Wednesday, 27 April 2011
Matt Jones (Head of Year 10) writes:
In addition to ‘celebrating diversity’, interculturalism in an international school setting should also allow for opportunities to celebrate similarities.
Patana’s IB Psychology students understand the need to consider both ‘emic’ (culturally-specific) and ‘etic’ (universal, cross-cultural) factors when examining cultural norms, differences and similarities. With this in mind, Year 10 students had the opportunity to share ‘symbols’ - personally meaningful aspects of their own cultural identity – with their classmates. It was an opportunity to learn a little more about each other and to exhibit a bit of pride in their own backgrounds. Symbols ranged from national football shirts to soap opera theme tunes: what would you pick as a meaningful representation of your cultural identity?
All credit to Grant Robertson, Head of Secondary English, for developing this excellent lesson. See the plan below.
2) Intelligence is increasing
Wednesday, 6 April 2011
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Ettie prefers not to use the word ‘country’ in such discussions and discourages the word ‘international’ as countries/nations are political constructs which, she argues, often do not reveal enough about the culture of a particular person.
The iceberg model of culture
Ettie urges us to look beyond the four F’s (flags, festivals, food, fashion). Schools are at risk of being satisfied that the celebrations of these are somehow enough for addressing intercultural education. She discussed the iceberg theory of culture, distinguishing between ‘visible’ culture and ‘deep’ culture. She noted, too, that there are other metaphors such as the onion with its many layers.
Other than celebrations of the more visible and surface elements of culture, for many educators intercultural education is not their highest priority. Acknowledging this, it is important to engage colleagues. More than simply raising the profile of intercultural education, it is important to facilitate intercultural education amongst staff. On this matter, it is essential to include locally-hired staff (and not only teaching staff) who often have to contend with a dramatic change of culture between home and school.
Ettie moved on to some of the definitions and characteristics of culture, and these are useful pointers. Culture is:
- the way we think, feel, act and plan our future
- based on our personal history and social history
- learned, not genetically inherited (although Ettie raised the possibility that the two main gender ‘cultures’ have some genetic basis)
- the total of things people learn
- shared patterns of behaviour
- shared rules for behaviour
- how you see and interpret your world
- standards of behaviour
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Asking questions of people’s culture
It is important to ask other people about their culture(s). This can be difficult, however, because we risk offence. Despite this, Ettie says it is important to foster a community in which it is OK to ask these questions, but also one that knows how to do so without causing offence.
In pairs, we asked each other a question: What is the origin of your name(s)? This is an excellent activity and when conducted with adults certainly led to interesting cultural references, allowing participants to learn lots about each other. It is an easy activity as it is non-threatening (unlike, say, discussions of money and relationships). It holds huge potential for initiating discussions amongst students but Ettie recommends encouraging the students to do the ground work first, perhaps as homework – skype their grand parents, etc. This will get families talking at home about their culture which is itself a vital aspect of meaningful intercultural education.
Third Culture Kids or TCKs
It is important for ‘third culture kids’ to be able to tell a story about their lives, and such explorations of their cultural heritage allow this. Questions like this can be part of what Ettie called ‘roots projects’ which she argues are enormously valuable learning opportunities.
Bird s do not see the sky, nor fish the water, not unless the bird is plucked out of the sky and the fish is taken out of water. (Thai Proverb via Chamnongsri Hanchanlash, Thai Poet, 2004).What happens when you go and/or live in a different culture? Ettie noted that there is a big difference between youngsters making such moves and adults doing the same, since adults already carry a lot of culture with them. The child is a bit more confused as their identity has not yet been formed in the same way during their formative, developmental years.
“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen”. Ettie put forward the argument that TCKs might be “colour blind” – they do not perceive cultural or ethnic differences the same way that others more heavily attached to a ‘home’ culture do, although I have to say that I think this is very debatable … my experiences tell me that children do become acutely aware of such differences, regardless of cultural inheritance.
Ettie extended her argument by asking whether TCKs really understand the concept of the ‘other’. Do they ask each other questions about their culture? She says that the answer to this is ‘not often’ and that if they do in fact learn to ask these questions, they’ll understand each other better. A further question: Do they really know enough about their own culture?
Ettie then posed questions about staff within an International School. Do the faculty become inter-culturally competent? Do the faculty ask each other questions about their culture? Again, she says, the answer is ‘not often’, but it could be very healthy to do so in terms of mutual understanding. Ultimately, do our international schools facilitate these deep discussions?
Misunderstandings in cross-cultural communication often begins with a misunderstanding of ourselves.
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Do we confuse intercultural literacy/competence, international mindedness and global citizenship?
In exploring the differences, Ettie suggests an exercise that interested staff might undertake. In groups they could answer these questions and look for commonality and difference amongst answers:
- What do interculturally literate persons look like? What do they do? How do they think?
- What do internationally minded persons look like? What do they do? How do they think?
- What do global citizens look like? What do they do? How do they think?
What do we mean by ‘cultural literacy’? Simply, can we read others? It is, for example, not always easy to interpret people’s responses in terms of gestures, facial expressions or body language if they are from other cultures.
What is an internationally-minded person?
(Note the influence of CIS here):
- She has the knowledge , multilingual and technology skills required to succeed in a global economy;
- She has the attitudes and skulls of intercultural competency and understanding of the ‘other’
- She has an understanding of world issues, empathy and caring towards people different from themselves
- She has an attitude of caring and advocacy
Ettie’s view: Maybe this needs a teacher grassroots movement to push this agenda. A bottom up approach, rather than trying to impose intercultural initiatives from a top-down direction.
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Ettie confirmed that there is a lot of really good stuff out there on intercultural training. I referenced the work of the American Peace Corps on this theme.
We should avoid discussions being led exclusively by opinion and give staff concrete research articles to review.
Ettie pointed out how intercultural competence is deeply embedded both in the new CIS standards and in the IB diploma, and commented that there will be increasing focus on all of this within international education.
Malcolm Mackenzie argues that International Schools could serve as a bridge between cultures but we definitely have to get staff on board – Ettie warns that it could be a ‘hard sell’. One strategy which she suggests here is for advocates to apply for professional development to be a cross-cultural trainer.
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Notion from Gerritz (2004): Give students transportable ‘gifts’.
So, on to some more ways forward … Give our students an enthusiasm for internationalism. Create world citizens through service learning, geography and history, particularly current history. Measure their progress on their understandings/attitudes toward internationalism. Use surveys to test people to see if there is improvement in people’s intercultural competence.
Finally it is worth noting that Ettie referenced the following articles in her presentation:
Betts, Bambi (2007) ‘The Challenge of Global Citizenship in our Schools’ The International Educator
Mackenzie, Malcolm (1998) ‘Going, Going, Gone .. Global!’ in McHayden and Thompson (eds) International Education: Principles and Practice [London: Kogan Page]