Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How do you "teach" cultures?

Guest blogger: Darcy Lear

To get students to start thinking about cultures as complex, dynamic practices I ask them to engage in a three-step process:

1-acknowledge your initial emotional reaction to a cultural practice

2-step outside of your own experience and try to imagine you have not experienced this practice

3-what are possible reactions to that practice as seen from the outside?

The first assignment asks students to select something mundane from their own lives, but that others might not have experienced (being a member of a specific campus organization, a particular skill or talent, having lived abroad, a sibling with special needs--anything that they take for granted) and apply this three-step analysis. 

I use the example of my reaction to finding out that Ann could not swim. That piece of information was inconsistent with my world view that any smart, educated person with whom I associated would obviously know how to swim. I had to step outside of my assumptions to analyze my negative reaction: I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland--for 18 years I was never more than a mile from a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay--almost everybody knew how to swim out of necessity; Ann grew up in Clay City, Illinois where no such need existed.

In my next post I’ll talk about the follow-up activity I have students do.

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