, particularly if they have not initiated that type of conversation with their child. In this case, the learning structure was not likely based on culture/race, but on helping the child see through another person’s eyes, a stranger’s eyes and, yes, the eyes of someone from a very different culture. On a different level, it very well may have also been to have the child think about race/culture/nationality. From an educator’s perspective, this type of assignment is to help eliminate stereotypes rather than trying to encourage them.
To look at illustrations and try to understand why someone from a particular culture might create a work of art in a different manner than ourselves can be a worthwhile exercise. It can aid your child in being able to see from someone else’s point of view. Someone from Japan will have a different viewpoint than someone raised in America, or France, or any other place. Just as someone from New York City will have a varying viewpoint from someone in Alaska or Alabama.
So, if your child gets an assignment that mentions culture/race/religion, or even another topic you have not discussed with them, think outside the box and try to see the reasoning from an educational point of view. You might want to understand why it is that you have not discussed that topic with your child and whether this is an opportunity to talk to him/her about that topic and have him/her ask questions. If the assignment itself is still not clear, or you would like guidance in initiating the conversation on the topic with your child, then speak with your child’s teacher.