Friday, September 26, 2008

Letter to the World

That's what blogs are, right?

Had what for me was a very interesting follow-up appointment with Dr. Kerr, the naturopath who prescribed the homeopathic remedy that I took about a month ago. We talked about the changes that may have taken place, but the most fascinating thing she told me what the theory that electromagnetic fields, the geologic rock foundations, and the ions in a particular region are thought to work against some people's chemical and vibrational makeup. I just looked at her as if I had been given a piece of the puzzle long overdue, and this information resonated with me profoundly. It felt RIGHT. Whether you believe in these "alternative," or merely under researched, theories, I found this notion affirming to the max, and remembered my visit to Florida in March and how happy I was for those two weeks. And how a therapist told me long ago that I belonged in California because it fit who I am better. The coasts. The oceans. The salt water. The sun.

Visited a colleague and her family yesterday afternoon, with the Bindster. The kids are about ten I guess, twins, the girl totally into Bindi, the boy playing on the computer. They had the healthiest tomato plants in their garden that I've seen anywhere this summer, certainly better than anything at the community garden. Unfortunately, it's been a cold wet summer for tomatoes, so some are just ripening now as we move into fall, but still, it's such a pleasure to see a gardener do so well.

Mutt Strutt will likely be postponed from tomorrow till Sunday, if it stops raining. We're supposed to get like four days in a row of rain. Mutt Strutt is the fundraising event for the shelter where I got Bindi, and it's totally fun and dog-centered. And outside. We went once before and it was great fun, but I remember it being hot and my having a bit of a meltdown. (Well, I was gonna include a link, but can't figure out how to do it.)

Had dinner with M & S on Tuesday, and M told me about two more people in our circle who have come down with cancer. One with spinal cancer and the other breast cancer. Both people about my age. We will no longer be surprised when we hear this news about anyone else.

Watched "Charlie Wilson's War" on dvd last night. It was ok. Maybe I was too tired to really appreciate it or maybe it just wasn't that stellar. I did like Julia Roberts playing against type. I like her more the older she gets.

Scored nicely at a consignment shop earlier in the week on some clothes that fit me better, including a couple of designer labels.

It's time to spray the outside plants that need to come in for the winter with insecticide, as the nights are just starting to flirt with the 40s, temperature wise. I'm cutting back on the plants I'm bringing in, as I was overwhelmed last year. I'll just keep my most special ones.

I liked this post from today's New York Times:

September 25, 2008, 9:12 pm
The Cross-Cultural Classroom
By Christina Shunnarah

In my previous post, “Student in a Strange Land,” I mentioned briefly that our school, the International Community School (I.C.S.), works with a very diverse population of students and families. I.C.S. represents over 40 different countries and 50 languages. One of the communities we serve is Clarkston, Ga., which is home to about 26,000 refugees. It is often said that Clarkston is one of the most diverse square miles in the United States. A community as diverse as this presents a complex challenge: In a place with so many different values and belief systems, what role should an educator play?

It is important for me as an educator to have a cultural awareness of the students’ lives and backgrounds. Without this awareness, my sensitivity and compassion for each child would not be able to develop. My studies in anthropology have helped me view life through a cultural lens. But what is culture?

I often think of culture in terms of the “iceberg concept” commonly used in educational studies, with its small visible tip and huge mass below the surface. Most people tend to view only the surface aspects of culture — observable behavior — sometimes known as the five F’s: food, fashion, festivals, folklore, and flags. But of course culture goes deeper than that. It is the other 95 percent below the surface of which we need to be aware.

Deep culture (below the surface) includes elements such as child-raising beliefs, concepts of self, beauty and personal space, religious rituals and perspectives, eating habits, facial expressions, eye contact, work ethic, approaches to problem solving and interpersonal relationships, moral values, cosmology, world views and personal discipline — to name (more than) a few.

The children that come into my classroom each year have such a variety of life paths. Looking at their cultural backgrounds with the “iceberg concept” in mind has helped to keep me aware of the aspects of their lives that are not in plain view. And the more I work with the students at I.C.S., the more my awareness of these subtle realms increase.

Developing cultural competence is a process of inner growth. In order for me to be as effective as possible with the students I work with, I must continuously engage in a process of self-reflection. To be able to know others, especially diverse others, one must know the self. So the growth of a culturally competent educator starts there. We must look within for a deeper understanding of who we are before we can adequately address the needs of our students.
This investigation should include our core beliefs, hidden biases and our religious perspectives. Developing cultural competence is also a process that comes with experience and engagement, and with sometimes painful lessons that highlight our limitations and prejudices. To learn about the backgrounds of the students in my class takes time and effort; it involves reading about their countries of origin, visiting their homes and meeting family members, connecting with parents, developing relationships with community members and organizations, and going to cultural and religious festivals. By learning about my students’ lives outside the classroom, I am more prepared to work with them in the classroom.

Schools don’t exist in vacuums; they are situated within communities. Community involvement helps me understand the socio-cultural backgrounds of my students’ lives and build bridges between the home and school. This exposure helps challenge my own perspectives and biases.

An example that comes up quite frequently is the issue of religion. Children at I.C.S. come from a myriad of religious traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism, and the Baha’i faith. Children are usually very open to discussing their beliefs, prayers, places of worship, dances and values with their friends. They excitedly exclaim that “God lives in the sky” or “God lives in us” or “Allah lives on a cloud near the moon.” Their discussions about their religious beliefs are usually cheerful, lighthearted and innocent.
But sometimes these kindergarteners get into heated debates. I usually remain in the background and allow them to express their opinions in a safe place. One day, during one of these debates, I was caught off guard. I was moving around the classroom checking students’ writing when a question popped up out of nowhere. One of my American students, David, called out, “Ms. Shunnarah, can an elephant be a god?”

I froze. This was one of those moments when the cultural iceberg was tapped, challenging my Judeo-Christian upbringing. I remembered from my studies of Hinduism in college that there is a religious entity known as Ganesh, who takes the form of an elephant. Ganesh is one of the most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon. His image is found throughout India. He is widely known as the “remover of obstacles” and “lord of beginnings” and is associated with creativity, the arts and sciences, intellect and wisdom.

This information about Ganesh came to me quickly and I am glad that it did, because I could have carelessly dismissed David’s comment as silly. Instead, I told him yes, and described Ganesh and his place in the Hindu religion. After I said this, I noticed that one of my students from India, Abhra, pulled out his own drawings of Ganesh from his backpack. He had been discussing his beliefs with David, when David had called out the question. This small bit of knowledge I had retained turned out to be important. After my response, Abhra smiled; his religious beliefs and identity were acknowledged. This is just a small example of the kind of cross-cultural interaction that goes on every day in our class.
Later Abhra’s mother came to me and said that I had made her son happy because I knew about Ganesh. What would have been the unintended consequence if I were not aware of Ganesh? What if I had responded from my own personal biases and religious perspective? What would have been the outcome for my student Abhra? Would he have been ashamed? Would he have kept his pictures hidden, damaging his sense of self?

This journey of establishing a multicultural learning community in my classroom with a foundation of respect for all cultures is ever changing and evolving. Children bring to the classroom rich cultural life experiences, so why not tap into it? This involves a continuous process of research about the lives of the children in my classroom, as well as of my own interpretations and perspectives. The varied nuances of culture are complex and continually changing, but it makes our classroom a natural place to learn.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Did your mutt strut get postponed? Are you still in the midst of all the rain? I assume perhaps from Kyle?

icat and I went up to Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island, and Friday started sunny and warm and then this awesome cold fog blew in from Lake Huron and it was amazing to see the sun on one side, and the cold fog that kept trying to roll in and over the island. The fog eventually won, so we got cool hoodies out of the deal.