Why Think About Culture?
– Kieran Dhunna Halliwell
Culture is a hot potato. It is the make-up of life and our environment, yet it is rarely discussed beyond food, clothes someone wears or a country of origin. When people talk about it, there seems to be safe areas to discuss, which allow for a superficial conversation to take place, but one which requires no real depth. For example, when talking with children I have been asked things such as “is everyone in India Hindu?” and “why do they wear funny clothes?” which I’m sure you will agree, are straight to the point and could be seen as narrow minded depending on the context, yet I have also met many adults who wonder the same things but do not openly put the questions forward. Instead, they wonder in silence. This has led to me wondering whether this happens due to a lack of confidence or whether it is because people don’t feel they are allowed to openly share their viewpoints. How do you feel about cultural conversations? How do you define culture?
Last month, I had the privilege of presenting at RSCON4 (Reform Symposium E-Conference 4) after being invited by Shelly Terrell and Clive Elsmore. My presentation, which can be seen here (http://ow.ly/qpwwX) was based around the Culture Chat Project and how the teacher could be used as a resource.
The project (www.kdhculturechat.blogspot.com) began with a yr3/4 class in Oxfordshire and the format was simple; spend 15-20mins a day discussing culture, sharing knowledge and making links between our own experience and values, and those of others. To start the project off, I asked some friends who were travelling to write a blog for us, which could act as a stimulus for discussion. Links to these are available on the main Culture Chat site. For e-safety and to ensure they were appropriate, all blogs were uploaded by myself to sites linked with my google+ account.
Throughout the project, we referred to the link blogs and considered what we were learning, the traveller’s experience and compared life in other countries to our own in England. These blogs, coupled with my own recent travels to Nepal were the only resources we needed because once the children began talking, they suddenly started adding in their own knowledge such as where their families had originated from, or asking questions which we would work together to find out. Parents took an interest and gave support too, creating a community feel around the project and opening communication channels between them and the school. The children were excited and often talked about it randomly throughout the day, showing that Culture Chat had motivated them and that they were making links. We showed the rest of the school what we’d been doing, so the whole school community could be involved and countries from around the world began visiting our website!
It was exploratory; a foot in the water for me, to see what children’s understanding of the world around them was. I was a new member of staff in a new area with no real plan for how the project would work, but despite this my new Head Teacher took a risk and allowed Culture Chat to go ahead! When the project began, I was nervous. I worried about what people would think. I worried I’d be laughed at. Most of all, I worried people wouldn’t want to talk openly about perspectives of the world. The atmosphere in Britain over the last 12 months has become less welcoming to foreigners, peaking over summer when the government backed a scheme of ‘Go Home’ vans being driven across London. The media regularly sensationalise reporting, but particularly in crimes relating to any ethnic minorities, which is resulting in a lack of tolerance, a divide, misconceptions and misunderstandings to seep into the public consciousness.
However, the seeing the benefit to the children has made it all worthwhile. During those short five weeks, they suddenly became engaged in the world around them and much more independent in their learning. They not only took an interest in the project in school, but also from home and many explored global learning with their parents and extended families too. I found out extra details about my class, which I wouldn’t otherwise have known, such as who had family from around the world, food preferences, holidays and most importantly, the children’s opinions, perceptions and feelings about the world around them. I learned things too. I realised I had the same mind-set that I described earlier in this piece – despite having thoughts about culture, I never really voiced them before the project. I assumed before a conversation started that people wouldn’t wonder the same things I did, or would think me narrow minded if I asked what would seem like obvious questions. These assumptions are what stop society from engaging in active discussion and are what is limiting understanding not only of culture, but of each other as human beings.
It is forty one years since John Lennon wrote the renowned song ‘Imagine’. In it, he refers to a world without war, where people are equal with no religion or countries and the world lives in peace. How much has changed since this song?
Culture Chat was born out of my dream for the future, one where people would be interested in culture, race and ethnicity beyond the superficial layers. Imagine a world where we appreciate each other. Imagine our children have an understanding of the world on a global scale, not just of their local community. Imagine a world where sharing our personalities, our backgrounds and our values are not perceived as a threat to the next person but as a way to make friends and enjoy discussing experiences and ideas. As far as general global history is concerned, we’ve had a prolonged spell of peace in comparison to previous centuries; if this is to continue, we must start working together now.
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