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Sunday, November 8, 2009

How Students Gain Transcultural Literacy through Spanish Community Service Learning


by Ann Abbott

Do Spanish departments provide transcultural education?
I asked myself that question after reading this article about Prof. Mark Dressman in the most recent edition of Inside Illinois.

I'll quote liberally:

"According to Mark Dressman, a professor in the department of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education at Illinois, the current group of college students will inherit a workplace where they will need to be prepared for 'significant contact with the rest of the world.'

"To adequately prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s global economy, Dressman favors 'transcultural education,' which he defines as an experience that goes beyond the traditional rite-of-passage trip to western Europe.

“'In addition to developing an identity as someone from a particular city, state or country, transcultural education focuses on getting students to start thinking of themselves as citizens of the world,' he said. 'It’s a relatively new approach that is being applied across a number of fields, including education, nursing and business.'

"Dressman says that transcultural education is an approach to teaching and learning that is 'dialogic and interdisciplinary' in nature. Rather than learn about other cultures from a distance, a transcultural approach moves students and teachers toward learning through direct engagement with a culture’s members and its perspectives.

"Ideally, transcultural education goes beyond traditional course readings and discussions to include students having what Dressman calls 'a fairly profound and authentic experience of another culture, one they can’t get in a course on campus, or even in a study-abroad trip to Europe, and one that requires them to communicate with others as co-equals.'"

Yes. You could say that this is what Spanish departments (and all language programs) have been doing all along. We teach about languages, cultures and cultural products (mostly literary works and films). Our National Standards include"Cultures," emphasizing that students should learn about cultural products, practices and perspectives. At least on our campus, the majority of study-abroad students go to Spanish-speaking programs and many of our majors study abroad.

No. One word from the article struck me as absolutely absent from most Spanish programs that I know: "workplace." I believe that our Spanish programs excel at cultural analysis. (Usually expressed through literary analysis.) But I believe that we fail to explicitly connect those analytical skills to their application in real-world professional settings.

Sure, some programs have a "Business Spanish" class on the books, but it's often seen as the booby prize of teaching assignments. And I realize that bolstering students' critical thinking skills is a very important undertaking. But it's not hard to wrap up an analysis with a work-related application. Other fields are doing it better than us, it seems!

Nursing. Take a look at the standards for cultural competency in their field. I wish Spanish programs were teaching their students to work for social justice, advance culturally-appropriate policies and to empower and advocate the people they work with/for! And look at these case studies used to teach transcultural nursing--we should borrow some of these scenarios for teaching our Spanish students.

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