Listen to New York Public Library podcast programs with her on the way to and from school.
My twelve-year-old daughter is too young to read Beloved yet, but after listening to Toni Morrison’s reflection on the writing of it, she deeply gets why, for example, the success of a children’s book glossing over the horrors of slavery is dangerous for young readers.
According to a 2013 study appearing in Science magazine, reading literary fiction has a tendency to improve a reader’s empathy for other people in complex social situations. In my house, we set aside regular time to read together.
Participate in community events and use community services.
We go to literary events to hear moral and intellectual conversations. We’ve taken classes at a dance and drum studio. We’ve done the free community yoga program in our town. We don’t only do the things we would attend by private invitation. I get us into situations where we listen to other people’s points of view, try different people’s cultural activities if we are welcome, and work on our own skills alongside everybody else. We’ve been so lucky in the people who have taught us along the way.
We make regular use of our local parks, and we join our public pool and swim team. We use the public library, the light rail, and state and national parks. We care more about communal concerns when we share communal space together. It’s hard to see another person’s concerns as “other” when we live in the same neighborhood and compete on the same swim team all summer.
Choose media entertainments carefully.
Once when I taught fourth grade at a private religious school in rural Northern California, my all white students wanted to know why all black people were in gangs. Their sole experience with anyone outside of our tiny community was through television and movies that glorified stereotypes and violence. In high school a common refrain from some fellow students and even some teachers was “I’m not racist, but. . . .” before coming out with something outrageously prejudiced. Racial stereotypes in media feel so truthy to folks for whom the screen is the only window into someone else’s life experience. I’m careful about those messages with my kid. They are poison.
None of this is enough.