Thursday, September 6, 2012

School days begin...

My older daughter just started school - kindergarten. She's enjoying riding the bus, meeting new people, all the usual kindergarten things. I can't believe she's so big already... lolsob!

She was in preschool for the last few years, but her kindergarten is very different. Her preschool was pretty homogenous - some racial diversity, a few same-sex parents, but overall solidly middle- to upper-middle-class families. Most families had a parent (or two, even!) who was a professional of some sort (doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc.); many had a parent who didn't work outside the home. These were kids whose parents went to college, and who'd be going to college themselves. This isn't a fault of the school - we loved it. It just wasn't a very diverse community in that respect.

Her current school is completely different. Where the preschool was small (maybe 150 kids, prek-6th), her current school is large (almost 900 kids, k-8). More than 20% of the students are English language learners, who speak Spanish, Hmong, and Oromo in their homes. White students (like my daughter) make up less than 50% of the student body.

I am very happy that we're part of such a diverse school community. After all, if I wanted my kids to grow up with people who looked exactly like them, we'd move to the suburbs or something instead of living in the middle of a city. I myself grew up in a small town where "ethnic diversity" was Germans, Italians, Swedes, and Czechs, and I am glad that my children will have the exposure to diversity that I did not.

The only thing that I'm not looking forward to discussing is (you guessed it!) - religious expression. There's a fairly large number of Somali students at this school, who are mostly Muslim. The boys don't generally dress any differently, but the girls I've noticed tend to dress conservatively. Long sleeves, long skirts, and headscarves.

Although we've discussed religion before with our girls (in broad terms, when asked questions like "what's a church?"), religious expressions like Muslim headscarves haven't come up. I'm not sure how I'll explain it, if asked, given my own feelings on the subject, which are colored by the explanation I've heard from a former colleague who's Muslim: women dress modestly so that men will take them seriously, listening to their thoughts and words instead of being distracted by their bodies. My take on it is, why is it a woman's responsibility alone? Why isn't it a man's responsibility to control himself and behave professionally? Isn't this one tiny step away from victim-blaming for rapes and assaults?? And hey, don't women sometimes have the lusty thoughts too? Why aren't men covering up and dressing modestly too? Don't WE get to have sexual desires?!?

That's usually the point where I get all RELIGION POISONS EVERYTHING!!! and have to take a break! So in hopes of avoiding that with my daughter, I'm trying to think ahead a little bit, anticipate the conversation, and give some thought to how I might explain it honestly, without getting all Hitchensy on her. She's only five; it might be a little much for right now. :)

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