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Is It Important for MilKids to Be Raised Multiculturally?

Staff Sgt. Melanie Hutto/Air Force

I recently helped my sister write a speech for her son's high school's open house program. Her son attends Hillsboro High School in Nashville, Tennessee -- the same public high school she and I attended.

The school is in a district where many of the parents can afford to send their kids to private schools, and many do. As a result, a large number of the students in the school receive public assistance and are part of families that can't always afford the extras.

Enrolling in public schools can feel like a risky move for the parents who can afford other options.

My sister hoped, with her speech, to convince these parents to invest financially in the school in order to help provide for the students whose parents can't afford all the extras, by reminding them of why the school was worth their investment.

She and I talked for a while about what she wanted to say and then we wrote the speech together. As we were talking, I noticed that she kept coming back to the same idea: She wanted her son to be exposed to high school society that reflects the larger community, and she knew that wouldn't happen in their local private schools.

It occurred to me then that this idea -- exposure to different types of people -- is one that I have been able to take for granted as a parent. My kids have always lived in military communities, and military communities are naturally multicultural. That aspect of their education is something I have never had to consider.

American service members and their spouses come from every state, and even from other countries. In the course of their service, they move with their families all over the world, and back again to the U.S. My children have always gone to school with classmates whose own backgrounds vary widely, many of whom have already lived in other countries.

Diversity and multiculturalism are things we take for granted in the military community. We cannot imagine not living surrounded by lots of different kinds of people.

Talking to my sister, I also realized that my family's Must-Have lifestyle, which I'm guilty of sometimes seeing as a negative, has afforded us even more exposure opportunities.

Because of my husband's frequent absences, I work from home, which means that I can work from anywhere. As a result, my kids and I have spent lots of time traveling when my husband has been deployed. We hit the road and just go, seeing places far and wide and absorbing other people's perspectives along the way.

In other words, something that my sister and the other parents at her son's high school have to aim for, we have without even trying.

Here's part of that speech my sister and I wrote:

"You came here tonight because, like me, you believe that education is not something that only happens behind desks and in books.

"We believe education is a living, breathing and changing thing. We believe that our children will get the best education possible when we allow them to live, breathe and change with it.

"We believe that our children will inherit a world that is multicultural and inclusive. We believe that the best way to prepare them for that world is to show them that being multicultural and inclusive are good things. We believe in raising our children not just to cross over bridges and divides, but to cross them so naturally that they question why the divides were ever there in the first place.

"We believe that 10 years from now, some of these students will be our co-workers; 20 years from now, they may even be our bosses. And 40 years from now, they will be our caregivers.

"We believe that the children we educate today will be the decision makers of tomorrow. We want to arm them with information and experiences so they will make good decisions, for all of us.

"We believe that the quality of a teenager's education should not be determined by his zip code or his parents' tax bracket. We believe that talent is everywhere, in every student, and that no student should have to deny her talent because she can't afford a pair of cleats or to take an IB test.

"Bottom line, we're all here tonight because we believe in Hillsboro. For me, and maybe for some of you, this is not just a hopeful belief -- it's a belief that we've already seen proven true."

"I attended Hillsboro myself, and the time that I spent walking these halls shaped me in ways that a more sheltered school experience would not have. The education I received from my teachers here was every bit as good and even superior to the education my friends at other schools received.

"But my high school education at Hillsboro also included an opportunity to develop lifelong friendships with people who were different from me, people whose families looked different than mine, people who worshipped differently and had different traditions, and that education has carried me through my entire life. That's the kind of education I want for my children."

That education -- exactly the kind of education that my children and I have been able to take for granted. How great is that?

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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