Children are increasingly aware that the world we live in is extremely fragmented. They get glimpses of this daily through news, social media and exchanges between adults. And yet, as parents, we tend to avoid direct conversations on race, religion, gender and identity with them. But now a new book, Raising a Humanist: Conscious Parenting in an Increasingly Fragmented World, seeks to engage with parents and educators about raising a progressive and secular global citizen.
Authored by academics Manisha Pathak-Shelat and Kiran Vinod Bhatia, and published by SAGE India, the book looks at the challenges that parents and educators face while addressing children’s questions on religion, class, body image, climate change, and more. “Raising a Humanist is an effort to start a discussion on how we can transcend our echo chambers,” state the authors.
Using jargon-free language, the duo has drawn from several scholars such as Paulo Friere, Kamla Bhasin and Stuart Hall. “We completely understand that our realities are not black and white—that is why we do not call this a ‘How to’ guide or ‘parenting advice book’ where we preach ideals from a pedestal. This book is the beginning of a long conversation on parenting and nurturing young people in times of uncertainties,” they add.
There are some important chapters in the book, such as the one titled ‘Echo Chambers Our Seemingly Safe Cocoons’, in which the authors discuss the urgent need to talk about religion in public and at home—and about ways to honour and respect differences. “The ‘us, we, I’ are pitted against the ‘they and them’. These are called binaries… .Thinking in binaries creates absolute truths in isolation of context and experiences. Single truths provide us with a half-baked picture of reality. It is an easy practice because people do not have to invest in understanding how a single truth can play out differently in varied contexts,” states an excerpt from the chapter. The authors ask educators and parents to first introspect themselves before having this conversation with children. They urge adults to ask some critical questions: How can we unlearn our biases? When do your beliefs translate into acts of discrimination perpetuated against others?
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The book, without being preachy, gets under the skin of pertinent issues. “We wanted Raising Humanist to be accessible. Right from the beginning, we decided that it should be in the style of a conversation,” says Pathak-Shelat, who is a professor (communication and digital platforms and strategies), and chair, Centre for Development Management and Communication, MICA, Ahmedabad. She feels that these issues are so sensitive, and yet are addressed by people and the media in such a simplistic way.
“Reality is not black and white. We have been careful that all the nuances of challenges of real life are brought forth in the book. Kiran and I have been working on these topics for a long time academically, especially on identity and gender,” she elaborates. “We have drawn from academic learnings and day-to-day observations about how people shut themselves up in echo chambers.” While Raising a Humanist empowers parents with the vocabulary and wherewithal to talk about difficult topics, the authors are now planning to write a book that directly addresses children. “When we were kids, there was still time for parents to have such conversations. But now there is an urgency as these developments—climate change, conflicts related to race and religion—are taking place rapidly across the world. These conversations have become all the more critical,” she says.