Cultural Proficiency in the Classroom

This is another reflection paper for a course I am taking.

What would cultural proficiency look like at your school?

I would love to be in a multicultural school that doesn’t celebrate diversity by simply teaching the surface level facts about different cultures (festivals, clothing, food, etc) and posting corny posters about everyone being the same (because we’re not – we’re different, and that’s GOOD!!! We should be teaching students to see the differences and respect or celebrate them!). I would love to see authentic cultural exposure done in a way that doesn’t further estrange other cultures.

There are different ways this could be explored, not all of which may work for certain situations, and not all of which you can just decide to implement and then do, but here are a few ideas:

  • parent volunteers in the classrooms: parents from other cultures likely won’t volunteer to help in the classroom either because they don’t do that in their own culture so they don’t even consider it, or their English language skills may be lower and they may feel in adequate. However, the simple act of including these parents in the classroom the same way we include culturally Canadian parents is an authentic way of exposing students to different cultures, and teaching them to respect, not objectify, people who are different.
  • partner classrooms: it may take some doing, but arrange for your class to be a partner classroom with a same-age class in a different country (or two or three!). Arrange for Skype chats between the classrooms, perhaps monthly, have students write letters to each other, and send pictures of school activities. Model cultural inquiry for students by asking questions that allow for the other teacher/student to express their culture authentically (not “how do you sing “Happy Birthday” in Japanese?” but “what do you do in your classroom when it is someone’s birthday?” or even better “what do you celebrate in your classroom?”). Afterward, lead students in a discussion to help them identify differences, wonder about them, and ultimately respect them for what they are. There should NOT be more emphasis on “ways we are all the same.”
  • reading: read stories that are authentically from another culture, not just stories that North Americans wrote about other cultures in an effort to be multicultural. Ask parents of students in your class if they have children’s books from their home cultures to share. If they are in a foreign language – all the better! Have the parents come and read the book, and then translate it for the students. The students will learn to appreciate not only the different culture but also the different language and the fact that it has meaning. I have heard children refer to foreign languages as gibberish and have even heard adults say they don’t like hearing people “talk foreign”. If we start them off at a young age listening to a foreign language and then hearing it’s meaning, they will gain respect for other languages as a form of communication just like they use English.

If I could get on a soapbox, this would be my message: We shouldn’t respect other cultures because they are ultimately just like us. That is still an ethnocentric attitude that devalues a rich culture and history that is critically valuable to their lives and to our understanding of who they are and how they behave. Rather, we should respect other cultures because they are human beings – colourful, diverse, and valuable, every one.

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