What do most Americans know about foreign lands, and what kinds of pictures of foreign countries are we teaching our children?
That is the subject of a conference on children, media and education I’m attending in Istanbul, Turkey.
It seems there is a kind of formula for what we teach our children, and what we ourselves know about other lands and cultures. We know a lot about foods, festivals and famous people, or if there is bad news, floods, famine and fires; coups and catastrophes.
Unfortunately, this kind of perspective can lead to stereotypes in how we see people from foreign lands.
Take a moment to think about what you know about, for example, Mexico. We know a lot about Cinco de Mayo, Santa Ana, and drug cartels, but not a whole lot about health care, economics or political activities. And because of this, what kinds of images do you have of Hispanic neighbors and co-workers, and how do you pass that on to your children?
Or look at China, Japan, Thailand and Korea. We know a lot about Oriental buffets, the Year of the Dragon and flooding along the Yangtze River. But what about child care, education or science? So again, the question is, “what kinds of images do we have of the world outside our immediate home towns?”And perhaps more importantly, is that image accurate.
Obviously, those of us in the news or education areas come at these issues from somewhat different perspectives. Children, and the adults who teach them, need to get information from a variety of sources. But it is adults who need to understand that there is more to learn about foreign countries than the aforementioned small slices of life.
As we’ve seen with concerns about television violence, drug-related music and explicit internet sites, there are no simple answers or controls. But as we’ve also seen, the answer to wrong communications is simply more, and more accurate information.