My Preparation for a Diverse Student Body

One of the main reasons I was drawn to the teaching profession was the opportunity for cross-cultural exchange and to promote such relationships in our society. As I white male working in or for communities of color as an English teacher first and then a primary teacher, I found that I had the opportunity to represent the dominant culture in a positive way for immigrant children and their families, or for marginalized minority American groups as well. I take this responsibility and opportunity very seriously and I have grown quite comfortable translating a parent-teacher conference in Spanish or reaching out to the Hmong community in our school in order to learn more about them. This is a part of the job I love.

And to be frank, I think I had that interest in understanding the other, in empathizing and attempting to take on their perspective before I entered the Teach-Now program, before I completed my clinical and before I continued on to the Master’s in Global Ed program. In fact, my purpose was set as I entered the profession, to be a positive social mirror for students of color and immigrants, and to do my best to treat them like the individuals that they are.

What my clinical experience and my learning in this module have taught me the academic terms and definitions that go along with my experiences teaching in these communities. I knew I wanted to seek to know and understand people of other cultures beyond stereotypes, but I didn’t know that I might be avoiding the single story danger or tokenism in the process. I always knew that I valued diversity and would seek it out in my personal and professional life, but I didn’t know that this was a central component of culturally competent teaching. I also keenly felt the insider immigrant tendencies while abroad to seek situations where I could take a break from my second language learning, where I could find emotional and instrumental support in regards to the challenges of living outside of my own culture. No I have those strategies in mind the next time I am working toward better intercultural communication and understanding in my classroom or school.

The truly revelatory part of my Teach-Now clinical experience and now with this Global Ed module, is that I have gone through the process of thinking and reflecting about cultural interactions, in what ways they are fraught with challenges, where and when I have had negative intercultural experiences, and also what the environment was like when I had sublime experiences of connecting across a great cultural divide. Knowing what both of those contexts look and feel like will make me more culturally self-aware going forward, and will allow me to more accurately dissect the dynamics of cultural interactions my students have and that I have with them and their families. In short, the reflection will make me more sensitive to the two-way social mirror present, how Hmong families might see me as a white man educating their son, and how I reflect their identity by treatment and consideration for them.

The big challenge for me at my current school is getting to know the Hmong community. I do not know their history, their language, or their culture like I know those of Latinos, African-Americans, Koreans, or other immigrant minority groups. In reading Chee Vang’s exhortation to implement Hmong culture into classrooms, my ignorance was confirmed once again, but so was my awareness for the need to learn more. In fact, earlier this year I had a conversation with a Hmong diversity consultant, who took some time out to teach me her approach to schools with significant Hmong populations along with a few critical facts about the Hmong culture. She taught that Hmong people are not as transactional as white Americans in their interactions and she told me that the biggest fear of Hmong parents is that their children will completely assimilate into American culture and lose their heritage even more than it has been threatened and lost already. As a member of the district equity team, I felt that it was very important that we have a Hmong representative from the Muir Elementary community and so I reached out to several and found one mother willing to commit her time to the effort.

I still have enormous gaps in my knowledge of the Hmong people, but at least I can see and feel those gaps now. At least, I have resources and community connections which can help me to slowly fill those gaps and implement more responsive approaches to my Hmong students. The next phase will be sharing what I learned and what institutional knowledge already exists at Muir Elementary about our Hmong community, so that new teachers can gain the knowledge they need with this particular population.

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My Cultural Identity Explained

I am a white, cisgender, straight, neurotypical male born in the Pacific Northwest, raised by a single mother, and firmly part of the American middle class. From early on I had to “code-switch” within my family because my mother’s side of the family did not go to church and did not identify as Christian, while my father’s side of my family goes to church routinely, identifies as Christian above and before many other identities they possess. I had switch my language somewhat dramatically when in the presence of my Christian family, careful not to say “Oh my God” or “Jesus!” as terms of exasperation or surprise. And considering my mom was raising me without being married to my dad and without my dad playing a major role in my childhood, this was controversial on that side of my family and I had to play diplomat. Furthermore, my dad’s half of the family were more recent rural immigrants of northern European descent, lacking any generational wealth and higher education aside from my dad at the time of my youth. In contrast, on my mom’s side of the family, I was a fifth generation Seattleite, urban, educated, wealthy, industrialists, and quite comfortable with the trappings of west coast high society.

Nevertheless, both sides of my family left me feeling ethnically identifiable as part of the dominant culture in the US, of anglo-saxon descent with a very American and Pacific Northwest social imaginary about my local place and the world. Fortunately, the bit of religious code-switching I had to do among my father’s side of the family began my training early on in taking the other’s side and trying to speak their language and learn their social norms and expectations. Otherwise, I would have floated along in a world that made sense to me and included many assumptions about the world that other cultures balk at, and I never would have fathomed such opinions and customs could exist.

That religious code-switching early on combined with my social interactions in middle school to begin to create my multi-cultural awareness and take me down a more globalized identity pathway. My best friend in elementary school was part of a proud middle class, well-educated, multigenerational Japanese-American family. They told me of the Japanese internment camps of WWII, how the government had seized their accumulated wealth at the time, shops, business, homes, and possessions. They told me how the Japanese-Americans had contributed to the settling and development of the Puget Sound region. And yet this family is fully assimilated into the American dominant culture on their own terms, owning an admirable fusion of cultures, a transcultural identity that has only grown stronger through the generations.

In middle school, we added a Chinese-Korean-American friend, who’s family lived and worked in the International District aka Chinatown of Seattle. This is a strong immigrant community, his parents were both first generation immigrants, he spoke a bit of a second language at home, ate much different foods than I did and had a much broader perspective on the world than I did. And yet, we identified each other as lovers of basketball, shoes and action movies. These relationships changed my identity in a way that I did not perceive at the time, yet I was already growing accustomed to being in the homes of families that did not look like me, sound like me, or see the world the same as me or my parents.

In high school, my heterosexual white male identity was dominant. I was a jock. I was a jock that was good at school. I was a jock that was good at school and somewhat popular and normal. I partied, I liked girls, I played on the basketball team, I liked typically urban male things like sneakers, rap music and hanging out with my friends in the popular crowd. I look back on this as my least tolerant and least multicultural identity phase. My identity pathway had narrowed and the dominant white urban American culture had come into stark focus. The whiteness of Seattle had won out.

The last major change of my identity took place over time starting in college. I began to seriously study the Spanish language, I studied abroad, traveled abroad, lived and worked abroad for the first time. I loved it. I felt empowered to explore the previously unknown corners of this endlessly interesting Earth. I found that interacting with a person from a totally different background was exhilarating and always edifying. I found that while I struggled all the same with the challenges of authentic encounter with the other, and butting cultural heads with my new friends and acquaintances in other countries, I never was discouraged by it, never focused to heavily on the confirmation of negative stereotypes and mostly found greater and greater nuance in the peoples I met across the globe. I attempted to become an intimate insider in Latin America and succeeded to a limited extent, proficiency in the language, long-term relationships and work environments provided the portals for entry into a deep understanding of people who did not grow up like me at all.

Consequently, I have come home with a mixed identity that I do not recognize in many of my oldest friends in Seattle who have not left, or who have not had these international experiences. Some of the cultural and social norms that I took for granted before now seem silly, frivolous, questionable or even more sensible and right than I perceived before. At this point, I feel like my identity is globally oriented while locally rooted. I know where I’m from and I’m proud of what my local place stands for in this world, and I’m proud to be a part of the PNW culture. Yet, I yearn for international exposure and count myself as a world=traveler who will spend his life seeking to understand foreign places and peoples as best I can.

Planning for Action Research II

Of the three topic options for my Teach-Now Global Education Master’s action research proposal (language and multilingualism, international mindedness, or self-defined), my research question will address international mindedness and how discourses around the need for such a mindset and skill-set in schools drives international education in my local school districts. Through a survey of recent literature, international education and 21st century learning implementation guides, internationally minded standards, and a cross-section of teachers and administrators working in local international schools, I intend to answer the following question:

 

What are the discourses that drive the creation and expansion of international schools and international programs in the greater Seattle area?

 

In pursuing an answer to that question I will use the discourse analysis outlined by Walter C. Parker of the University of Washington in 2008 and 2011, which identified two strong and three weak discourses pushing the international education movement forward in Seattle area schools. I will attempt a less exhaustive update to his analyses, but I will use his identified discourses as a tool to compare and contrast the current international education trends. In so doing, I will attempt to answer the following questions which will help me to answer my broader, primary question:

  1. What are the discourses that drive this particular “international” school or program? Do they match those found by Parker (2008, 2011)?
  2. If the strong and weak discourses have changed, has the mission of the local international schools changed? And if so, has this or how has this affected the development of international education, and the curriculum and instruction to go along with it?
  3. Do the current IE discourses reflect the rise of populist ethno-nationalism in the US?
  4. Is international education seen as the salvation to a current crisis of public education in the area?
  5. Do the WA OSPI 21st century Career and Technical Education (CTE) standards and resources stress the economic and military security discourse, or are Parker’s marginal discourses more prominent in their language?
  6. What discourses do the adopted CTE programs in the area, namely the IB Career Programme and AVID, reflect in their mission, vision and program descriptions?
  7. Does international education in Seattle Public Schools reflect the weak or strong discourses laid out by Parker, or has the power shifted in those terms?

 

The schools systems and districts I will be studying represent an education context that demands 21st century skills and knowledge of the world. The Seattle area is a major player in the global economy with many transnational corporations including Amazon, Microsoft, and Boeing, which create many well-paid STEM jobs that the education system in the state of Washington cannot come close to filling with its own citizens. The state of Washington is the third largest exporting state in the union and many of the public education systems in the state are clamoring to prepare their students for this dynamic, globalized economy, yet they can’t keep pace with the demand for engineers, computer programmers and business managers prepared for a diverse, cross-cultural workplace. In the meantime, those transnational corporations are importing an affluent, well-educated migrant class to work for them. Mostly coming from China and India, these immigrants are rapidly changing the demographics and economics of the Seattle area in profound ways, creating tensions around housing prices, new school boundaries and more.

Thus, the Seattle area and its international education programs offer a vital measuring stick for the notion that in the 21st century a good education is truly an international education. If that notion is not supported by the discourses used to justify the creation and development of international schools in the area we need to know why. And we need to know what discourses are employed by local educators instead.

Cross-Cultural Terminology: Competing Forces

Mark Heyward defines Intercultural Literacy as the unconscious, transcultural ability to empathize with another from a different culture, to take on their perspective and embed it into your own thinking, to be the dynamic, multilingual ‘mediating person’ who can navigate between and among many different kinds of people.

For Heyward there are many reasons to aspire to this high level of cultural competency; to make the world more cooperative, safer, and sustainable for all, while also ensuring each person’s economic competitiveness in a globalized world. It is not clear where his emphasis lies, but the economic security of being interculturally literate is not mentioned first and is not mentioned repeatedly in his paper From international to intercultural. In fact, Heyward is setting a very high aspirational goal for a new ‘global species’ of human who still occupies a plurality of identities, but has gone well beyond a nationalist or monolingual culture and identity and has instead become transcultural.

Of course, Heyward argues that international schools are uniquely positioned to provide the environment which shepards young students through their ‘crisis of engagement’ and onto progressively higher levels of mono-, cross- and intercultural literacy. This ‘crisis of engagement’ as Heyward calls it, is essential, for only through experience and encounter with the other can one begin to understand and then move on to integrate the other cultural and social imaginary. This eventual unconscious integration of bicultural and transcultural identity is problematic in a world that is in many regions and nations backlashing against notions of transnational economic cooperation and transnational pluralistic societies. Looking at the white nationalist movements in the US and Eastern Europe as an extreme, one can easily assume the virulent objections concerning the loss of culture, identity, and the dangers of a monocultural or multicultural society that would be raised. There are more legitimate concerns, of course, like those who would see this transcultural process as another form of cultural imperialism from the west, or those developing nations that use a national image and identity to spur growth and energy in its workforce.

 

Intercultural literacy shares an emphasis on experience as a philosophical footing with international mindedness (IM). The term IM is associated with Kurt Hahn and the International Baccalaureate programmes (IB), and the experiences are meant to engender the dispositions and attributes of an IB Learner; risk-takers, caring, principled, open minded and more.

Dr. Arathi Sripakash and his colleagues, in their study of six IB schools in Australia, China and India, found a significant association with IM and Hahn’s idealized traditional western education and the IB World Schools acknowledgement that they come from a humanist western tradition. In fact, many students and families enrolled in IB schools in these countries see IM as a form of “western cultural capital” intended to help them navigate the western higher education system. The study found that IM in these schools and cultures was more curriculum and instruction focused and put less emphasis on the constructivist or experiential learning that both Hahn and Heyward find essential to creating a student who can effectively navigate and contribute to a globalized world. Thus, Sripakash describes a very practical version of IM which is limited in its effect on student identities and does deeply engage students in the tensions between the nationalist project of developing China, say, and the international education pursuits of its highest achieving students.

 

In this practical vein, we move on to global competence, as defined by Veronica Boix Mansilla and Anthony Jackson in the Asia Society’s joint publication with the Council of Chief State Schools Officers (CCSSO) entitled Educating for Global Competence. In it, Mansilla and Jackson define global competence as “the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance.” Action to “improve conditions” in the world is emphasized throughout the document, but most especially in the matrices for global competence in multiple subject areas. To build global competence in students all subject area teachers should follow the following learning cycle:

  1. Investigate the world
  2. Recognize perspectives, both their own and others’
  3. Communicate ideas, to diverse audiences
  4. Take action, to improve conditions

The notable verbs repeated in all the subject area matrices are the following: Identify, Analyze, Produce, Recognize, Examine, Explain, Explore, Use, Select, Reflect, Assess, Act

Aside from ‘reflect’, this comes off as a very western-oriented actionable matrix. Even in the global competence matrix for the world languages subject area it is all about the functionality of the second language. For example, “reflect on how proficiency in more than one language contributes to their own capacity to advocate for and contribute to improvement locally, regionally or globally.” This is all about the ability to “improve conditions”, not about the reflecting upon new awarenesses, interconnections made, perspectives newly understood and adopted, not much at the intercultural literacy level advocated by Heyward.

Screenshot 2018-02-17 at 11.30.37

In fact, there is a whole body of western imperialism criticism of international education, and particularly the international mindedness of the IB programmes, being the most prominent and common model of international schools worldwide. Lodewijck van Oord argues that there are three primary western liberal epistemological assumptions embedded in the IB Diploma Programme:

  1. Marketplace of ideas, wide range of valid opinions
  2. Questioning is central, fallibility is acknowledged
  3. Marketplace of ideas will lead to truth, the best ideas win out

Citing Blooms and Gardner, van Oord makes the case that our traditional western liberal values tell us that mean-making is the ideal end of education, and that conceptual knowledge has primacy over rote learning of quantities of content.

In addition, Barry Drake takes van Oord’s conclusions about the values found in western liberal education and how the IB programme reflects those values, and calls on education policy makers in non-Western, non-Eurocentric nations to deeply consider the implications and potential ‘cultural dissonances’ produced when those Eastern, African or Latin American nations adopt the IB programmes in their national schools. In terms of teaching methodology

the PYP is committed, unapologetically, to “. . . structured, purposeful inquiry, which engages students actively in their own learning, because it is believed that this is the way in which students learn best. The PYP believes that students should be invited to investigate important subject matter by formulating their own questions, looking at the various means available to answer the questions and proceeding with research, experimentation,  observation and other means that will lead them to their own responses to the issues.” This is the IBO basically declaring a constructivist theory of learning. Meaning making through first person experience, which is a western pedagogical approach and yet also problematic in the west with western students in some settings, high poverty and trauma communities. Thus, the adoption of this epistemology and pedagogy must be done intentionally, Drake argues, so that the environment for cross-cultural cultivation is set appropriately.

 

My philosophical beliefs in how children be taught and should learn definitely fall into the western liberal tradition. I believe in meaning making through inquiry and that truth will reveal itself in the marketplace of ideas. But I certainly acknowledge that these assumptions are fraught, or simply ineffectual, for many communities and cultures. Like I said, constructivist learning does not work for all students coming from the western tradition, direct instruction, rote memorization and deep content knowledge are aspects of teaching and learning that are important even in the western education setting and indeed work better for some students, particularly those coming from high poverty or trauma situations where uncertainty in learning is not desirable. The pitfalls for non-western students can be even greater, identity alienation and a lack of relevance and reflection of their own lives in the educational setting. That lack of practical connection between their own lives and traditions and the learning taking place in their school, is the opposite intent of the western tradition of educating, thus it can self-defeating.

That being said, there are value judgments made when deciding upon education policy, and in curriculum and instruction choices, and I would tend to the integration of IM, IL and GC into a school curricula because I see the need for a trained, culturally competent citizenry in a globalized world, I’ve experienced the joy of intercultural experience, and those ‘crisis of engagement’ have been the most important formative experiences of my life and continued education. I agree with Drake, that it is critical for policy makers, school directors and teachers to consider the effect and implications for adopting IM through the IB programmes in a non-western school setting, but that does not mean that the right environment, the appropriate considerations, and the positive, identity affirming experiences cannot be achieved in the name of higher order thinking strategies, meaning making and self-actualizing student imaginaries.

 

Sources:

Heyward, M. (2002). From international to intercultural: Redefining the international school for a globalized world. Journal of Research in International Education,1, 9-32. Retrieved February 16, 2018

Sriprakash, A. (2014). A comparative study of international mindedness in the IB Diploma Programme in Australia, China and India(Publication).

Boix Mansilla, V., & Jackson, A. (2011). Educating for Global Competence: Preparing our Youth to Engage the World(Rep.). New York, NY: Asia Society.

Lodewijk van Oord (2007) To westernize the nations? An analysis of thevInternational Baccalaureate’s philosophy of education, Cambridge Journal of Education, 37:3, 375-390, DOI: 10.1080/03057640701546680

Drake, B. (2015). International education and IB programmes. Journal of Research in International Education,3, 189-205. Retrieved February 16, 2018.

Thoughtful Tech for Students & Teachers

I am on a serious podcast kick. My forty minute to an hour commute affords me ample time to consume almost a podcast a day. Vox editor, Ezra Klein, consistently refers to himself and his guests as “infovores” and while I wouldn’t dare put myself in a class with Ta’Nehisi Coates and Tyler Cowen, I would like to consider myself an infovore too.

Here’s what podcasts I’ve been tuning into lately:

  • S-Town – A strange saga of a small Alabama town and one of its eccentric denizens
  • The Tim Ferriss Show – Work and live smart, but don’t expect to be as successful or productive as Tim Ferriss himself
  • Recode Decode – Tech- and media-centered podcast featuring the incisive Kara Swisher
  • The Ezra Klein Show – The Vox editor interviews fantastically interesting and important thinkers and infovores (my personal favorite podcast)

Last, On Being with Krista Tippett has been a podcast and radio staple for years now. If you don’t know her soothing lilt and curious questioning, you should! Recently I listened to her discussion with Anil Dash, a serial tech entrepreneur turned thought-leader on tech ethics and purpose.

I was ignorant of Dash before listening to the podcast, and found it pleasantly surprising to come across an industry leader asking all the tough reflective questions that seem to go unaddressed each time a new iPhone iOS is released. Dash and Tippett cover the gamut too, including personal tech use and best practices, social media pros and cons, automation, self-driving cars and machine learning.

The whole conversation is worth a listen, but if you are an educator you should listen especially closely to the section where Dash describes his thoughts on how children should engage with technology. Below is a transcript of that section of their conversation:

MS. TIPPETT: So my children are, right now, 18 and 22. And even in those four years, there was such an acceleration. And it was interesting also in terms of the platforms they and their friends use completely shifted.

MR. DASH: Totally different tools. Yeah.

MS. TIPPETT: And I’m actually — I find myself being really grateful that I’m not a parenting — we were still in that window where I could say, “No, you will not have an iPhone until you’re 14,” or something, which I just don’t think you can do anymore, right? And so they were already kind of formed before all of the technology entered their lives. And I know it’s changed so much now in the meantime, and you have a 5-year-old. I mean, I wonder how are you thinking about that question.

MR. DASH: We don’t have a very intelligent cultural conversation about how kids engage with technology at all.

MS. TIPPETT: No. No.

MR. DASH: I think…

MS. TIPPETT: It’s like a guinea pig generation.

MR. DASH: Yeah. Well, it’s also — I also think of the concept of “screen time.” When you’re with young kids, you’ve heard this, right? “Do you limit your child’s screen time?” And it’s like, no. I engage

with what he’s specifically doing. I don’t limit his page time. I just choose whether he’s reading a book or a magazine or whether it’s something that’s like a bunch of — he’s 5 years old, so he likes poop jokes. But — how much of that and how much of, like, smart stuff? And so the idea that they’re both on pages and are therefore equivalent is absurd, and yet we talk about screen time that way. I’m like, is he playing chess on the iPad? Or is he watching funny YouTube videos of animals falling over? Which is also awesome, but different.

And so that really — that always sticks with me because I think it’s a very unsophisticated way to look at things, and then we carry that forward. And that’s when they’re very, very young, right? 2, 3, 4, 5. They first start seeing screens. And my son maybe spends 15 minutes a day on the iPad, and he loves it, and that’s all he gets. But that’s always been the rule for him, so it doesn’t matter. And I limit it mostly just because we limit everything. I mean, you just don’t let a 5-year-old do whatever they want, or you end up in hell.

[laughter]

MS. TIPPETT: Are you saying — so, this is a radical idea. You apply the same wisdom you apply to other things to technology?

MR. DASH: Yeah.

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, well that…

MR. DASH: Well, that’s the thing. It’s part of your life. I think that was the thing. I saw so many parents — and this is not judgment. I don’t judge other parents. Other parents are fine.

MS. TIPPETT: No, we’re all on this frontier, and we’re learning a language.

MR. DASH: But as we’re figuring it out, they treat it as if there is life — they say this — like, “This is real life, and then there’s computer world.” And I’m like, “That’s not the thing. That’s not how their lives are gonna be.” And I think I had an unusual perspective, in that I did start using computers before I was in kindergarten, just as my son has.

And he has way better programing tools. I was like, “Gosh, if I had these things.” He’s got — because we had to do these primitive blocky green graphics on the screen when I was a kid, and he’s got this Star Wars robot that he can go on the iPad and give it programming instructions, and it follows his directions to roll around the living room. And I’m like, “That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” Like, you wait until they go to bed so you can play with it.

[laughter]

MR. DASH: And that’s — no, he’s going to listen to this I bet. So — I don’t do that. I don’t do that.

[laughter]

MR. DASH: But the thing that I think about is that that’s part of his life. It’s not over there. It’s not an artifice. It’s not the virtual world. It’s just life. And I think about that with so many experiences where, when we were fighting for validating social media and social networking, saying these would be important, these would be part of our lives and there’s a reason to include it, it was about this idea that sharing makes something better.

I fully reject the argument — people say this all the time. You know, “I saw this young person in a restaurant on their own, on their phone, not interacting with anyone.” What do you think they were doing? They were talking to people.

MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Right.

MR. DASH: They were interacting with lots of humans all at once. And it makes me furious because I’m saying they’re being deeply social. It’s not in the mode that you know, but it’s actually better than when they were sitting alone at the diner with a book. And I think there’s been this misunderstanding and this misapprehension about what the tech is doing. It is connecting us to people.

And there’s so much attention paid — and with good reason — to the bullying and the other things, the cyber bullying and all those. A general rule of thumb is anything that begins with “cyber” is a lie. Like, if you say “cyber bullying” or “cyber crime,” it was probably — that’s one of those rare areas where they — it’s a behavior that existed before, and the “cyber” is not the issue. So children being unkind to each other…

MS. TIPPETT: Right. So nothing happens online that doesn’t happen offline.

MR. DASH: Right. And so being able to integrate it — now it can be worse because of the network effects. It can be amplified by the immediacy and the fact that it happens in your home. But the principles can carry across. And it has to be an integrated conversation, and that’s the key. It’s like, how much time do you limit your child talking to their friends? I don’t care if it’s on the phone, on the computer on messaging, in real life, in person, out in public, whatever it is. If you have a set of rules, they apply across these things. But that demands a literacy and a fluency that I think takes a serious investment in time and understanding your child’s context. And that’s the hard part.

A few key takeaways:
  • Screen time versus quality time on technology is the tech equivalent of blended learning versus traditional learning. We get tripped up thinking too much about the amount of screen time or the specific innovative model of learning, and forget that quality is key no matter what we’re talking about. I have always thought that I would limit the screen time of my own children, and I probably still will, but now I’ll remind myself that the important thing is the quality of time spent on a screen or in the neighborhood, and both can be positive for children.
  • “Nothing happens online that doesn’t happen offline.” However, the tech affect can amplify an experience in certain ways.
  • Mr. Dash: “But the thing that I think about is that that’s part of his life. It’s not over there. It’s not an artifice. It’s not the virtual world. It’s just life. And I think about that with so many experiences where, when we were fighting for validating social media and social networking, saying these would be important, these would be part of our lives and there’s a reason to include it, it was about this idea that sharing makes something better.

    I fully reject the argument — people say this all the time. You know, “I saw this young person in a restaurant on their own, on their phone, not interacting with anyone.” What do you think they were doing? They were talking to people.”

    This whole section gives me pause, because I’m not a digital native, nor do I desire to be. I want to leverage technology to serve me as a human, not the other way around, and maybe, just maybe, help create a technology that serves HUMAN learning, not machine learning. This leads me to bifurcate my life between the virtual, online world and the “real world”. While I realize that these two worlds are already indistinguishable in many respects, and I recognize that Dash’s son’s generation, the generation of my 2nd grade students, are going to see tech as a fully integrated part of life, I’m not yet comfortable with that. And I don’t know what this means for me as a teacher and ed tech user.

    Please let me know your thoughts on this tech educator dilemma if you can relate. And, if you know of any great and compelling education podcasts out there, please do share!

We feel, therefore we learn

This article originally appeared in the July issue of BiBimBap magazine, an online journal for EFL teachers in Jeollanamdo, South Korea. You can view the ISSUU version here.

The Emerging Science of Culture and Emotions in the Classroom

At our orientation in Gwangju, all of us JLP NET’s were introduced to the cultural framework of Geert Hofstede who, according to JLP coordinator Chris Devison, characterized Korea as “collectivist, slightly feminine, having large power distance and a strong avoidance of uncertainty”. Among the many implications that this unique Korean cultural makeup has in our English classrooms, Chris pointed out that, “What your students have learned when learning Korean is part of their identity and eliminating it completely may give the impression of threatening their identity.” Another important implication is that, “Korean students also have a strong avoidance of uncertainty and ambiguity. This causes them to seem quiet and shy as they prefer not to ask about the unknown and even try to avoid it if possible.” At one point or another, we have all found ourselves frustrated with the variety of Korean cultural elements at play in our classrooms.

Indeed, as Western Waygooks we all experience the cultural effects on education in Korea more acutely than the natives. We are able to compare and contrast against what we know of and experienced in our schools back home, as students and/or teachers. In addition to what we intuit about the cultural effect on education systems and learning styles, there is an emerging body of research that confirms and potentially clarifies that effect.

At the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, Professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang is in the midst of a five year study of Latino, East Asian and bi-cultural students to see how culture affects the social development of the adolescent brain. Half way through the research period, Immordino-Yang claims there are already two big takeaways about learning; first, Immordino-Yang says, “Traditional educational approaches think about emotion the way Descartes did; emotion is interfering with your ability to do well in school, to think rationally. Neuroscience is showing us that that is absolutely not the case—when you take emotion out of thought you have no basis for thought anymore. So we’re trying to understand how socially constructed emotion shapes learning, academic development and identity.”

Second, Immordino-Yang says “There were no differences at all in how much these young adults’ brains were activating when they responded to our emotional stories—and no differences in the strengths of emotions that participants in the different cultural groups reported…But there was a strong cultural difference in how patterns of neural activity corresponded in real-time with participants’ experience—in how people became aware of their emotion.”

In other words, emotions play a big role in how we all learn, regardless of cultural or linguistic backgrounds, and yet those backgrounds do have a differing effect on our awareness and outward expression of those same emotions we all feel.

Based on my background teaching in Latin America, Korea and the U.S., these preliminary results of Immordino-Yang’s research rung true, and so I became interested in hearing how or if this study resonated with some of my fellow English teachers here in Yeosu. So I asked them. What follows is an abbreviated version of some of the highlights of that discussion.

How do you say ‘emotions’ in Korean?

Many of the teachers I interviewed expressed bewilderment at the fact that emotions were once thought to have no role in learning. Most seemed to believe that across cultures emotions play a significant role in learning, but that student emotions in a Korean classroom differ significantly from those in Western classrooms. For example, Alison Pirtle (Nam Elementary), said, “I find that it is more difficult here to identify the students who are experiencing big, emotional issues in Korea, than it is in the U.S. My lack of understanding the Korean language probably has a lot to do with that, but I also think it’s their lack of outward emotions as well. Back in the States, it’s often easy to identify students who are having emotional issues due to personal problems. Here, though, it seems that students internalize their problems so it’s harder to identify a student who really needs emotional support.”

The emerging results of the Immordino-Yang study confirm this anecdotal observation about East Asian students. In a cultural identity test students are asked to monitor their heart rate after performing a simple exercise. “What we find is that among the East-Asian American kids, it’s the kids who are not particularly sensitive to their heartbeats who are saying they strongly hold Asian values, whereas among the Latino kids, it’s those who have a better ability to feel their heartbeats who are saying they strongly hold Latino cultural values,” says Immordino-Yang. In other words, a person’s cultural identity may affect their sensitivity to or awareness of their own physical and emotional state.

One teacher went a step further regarding emotions in our English classrooms and brought it back to us as Western educators and cultural ambassadors in Korea. Melody Peters (Booyeong Elementary) said, “The biggest thing in any classroom in Korea is that to the students we don’t just teach English, we ARE English. We can have the best resources, technology, and curriculum, but if we don’t show up emotionally, if we don’t see ourselves as the biggest asset in their learning, then we offer little chance of the students to emotionally connect with the language.”

The Cultural Elephant in the Room

In the end, Immordino-Yang puts her study’s implications for learning fairly succinctly, “We’re learning that what’s happening on the outside—the same story, the same lesson—can be interpreted differently, experienced differently, by different learners. So we really need to start to unpack the roles of school culture and individual variability when we think about how children learn. We need to understand that the way kids feel matters.”

Not surprisingly, this is where my conversations with my fellow NET’s on this subject got a bit more critical of Korean and Confucian culture. Issues like the singular adolescent pressure of Suneung (수능) were mentioned, large class sizes, the lack of differentiation in instruction and too much rigidity in the curriculum. While the most watched TED Talk of all time is Sir Ken Robinson’s on creativity and schools, John Palmsano (Shinwol Elementary) wrote of Korea, “Creativity isn’t reinforced as much as it is back home. Asking them {students} to be creative with or modify their use of our language is something out of reach of all but the most advanced elementary speakers.”

Lastly, the Confucian undercurrents in modern Korean society are significant. Its emphasis on family and social harmony are evidenced positively here by the Han River Miracle and the high level of personal safety we all feel walking down the street. “It ensures that Korea is a strong society and community by ensuring everyone’s survival and collective success as a people. The teamwork of Korea astounds me as an American,” writes Ryan Hedger (Yeosu Information Science High School). The downsides, as we all know, are rigid social hierarchy, lack of individual identity and one-size-fits all solutions to all sorts of problems ranging from safety to English language acquisition.

In spite of the significant strengths of Korean culture, the questions that the Immordino-Yang study presents for Korean society and education remain. Is that initial progress and success brought about by Korean culture and the education system now being impeded by those same forces? Is it necessary to improve the quality and style of education in Korea in order to leverage student emotion? How can the strong and proud collectivist culture of Korea, which has assured their sovereignty and exported wonders across the globe, accommodate the unique learning needs of individual students in the education system? Should Korea even care about a Western academic study on culture and learning?

My answer to those questions is YES, YES, IDK and definitely! But, of course, I’m the one working in a foreign culture here.

GOOD Magazine on Immordino-Yang – http://magazine.good.is/articles/cultural-literacy?utm_source=thedailygood&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailygood

USC Rossier School of Education article – http://rossier.usc.edu/immordino-yang-probes-the-connections-between-emotion-culture-and-learning/