This post has been inspired by the book I have just finished reading: In the name of identity: violence and the need to belong, by Amin Maalouf. Read that I strongly recommend for several reasons: it is a thought provoking book about what makes up an individual: he says there is no one fixed, unique identity, but a series of what he calls ‘allegiances”: nationality, religion, gender, class… the individual, therefore, is the sum of all their surroundings, society and acts of free will and quirks of personality. I particularly loved that thoughtful liberalism, that enthusiasm for a rights based ideology of individual freedom. But that’s not all, it can be found an interesting discussion about the dominant ideology in the media and the culture, the negative possibilities of globalization, like the loss of local identities at the hands of homogeneity, that the fundamentalists might feels.
In short, this is a book that argues for understanding, tolerance and a hard realisation that violence and fanaticism can have very real reasons, rooted in fear, misery and poverty. A must read!!!
But what I want to talk in this post is about the necessity of teaching cultural awareness in class. In a previous post, I already wrote about the importance of teaching culture in a language class, but I want to focus here in something that is happening in our classes. More and more often, there are different cultures present in every classroom, and it’s the teacher work to make sure that she/he is incorporating a multicultural education, based in the equality of every single culture and focused in the values of these cultural differences amongst the students.
Moreover, it’s so interesting and enriching for students, as well as the teacher, when the students discuss their native culture with their foreign-speaking classmates at the same time that they are provided with a real experiential content. Few months ago, I was lucky to be in a Spanish class, beginners, in Ireland; so the majority of the students were Irish, but there were also Polish, French and Latvians. What an amazing class! The purpose of the class was obviously to learn Spanish and Spanish culture, but we were learning as well Irish, Polish, French and Latvian culture. This multicultural diversity in class motivated the students to talk and express themselves in order to show the rest the different behavior or customs in their country. It was also interesting to see how the students left the class with a wider perspective in the perception of the reality, because they recognize openly that everyone in the world is not “just like me”.
As I said, it is the teacher’s responsability to promote this multicultural understanding. And there are so many ways to do so… The role-play, for instance, help in the process of cross-cultural dialogues while at the same time it provides opportunities for oral communication. Other techniques, like readings, films, simulation, games, culture assimilators or culture capsules can be used for language teacher to help them in the process of acculturation in the classroom.
I finally hope that teaching of cultural standards may stop pigeonhole thinking and avoid establishing further stereotypes. Because is not only about culture, but about the individual self, aware of its roots and defining himself as the spider web, with links to individuals from other cultural contexts. Because identity is not only a matter of where you are born, but a whole life time process which assimilates all kinds of life-experiences as I said in the beginning with Maalouf book.