By Dr. Katrina Landa, Core Faculty, Teaching and Learning; English as a Second Language and Bilingual Education Program Coordinator
While I love celebrating holidays as much as anyone, incorporating only cultural holidays into the curriculum can be superficial. That is, with all teachers have to do, it is tempting to celebrate or learn about one holiday and assume that you "know" about a culture, without asking deeper questions or learning more. It is important to consider: Could someone from another culture studying Christmas possibly know all about me?
In 2017, with the holiday season fresh on our minds, I encourage teachers to set a goal of exploring the day-to-day and historical aspects of each culture, whether they are celebrating Chinese New Year or honoring Dr. Martin Luther King in the month of January.
Here are a few New Year’s goals for teachers to keep in mind as we craft deeper, more meaningful lessons on cultural holidays and cultural achievements throughout the year.
Goal 1: Explore Common Values
As Dr. Wiehe shared in Part I, thinking through cultural differences for the same holiday is one way to show the breadth of our varied experiences. I also enjoy focusing on what we have in common. Various cultural groups–even those that have historical conflict–care about the same things at holidays: spending time with loved ones. When we better understand how much we have in common, we are less likely to think of people as “other” or “different.”
Goal 2: Provide Young Children with Concrete Examples
Young children respond especially well when they can touch, smell, and taste another culture. I will never forget the first time I tried latkes in elementary school as part of a holiday unit.
I also encourage teachers to collect as many books and materials as possible about various cultures and celebrations, and then incorporate these into daily or weekly reading activities. It is also interesting to learn about children’s roles in different cultures and to show children where things come from, such as our Arabic numeral system or Native American words incorporated in our everyday spoken English.
Goal 3: Focus on (Real) History with Older Students
With older students, teachers need to remember that they deserve a real understanding of culture, which often means confronting uncomfortable aspects of history. Instead of removing Huckleberry Finn from the reading list, ask: Why don’t we talk to people this way anymore? Why was this wrong? The idea of learning history to avoid repeating mistakes is important.
In science, we can incorporate the contributions of many diverse individuals. I never learned about the black women who wrote coding language for NASA, and this is only one example of amazing and diverse scientists and mathematicians that needs to be part of our curriculum. This is why I feel black history should be part of learning all the time, not superficially celebrated one month a year.
Goal 4: Be Sensitive
No one should have to discuss their culture or be singled out if they do not want to share. Teachers must establish a trusting relationship with their students and have a genuine interest in learning about their cultures from the very beginning. That’s where cultural understanding goes beyond a holiday study. In my experience, the more you know about someone, the more they want to share.
Let's look forward to a new year in 2017 and learning many new lessons from each culture we explore this year.