Sunday, December 19, 2010

Adventures in Multicultural Living: The difference a cool voice of authority (like Santa) can make beyond Christmas -

Posted: Dec 19, 2010 at 6:12 AM

Last week, I went on a first grade field trip to Kensington Metropark. The naturalist assigned to our small group, Manfred Schmidt, took a few extra moments to learn to pronounce the beautiful names emblazoned on the children’s nametags (Indian names, Korean names, Chinese names, Greek names). He said by way of explanation that he was from Germany.

When he showed us the bat house, he told the children that bats look like flying mice and were called fledermaus in German. He also told them about an opera of the same name. My six-year-old son, Little Brother, actually remembered that song from the University of Michigan Halloween concert.

As our little group marched back towards the nature center at the end of our hike, the naturalist taught the children how to count in German, and the children taught him how to count in all of their languages, too. Eine, zwei, drei, vier. Yi, er, san, si.

Not only did the children have chickadees eating out of their hands, they also got an inadvertent lesson in language, culture, and music. Nothing heavy-handed, it was just small talk; but it was small talk that made those cultural differences okay. Never mind that mom and dad probably say all those same things every day, but the naturalist was a teacher and a person in authority.

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