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Intercultural Living

December 9, 2010

Part of this is form a rant I wrote to myself in 2009.

Every once in awhile, I’ll people watch and think: There are so many freakin’ people in this world! But I don’t think of it as strictly a numbers gave. I think of it layered and dynamically: There are so many freakin’ different lives being lived in this world! Think about the stories you live, the first-hand stories you hear – the volume they take in just the feeble social circles in which you travel. Think about intimate moments a person lives: falling in love, a near-death experience, internal struggle after a first date, alcohol, drugs, God, the DMV, parking tickets, raising kids, and on, and on, and on. Now replay these things and more millions and millions of times over. Is that the whole world yet?Whatever we do in life, whatever happens to us, we’re not special. There are people out there just like us…but maybe not enough people realized this fact?

Here's a very, very, very, very tiny fraction of all the people in the world.

Perhaps the point of this little rant – the moral, if you will – has to do with what you could call “intercultural living”. The world is getting flatter, and the world is getting smaller. Different ethnicities and cultures are rubbing elbows more than they ever have before. With the kinds of victories and failures we all share as a human race, we need to not let this decrease in elbow room get the best of us. We need to live well together, that means accepting one another. Living well together means learning about one another, taking steps to learn something new about someone different than you. (I know that’s not easy.)

I think about this intercultural living because…that’s my classroom! I’ve told my class several times, “I spend more time with you than anyone else in my life right now.” It’s true, but it’s also an attempt to bring our class closer together. It’s an attempt to help Mohammed’s stutter by making him feel more comfortable. It’s an effort to give Yousef more opportunities to speak up and practice his English. And it’s a way introduce discussing the difference between cultural arrogance and cultural pride. When you’ve got 7+ nationalities in one room, these discussions need to happen.

"Okay, I'll be Frog and you be Toad...You always get to be Toad!

I keep a copy of an article by David Orr called “What is Education for?” He talks about how people have misconstrued the meaning of “success”. In support of his thesis, I’d rather have a classroom of B students that worked well with and showed empathy for others than a classroom of A students that were selfish and dishonest. Most any job we get will involve working with other people. The few billion people on this earth reproducing makes it more and more likely you’ll work with someone from a different background as you. And learning to work with someone from a different background begins at school (if not at home).

Unfortunately, the susceptibility to becoming prejudice is easy in a culture like this, especially for kids and teenagers. For teenagers the clearest identity they have is their culture. There is that fine line again between cultural arrogance and cultural pride.  It’s difficult to empathize with another culture, especially when you have no wish to do so…(It’s really easy to do this “bad” thing (stereotyping); it’s really hard to do this “good” thing (empathizing)…But the need for this to happen is becoming greater and greater.

Recording observations of our "Secret Garden" for Environmental Fun Club (gr. 3-5)

A teacher friend of mine is currently doing his master’s in Environmental Education. I’ve learned a lot from him in regards to sustainability, cooperative learning, etc. Teaching about the environment is a great way to teach teamwork, but also to teach about empathy for others through caring for the environment.  They learn and understand that we all share the earth, we’re all connected in more ways than we realize. The impact that you make on the earth is felt by more people and more cultures than just the one you associate yourself with.


It's not all pictured (and it's still early), but so far we have squash, green onions, spinach, and beans.

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