Friday, June 28, 2013

#blogjune 2013 Day 27: In which I muse about cultural identity and teaching

Today, Hazel blogged about culturally responsive facilitation and her visceral reaction to identity, exclusion and responsiveness.

This is a kind of topic which can trigger some critical responses from people so I respect her willingness to put it out there.  It's worth visiting these things though, not just for those of us who teach but also from the perspective of library services.

I thought I would explore some of the questions she asks in her post.

Choosing to engage or not?
Can a person elect to not engage with the way a learning experience is set up? What is the result of this?

My first response to this is yes... and no.  If a person has chosen to "attend" a learning event/experience then I think there has to be some give and take when it comes to acceptance of the parameters of that event/experience.

If I choose to do an online course learning about Drupal then I have to accept that
 a) the course will be online which results in a particular style of teaching and presentation of material.  In this case, the class participation is via forums, something I find awkward, clunky and because it's not where my PLN lives I don't enjoy using it.  So in a sense I choose not to engage completely in the learning experience - I just do the minimal I have to do in this space.  I'm not unusual in this I might add, it happens frequently with online learning.

b) the course will reflect the cultural origin of those that created it.  In this case it will be North American in style and cultural feel.  I accept that even though it makes me feel less engaged with the other participants in the course.  However, I'm motivated to learn the content so I look past my ambivalence.

The result of this is that I learn the material but I don't particularly get anything more from the course.  Does this matter?  In this case, probably not but in other circumstances it might be important.

Caution!  I haz values!
Can you go in with humility if you have a set of values up front - should they be negotiated as part of the process?

Yes, I think you can and yes I think there should be room for negotiation.  If learning is a conversation as per the constructivist approach then both parties bring something.  The important bit is sharing those values, accepting there are some that can't be negotiated and working together to find the common values. The humility occurs in being open to negotiation.

What is everyone bringing to the table?
What do we have to learn about the people that we are going to be working with?

I think it is worth finding out before the event/experience who the audience will likely be and what kind of expectations and values they bring.

With my classes it's usually a mixture of Asian and Pasifika so I have some ideas about what sort of values these students bring to the class.  It is good to learn what kind of behaviours are offensive, what sort of values are negotiable and so on.

For example, I understand many of our Asian students struggle with our teaching culture of questioning.  This is a value I bring to the class - I want our students to ask questions of me and answer my questions too.  Because they have chosen to attend a class here in this culture there is an expectation they will have to respond to this value, it's not really a value that is negotiable, but I also understand it is uncomfortable for them.   I have things I do to mitigate this.

Another example, if I'm going to attend an event/experience at a marae I understand there are some values that will be non-negotiable.  My behaviour therefore changes to reflect that, even though there are some things that I find ... not so much uncomfortable as "not the way I personally would do things".

It interests me that if we allow ourselves to be open to the values of other cultures it will affect us in ways we may not expect.  For example, most conferences I have been to in New Zealand have some sort of pƍwhiri at the beginning.  The conference I went to in Australia did not and for me this made the conference beginning seem incomplete.  Another example, as a result of being open to tikanga I feel uncomfortable about people sitting on tables even though in my New Zealand European culture it's not a "thing".

Respecting our differences, finding commonalities
 A suggestion was that it is necessary to bring something to a session that is 'part' of the people - analogies, images, ways of talking about things. But, how do you do that in a diverse community. What if the analogies are meaningless to some of the people in the room? Do you focus on the majority? Do you try to cover most of the cultural groups? Do you cover all of them? How? Or, is the main focus the people in the room with the most influence? People who are from that part of the world?

Hmmm... tricky.  I don't know.  I believe there are things that a common to all cultures even if the language or imagery is different. Exploring that in the session can result in a deeper understanding of the topic and each other.   Using language like "this is how I explain this thing, does it work for you or do you have an alternative?" could result in a mutual deepening of understanding.

I have been the one person in a classroom in a foreign culture where I didn't know the language and felt excluded, but at the same time I didn't expect to be catered to either (different age, different circumstances).  If I had been more mature and if the learning had been more critical to my advancement I would have made a better effort to be engaged.  So something has to come from the the people in the room too, it's not just about the facilitator.

I know I'm still learning about this kind of thing and don't have all the answers.

What do you think?

1 comment: