Learning from cultural diversity

By Greg Whitby, 18 March 2020
Greg Whitby AM is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

Students at schools across Australia will wear orange and share some of their favourite foods to celebrate harmony this week. I think the cultural diversity of our school communities is really something to be proud of. Some of the best learning we get from going to school comes from making friends with other kids and sharing different perspectives, experiences and culture.

I grew up at a time when there was significantly less cultural diversity at school. Yet March was a special time to celebrate our family’s Irish heritage: it seems somehow appropriate that St Patrick’s Day is still held during Harmony Week. As our community became far more multicultural, I learnt so much from getting to know people from many backgrounds and even more from their friendship.

By the time I was in high school, I had my first good mate from a different background, Martin. Getting to know Martin taught me about empathy, especially when kids gave my mate a hard time about his school lunches. Our friendship also taught me to question things I had previously taken for granted. As a keen footy player, it rocked my world that Martin didn’t know the rules of the game and asked me why we even played. Martin never really got into footy but he did lead me to a lifelong love of Sri Lankan food.

A parent from a school in Parramatta recently shared a story with me that shows something of what we learn from difference. Her daughter had been telling her what a good teacher she had a few years earlier in Kindergarten. Holding up a coloured pencil, the child told her mother that the teacher had taught her the colour was called peach. Realising mum didn’t understand the lesson, she explained: “…not flesh, Mum, peach: because people come in lots of beautiful colours.”

So happy Harmony Week! For me, this vibrant celebration is such a powerful reminder of what we have gained as a community from migration and diversity. As I said, I think we can learn a lot from difference, including about the common humanity that unites us all.

Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


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