Early Childhood Education: When Cultural Differences Come Into Conflict

As the world gets smaller, it gets easier for us to connect with people everywhere.  People who are different.  And the differences come into conflict.  This is where it gets interesting. And sometimes, messy.

How do we respectfully interact with individuals of different language and culture while at the same time retaining our unique individuality, language and culture? At times, this whole idea can seem elusive.

Let me share my story.

First… a little background. I recently read this on a friend’s Facebook page. The post goes something like this:

There is a Swiss school located in Switzerland (naturally) where the custom is for each student to shake the teacher’s hand at the beginning of the school day.  This handshake demonstrates respect for the teacher.  A Muslim family enrols their two boys at this school.  Upon finding out about the daily handshake, the Muslim family shares their religious belief that the boys are not to have any physical contact with females other than family members.  The school agrees that the boys can skip the handshake and yet, when members of the community hear about this, they become upset. These feelings leads to conflict. The situation escalates.

(As a side note, this religious belief is also shared by Buddhist, Hindu and Jewish faiths.)

This story got me thinking.

Okay.  Now time for my story.  A true story.  A few years back, there was little me, a simple preschool teacher with a love for music and big dreams of facilitating a great year of music and dancing with her incoming preschool class.IMG_2135

In walks a Muslim family.  And when the subject of music comes up and I proudly describe our program, I am told that this child is not permitted to go into our “music room”.  She is also not permitted to dance or listen to any type of music live or recorded.  It is difficult for me to hear this message.  I like to play the guitar for the children and the piano sometimes too.  I have plans swirling in my brain for some fun with music this year.  As I’m listening and trying to understand this different culture, I see all my musical plans vanishing before my eyes.  Honestly, I feel a little frustrated.  Why is this family attending a school where music is valued?  Why not choose a different preschool? I refer the family to my director as I don’t want to say the wrong thing; I wonder if my director will tell the family to find another preschool as music is important to her as well.  But she doesn’t.  She tells me I will have to work around this.

AGH!  How am I going to do that, I wonder?  

I talk with the father some more.  He speaks English well.  He explains that his daughter is allowed to dance only it must be during a religious ceremony or event.  She can sing at preschool but she cannot dance at preschool.  He also tells us he is willing to bring her home during our music sessions if there is no other option.  I begin to understand.  Still, I do not want to sacrifice many memorable musical experiences for the rest of my preschool class just for one child.  My beliefs in the power of music are strong. There must be an answer.

In the end, we split the group.  We take group 1 for ‘music time’ while group 2 has ‘play time’.  Then we swap groups except for the child in question who gets double the play time.

For me this is a win-win situation!

And there were other victories… I learned how to respect and understand the culture of another family while still maintaining and holding to my own values.  And as a side benefit, I discovered first hand that music in a small group can be a more positive learning experience for young children.

(Perhaps I knew this already but the small group idea was reconfirmed.)

And then a few years later, I had the opportunity to relate this story to a person who might ordinarily have been more judgemental and less accepting of such a situation.  And that was satisfying.  Very satisfying.

Thank you for reading.



4 thoughts on “Early Childhood Education: When Cultural Differences Come Into Conflict

  1. This was nice how you worked around the problem of religious and cultural differences. It reminds me of being a Christian child and my parents not wanting me to take sexual education at my public middle school. It was no huge fight or dramatic issue. My folks and the teacher agreed that I would work on a project during that time period and it all worked out.

    Good post! Thanks for sharing!

    I also like your story because I was an Anthropology major in college. I like seeing people work through differences as best as they can.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really didn’t see a solution at first. I was ready to politely suggest the parent look for another program but I felt so much better about this solution.


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