We are planning to send our six-year-old son to a premium school that has a great academic and extra-curricular atmosphere. However, we fear that an environment of exclusively privileged kids will translate into snobbery, materialism and an absence of positive exposure to other social strata. Down-to-earth schools are better on these counts, but the education they offer is largely unimaginative. What can we do to balance out this exclusivity?
Over-exposure to affluence and privilege will have to be tackled at home, and that too consistently. As your child grows, you will need to have age-appropriate and genuine conversations about social matters. For instance, if he asks, “Why are people poor?”, don’t say “because they did bad things in their previous life”, or “because they are lazy”. You could say “because they are unfortunate—sometimes they don’t get access to education and opportunities over many generations”. Try to harvest your child’s inborn empathy and altruism, and engage him in small solution-oriented suggestions, such as “Should we donate your old clothes to the orphanage?” or “This Diwali, should we buy a present/sweets for…?” Older children can be encouraged to teach another child or adult to read and write. But this will work only if you lead by example, making it a weekly priority activity.
Even if you do provide all that money can buy to your child, you run the risk of him knowing only privilege. That cuts a person off from being able to have a broad world view or to make friends and work with people across classes and cultures. Many people at the top today got there by rising from the ranks, or by being closely aware of and associated with people from various strata of life during their formative years.
The onus is on you and other family members to see that your child gets genuine exposure to different social strata and situations. This would entail more than superficial ‘eat up your beans, there are children starving in the slums’ statements. It would mean seeing that he interacts with less privileged kids and people from different strata in normal, everyday situations.
For instance, you could get him to watch a workman in your home, chat with him, share a meal, find out more about his life. Such interactions can be set up in ways that don’t become terribly patronizing.
Seeing parents having cordial and mutually beneficial relationships with people from various socioeconomic brackets always leaves a lasting impression on kids. You could also spearhead some activity for a group of young people, which does not involve charity, but interaction. A friendly match with less elite schools, for instance. There may be several other parents with similar concerns, who will be happy to join in to ensure their kids grow up with well-rounded and inclusive personalities.
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