One of the hallmarks of modern parents like me — American, college educated, middle-class or better — is that we hope to raise our kids to be worldly. We want them to be open to unfamiliar cuisines and cultures. We want them to speak more than one language. We hope they’ll not only be able to find the U.S. on a map, but also be able to make a distinction between Sweden, Switzerland and Swaziland; refer to Asia as a continent and not a country; and not do a double-take when a white guy with a funny accent calls himself “African.” (Bonus points for the kids who don’t make references to “funny accents.”)
Some kids will come by a worldliness automatically — either by growing up overseas or having parents or close relatives who themselves grew up somewhere other than North America. The rest of us have to earn it. But how?
Over on Fathom Away, a really beautiful and interesting travel website, they think the solution is world travel. They have to, since they’re a travel website. And their piece “How to Raise World-Curious Kids” has some great pointers for hitting the tarmac with little ones. Thing is, the case for travel turning kids into more open-minded and worldly people is overstated if you ask me.
I don’t think kids need a passport to be worldly. And I don’t think a passport automatically confers worldliness on kids or anyone else. I know plenty of adults who consider themselves world travelers and, yet, can’t seem to translate where they went and what they saw into anything other than a detailed itinerary … with pictures! I think it’s the same for lots of kids who travel. They can say they went somewhere. But just going somewhere and eating funky noodles doesn’t make kids world-curious.
I think a curiosity about the world starts right at home, in books and music. A parent’s NPR addiction doesn’t hurt either, I’m realizing, as my 10-year-old is increasingly asking for more background on the day’s news. World-curiosity can also be triggered by a parents’ interest in the family’s hometown. Life in many, many cities can offer up its own detailed world geography lesson, but only if the parents are willing to make the short trek — or allow their kids to make the short trek — to other areas.
I live in a diverse city, one that is unsurprisingly divided into different ethnic neighborhoods. It’s all right here — different cultures’ places of worship, restaurants, markets, and clothing stores. Yet in an effort to expose children to different languages and cultures — and perhaps make them “world-curious” — many families who look like mine (white, middle-class, English-speaking) take off for Costa Rica so they can practice the Spanish their live-in nannies so patiently taught the kids. Meanwhile, regular half-mile drives to the west side for dinner could accomplish the same thing!
In other words, just because you can’t pick up and fly the family to Morocco doesn’t mean your kids are doomed to be small-minded rubes. The world is everywhere — even among the rubes. The most important thing we can do is not keep our kids from it.
My own kids are no strangers to travel, but I don’t credit our frequent plane rides and rare trips overseas for their ability to place themselves in the context of the world. Beyond Morning Edition, they also have to listen to their parents blab about the interconnectedness of the world economy — a necessary by-product of relying on the state of California for the bulk of the family’s income. Due to that income, they not only eat in restaurants on the culturally rich west side, they actually live and go to school in it.
I think traveling with kids is great and I only wish I could afford to do more of it. But if my kids don’t see the pyramids of Egypt or develop a taste for squid ink before their 16th birthday, I don’t think that will leave them any less poised to be worldly adults. Having been bored and clueless while their mom carries on with friends in a language they don’t understand? Making friends with kids who were born far away and keeping tabs on old friends who keeping moving to ever more distant countries? Trying to reproduce the mind-blowing vowel sounds made by their cousins from a mid-Atlantic city? That’s the stuff that cracks open young minds and leaves them soaking up everything around them.
World-curiosity begins at home. Don’t you think?
SOURCE: Madeline Holler