Friday, January 28, 2005

Create Your Own--Whaa?

Yesterday in my sociology class we started one of my favorite projects: Create Your Own Culture! My students are learning about the components of culture and, after we cover cultural universals, I have them create their own culture. The assignment has basic components like, People: Are your members of society human? If so, what is their ethnicity? or Education: Do they go to school? If so, for how long? What are the most important academic subjects? The list goes on to include many vocab words and sociological ideas. I love this project because of the sheer creativity involved.

ANYWAY, yesterday one of my students called me over. "Are we going to present these?" he asked. "I'm not going to require it. Maybe for extra credit," I said. "Good. Because mine might offend people." I looked down. His culture is called Rebel Island and allows only white people. I blinked. This young white boy is one of the only white kids in my class. "Ya, that might make people upset. You don't have to present that," I said.

I was immediately troubled because I didn't know if I handled the situation correctly. I was completely offended by his culture, but not surprised. As a teacher, do I have a responsibility to negate this kind of mentality? I decided not directly. Here is my reasoning:

1. Everyone has a right to their opinion. These rights are called civil liberties. He has the right to long for the South to rise again. I have the right to disagree.
2. My disapproval of his culture is not going to change his mind. Also, my job is to cultivate the growth of each child, regardless of whether I disagree with them. As long as he is getting the sociological concepts, it's not my place to out-and-out reject his ideas.

I don't know. I strive for my classroom to be a safe space and I am very strict about forbidding slurs of any sort. My students know that I'm open-minded and I'm not a fan of judging others. When I address the class, I address them as though they are not racist or homophobic or sexist. I think I handled the situation correctly, but a small part of me wonders whether I'm wrong.

I asked another teacher what she would have done and she offered this reply, "How boring would that be!"


Blogger G-Man said...

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9:06 PM  
Blogger G-Man said...

To leave this kid without challenging him to justify his culture is wrong...I think. The fact that you have an atmosphere of acceptance in your class is good and perhaps if you were a more hardlined teacher this kid may not have dared to expose his real feelings. The challenge, it seems to me, is for you now to, in a safe context, explore the rationale of this kid's thinking and hopefully offer him serious issues realted to racism so that he might shift his value system to more a more non racist direction.
When I was a kid I was in a family that was racist and sexist and every other "ist". It was education that helped me realize that these societal issues are very complex and require considerable study under the quidance of skilled teachers/professors.
So it's great to allow kids to feel they can share exactly how they feel without attack, but the real tough job is elevating their awareness of issues without turning them off.
All the best! I know your job is monumental and you deserve much credit for choosing teaching as your career. I know it is unappreciated and under paid.

9:09 PM  

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