A Brief Introduction
Global Passport includes an ever-growing network of concerned caregivers working to weed out prejudice, bullying, and the labeling of others from children’s hearts, minds and lives, before those seeds can grow. We seek to accomplish this task through cultural exchange, a celebration of diversity, and the building of friendship.
A Brief History
I have taught kids of all ages, including the occasional kid in adult’s clothing, for over twenty-five years, and during that time, I’ve been struggling to understand and to find solutions to a continuing problem. The problem? As kids grow up, they begin to enter my classroom chalk full of preconceived notions—prejudices, stereotypes, behavioral patterns, and rapidly closing minds. These preconceived notions often lead to bullying, low self-esteem, uncertainty, fear, and a tendency for kids to “fall in with a bad crowd.”
So where does this problem originate, and what causes it to fester?
We don’t enter the world filled with prejudice. We all enter the world as innocent children; a blank slate free of preconceived notions. Our biggest desires are food, warmth, and love. We make no judgments other than “I like this, but I don’t like that.” When we don’t like something, we cry. When we do like something, we smile our contentment. Moreover, the one thing that we’re all born liking is comfort. Our natural desire for comfort helps to keep us safe, but it also comes at a price. That price? We learn to avoid situations that make us uncomfortable.
“Reading is hard” becomes “I don’t like books.”
“That person looks different, sounds different, smells different, prays different, dresses different, or acts different” becomes “I don’t like them. I don’t trust them. They’re too different. They’re just weird.”
People are not naturally comfortable around situations or people with which they are unfamiliar. This human tendency often leads to division and animosity. For example, I help administer a non-profit after school program that focuses on low-income kids. Many of the kids come from English as Second Language homes. All of them are raised to follow different cultural norms. My Micronesian kids come from a culture where everything is shared, the extended family is center, older kids help raise younger kids, and to be honest, higher education is not stressed. My Chinese kids come from a culture where higher education is expected; the parents and grandparents raise the kids, the family they live with is its center, and each child protects what is theirs. Add to that I am an American teacher who has to sometimes explain that in America, people don’t allow certain behaviors, and you can begin to glimpse the problem’s complexity.
One of our biggest issues concerns the “sharing” norm. What some of my kids call sharing (he wasn’t using it), some of my other kids call “stealing.” I often find myself mediating the same battle of cultures between, “he doesn’t share” versus “she keeps taking my stuff.”
We also have the issue of “he started it,” meaning, “I have to defend my honor.” “He hit me,” so “I have to hit him.” This belief is a tough one because in American all hitting is considered assault, but in many cultures, even American subcultures, kids still learn “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
My least favorite is “I didn’t do it,” which means, ”I don’t have to do anything about it.” That last one is particularly popular whenever I ask who left the mess on my classroom floor.
All of these little differences in attitudes and norms build up, and soon the kids are developing little clicks. “I don’t want to play with him; I want to play with her.” Next the clicks appoint little click leaders who are quick to point out any differences in other clicks so that they can they can ridicule them, thereby cementing their own click.
The good news is that although our innate desire for comfort can lead us into division and animosity among our peers, that same innate desire for comfort can be used to unite people and dissolve prejudice. The key is a technique that psychologists call systematic desensitization.
Basically, the technique involves guiding a person systematically and safely through situations that would normally make him or her uncomfortable until that person gets comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Once they feel comfortable, a kid’s natural curiosity will kick in. With encouragement, they can even learn to not only accept new situations, but to actually thrive in them. Once they learn about and meet real individuals, their prejudices and bullying tends to melt away. By the way, the earlier you start getting kids comfortable dealing with new situations and feelings, the easier this process will be.
So where does Global Passport fit in? By creating an environment where kids are regularly and systematically introduced in a positive way to new situations and people, Global Passport is slowly able to chip away at the barriers of prejudice and preconception, which so often lead to bullying, teasing, and division among people. Global Passport empowers kids by offering them a safe place to meet new people, experience diversity, build up their self-esteem and find acceptance. Kids discover how to get along with others, how to deal with bullies, and how to acknowledge that we are all different in our own unique way.
We aren’t just a geography club. We use a simple tool, the passport, to teach kids the powers of empathy, bridge building, self-reliance, acceptance, diversity, and friendship.
Armed with these tools, our members find themselves better equipped to navigate through any rough waters ahead.