Celebrating other cultures in school - or just perpetuating stereotypes?

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Celebrating other cultures in school - or just perpetuating stereotypes?

Postby Yessica » 18 May 2013, 06:33

Like many other schools mine ordered it's students to celebrate diversity. and we had "diversity weeks", two weeks in which we celebrated another culture once a year.

One group of students I was a member of chose to celebrated the Bristish/English culture. By the way - I still cannot tell the difference after two weeks of celebrating it. I know there is one, but not what it exactly is.

Now what did we do? A great deal of time we sat around drinking tea with milk, eating cakes we thought to be English (such as rasberry cake) and having the conversation we would usually have in German in English.
When we got tired of doing nothing a student brought a copy of "Pride and Prejudice" which we read in turn aloud to the other students.
We had to do a presentation for the other students so we did some research on the internet about English dance customs and learned a dance called "Newcastle" we thought to be English. I just googled newscastle and dance again and found nothing related to it. I am not sure if it really typically goes by this name or just according to the private homepage we learned it from.

Anyway we presented this dance to our fellow students, served them tea with milk and scones and received great praise by everybody.

Now... may of you are English. Do you feel your culture has been celebrated by us doing so?
Do you feel celebrating diversity helps us really learn about other cultures?
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Re: Celebrating other cultures in school - or just perpetuating stereotypes?

Postby Elliott » 18 May 2013, 08:14

Well technically I'm not English, but Scottish, however let me have a go at this.

I think "celebrating English culture" is probably not done by eating cakes and drinking tea, but by learning about the cultural traditions and social frameworks that enabled Isambard Kingdom Brunel to build bridges, Bishop Wilberforce to campaign for the abolition of slavery, Evelyn Waugh to write Brideshead Revisited, and Tim Berners-Lee to invent HTML.

Of course it's fun, and funny, to link "English culture" with tea and cake, but it's like saying that "German culture" is nothing but lederhosen and yodeling. An admirable nation - such as Germany or England - tends to have depth in its culture, not just the superficial things like what people wear, and it's the depth that school children should be learning about.
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Re: Celebrating other cultures in school - or just perpetuating stereotypes?

Postby Mike » 18 May 2013, 08:50

Take it from someone in the profession: these embarrassing activities are organised simply to allow teachers to tick boxes and placate their (nominal) superiors, who are failed teachers who have realised that there is more money, more power, less stress and less accountability in...administration.

Most teachers, in my experience, consider such gestures to be pointless and ultimately insulting to everyone concerned.
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Re: Celebrating other cultures in school - or just perpetuating stereotypes?

Postby Yessica » 18 May 2013, 09:44

Elliott wrote:Of course it's fun, and funny, to link "English culture" with tea and cake, but it's like saying that "German culture" is nothing but lederhosen and yodeling. An admirable nation - such as Germany or England - tends to have depth in its culture, not just the superficial things like what people wear, and it's the depth that school children should be learning about.


You know, we don't even wear Lederhosen oder yodel ;) - and never did. That is what some people in southern Bavaria do - or traditionally did. Traditional dress were I am from is from Loden - something like tweed.
But it is like I think: If people would celebrate German culture the would most likely have an Oktoberfest every day and it wouldn't help them understand it at all.

We learned about your history in history lesson but for some reason they felt, that we must also celebrate other cultures (never our own)... and basically what everybody did during those weeks was eating food they thought to be from that culture. Could as well be called "cooking week".

I think the main reason was we did not have the most basic knowledge of the cultures we were supposed to celebrate. Hard to celebrate something you don't know.

Question: If you were supposed to celebrate your own culture, how would you do it? If you were supposed to celebrate mine, what would you do? Would you do it or say "No, they firebombed us"?
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Re: Celebrating other cultures in school - or just perpetuating stereotypes?

Postby Elliott » 18 May 2013, 10:18

It depends what you mean by "celebrate". I think a public/group celebration of any culture tends to be rather ridiculous and insincere. Celebrating a culture is something an individual does privately, or in a passionate conversation with a friend.

For example, my favourite music group is Kraftwerk. I don't know much about German culture but through Kraftwerk I can catch glimpses of German skills at efficiency, organisation, streamlining, humour, intelligence, order that is civilising without being crushing, and of course the gesamtkunstwerk. There is a combination of simplicity and complexity in Kraftwerk's output which I think is distinctly German. There is also a combination of great intelligence and child-like curiosity in their music, which again doesn't strike me as French or British or Italian but very German.



For a more romantic image of German-ness, here is another song by Kraftwerk, a paean to neon lights:


And a more spooky, Brothers Grimm type of German-ness, a song about showroom dummies coming to life and walking through the city at night:


I would suggest that appreciating this music is a better way to celebrate German culture than running around drinking beer and chomping on frankfurters. As for yodeling and lederhosen not being German, I wasn't actually sure about that! I checked the Wikipedia page on yodeling before making my first post in this thread and it did say that it was a German thing, though I was aware of the Bavarian/alpine connection.
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Re: Celebrating other cultures in school - or just perpetuating stereotypes?

Postby Gavin » 18 May 2013, 10:39

While, as a big fan of the synthesizer, I appreciate Kraftwerk's pioneering contributions, their work is a little minimal for my tastes - it was after all the beginning for these instruments. Nonetheless, I can certainly notice the precision and the intelligence Elliott mentions. I just thought I would also point to people like Richard Wagner with his sweeping Liebestod, full of Germanic passion.

I'm not saying Wagner was a nice man personally (by some accounts he wasn't) but there is nonetheless a lot to admire about the Germans, I think, from their engineering to their art. Okay, maybe not the comedy but perhaps some of that is funny too, in German! Shame they ended up electing Hitler, but they were complex times and we certainly cannot hold Germans today responsible in any way for mistakes of the past. No, the threat to that country today is surely not so much National Socialism, but just socialism.
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Re: Celebrating other cultures in school - or just perpetuating stereotypes?

Postby Nathan » 18 May 2013, 11:28

I don't really know what I would do if I tried to celebrate my own, English culture - I've written before about how I think it's a shame that we don't have any genuine folk culture worth the name how other countries have.

If I wanted to be German for the day, then that wouldn't actually be too difficult since am a big admirer of all things German and work as a German translator, meaning I spend enough time dealing with your language (though I don't actually get to speak it as often as I would like) to get a sense of what kind of minds could invent such a complexly structured way of interpreting the world.

As for what I'd do to 'be German', I'd probably go for a long walk in the forest, listen to one of Beethoven's symphonies, watch a nostalgic German film like Die Feuerzangenbowle, go to Aldi and buy some Thüringer Bratwurst and some Stollen and then re-read Three Man on the Bummel.

If I still had time, I'd go and see a Henning Wehn stand-up show, go to a German pub I know here in London for a couple of pints of Krombacher, and to finish off I'd listen to this:

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Re: Celebrating other cultures in school - or just perpetuating stereotypes?

Postby Paul » 18 May 2013, 19:57

How silly all of this 'celebrating' other cultures and trying to be something which you are not. Why would I want to 'be' a German, especially for a tiny amount of time? I think it's quite rude, towards the Germans and at best would likely be a cause of embarrassment, foremost to oneself and to any German onlookers. In fact I could understand how any onlookers might get a little annoyed as much as embarrassed. It would be nothing to do with - you know - the War. I would feel the same about pretending to be an American or Australian or whatever. And how could I 'celebrate' German culture? It's not for me to celebrate, it's none of my business. That again is presumptious and rude.

That's not to say I can't enjoy things German, or American or Australian or whatever. And it always usually comes down to food and drink. Who doesn't like eating and drinking after all? But it's pretty obvious that eating rye bread and sausage or hamburgers and lime pie doesn't make one German or American (sorry America if that's a poor stereotype).

Yessica - the tea and cakes story is one to make you smile. Tea and cake is nice after all. Fish and chips (fries), with salt and vinegar applied, would have been as English too ........... though actually not any more. It might be more appropriate to have chips and kebab (with meat of dubious origin). If you go to Scotland you can have deep-fried chocolate bar! You'll have to ask Elliott for more information. :)

But no - you want to be British? You have to eat an Asian curry. Confused? Yes, so are we.

Having said that, curry is lovely. I ate one last night, in an Indian resaurant that also served Mississippi Mud Pie for dessert!

All this pandering to 'other cultures' comes down to self-deprecation and anything else is more worthy than your own achievements. Until recently I might have thought that this was a peculiar and two-fold British problem: Number one, we are as a race seemingly eager to take down heroes. We love bashing the successful and nit-picking for flaws. The UK press are particularly adept at this. Number two - I didn't think anyone else could actually behave as stupidly as we have done over say, the last 30 or 40 years (maybe more).

Nobody can have been as stupid as we have been in the UK. It's not possible. It's obviously a terrible thing to say, mournful and depressing. It's not necessarily the people per se (though it is too by now) but our leaders, who have facilitated it.

But now I find out that other countries have embarked upon similar foolishness. Even the Germans. If there was one place I would have said would have been free from this kind of thing, it would have been Germany. I can't quite say why, probably to do with the fact that I imagine the Germans are practical and.............. well, sensible. Same goes for America though really. It's only since the internet age (2000 for me) that a flow of information from day-to-day, rank and file Americans has been available, including this forum. TD has provided some information on the underlying situation in Holland and France.

I think the only 'other culture' learning I did at school, was being enthusiastically told about various French customs by our Francophile French teacher and only then in his French classes. He obviously loved France. All the same, conversation always seemed to steadily go on to mention 'la boulangerie'. Baked goods again and the eating thereon. I think I got the impression that the French somehow spent all their time eating and drinking. Not necessarily a bad thing, I may have thought, as a boy. I probably also knew, as a matter of general knowledge, that the French did have a strong cuisine culture and a world-famous wine industry.

That was about the extent of things. There was no time to be learning about everyone else's actual customs, much less trying to enact them. We had to learn our own customs after all. When I first went to Grammar School I was only 11 years old and about 4 foot-something. I didn't necessarily know that much. Anything additional to the academic side of school was either religious or learning the code of being an adult Briton.

I think if my teachers would have received directives to - well, waste time - enacting other cultures in valuable school moments, they would have ignored them. Maybe they did! If we had ever put in a request (as if we dared) to learn about other cultures (Islam for eg, ho hum) it might have resulted in say ............... being bashed over the head by about 9 inches of textbooks! Obviously we would have been angling to waste time, engage in idleness and basically - take the proverbial out of the teacher.

Who would want to be at school now? It would drive me crazy.
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Re: Celebrating other cultures in school - or just perpetuating stereotypes?

Postby Caleb » 19 May 2013, 05:44

Paul wrote:Who would want to be at school now? It would drive me crazy.


That's a question I ask myself all the time, but from the other side of the desk/classroom!

Mike is right in his observations, the other point I would make is that although these events are often even more work, they're sometimes seen as a nice break from everything else.

I suppose I'm meant to be some kind of cultural ambassador. It's pretty much de rigueur to teach Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas here, but I don't do it because it's silly, a confusing break in the curriculum, and generally linguistically obscure. Given that the average kid in my classes is at the "the dog is brown" level, what would I actually teach them in terms of culture anyway? It would just be some sort of exercise where kids made paper pumpkins and hung them up, none the wiser as to what any of it meant. Other teachers talk about all these lofty things like asking the kids what they'd give thanks for in their lives. That's a load of nonsense in a language they don't speak. They're nine years old, for crying out loud. Those kids would have trouble explaining their own customs in their own language, let alone mine in my language. Anyway, we don't celebrate Halloween or Thanksgiving in Australia. They're not my customs at all. As for Christmas, what's the birth without the death? Yet curiously, no one goes on about that. Anyway, again, I'm not even Christian, and I couldn't care less about the fat man in red with his reindeer either. Call me Scrooge.

The other thing that is all the rage is speech competitions or storytelling, whereby a kid (or several, if we're feeling particularly sadistic) barely memorises (and butchers the pronunciation of) a story usually with some stupid (socialistic) moral, such as tricking a rich guy into giving everyone free soup. As if that represents my culture either. Besides, unlike most people, I teach older kids, and what fourteen year old kid wants to perform a play about a hippo with a "toosache", as some kids from another junior high school did last year? For the past two years, I've written scripts for five minute versions of the Odyssey and the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I think I just confused everyone though, most of all the judges. Next year, I think I'll just do a five minute version of This Little Piggy Went to Market, or find my inner Wiggle, somehow. It might be up everyone's alley, so long as my students wear bright costumes, dance, and smile a lot. Handing out free mashed banana might help too. Now that's celebrating Australian culture.
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