My Definitions of Diverse Cultures and What that means As an Educator

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Photo Credit: Marina Ballesteros. Cover of Loewen, J. W. (1995). Lies my teacher told me: everything your American history textbook got wrong. New York: New Press.

I think “Diverse Cultures” are groups of people who are part of a particular culture based on the similarities they share. These different cultures share similar characteristics, values, or beliefs. People can identify with belonging to one culture or several cultures. People may also not identify with a culture, but are still perceived by others as being part of that culture. Diverse cultures make up the world we live in. Because humans will always be able to identify similarities and differences from one another, the world will continue to be a place of diversity. Diversity does not have to have the negative connotation it can have in contemporary society. Difference has the potential to make the world a better place by making sure every situation is looked at from different perspectives.

Cultures are diverse because there are characteristics of it that set them apart from others. Different cultures may have the same values, but their definitions of those words may be different. In Rhetoric, Aristotle discusses, “It may be said that every individual man and all men in common aim at a certain end which determines what they choose and what they avoid. This end, to sum it up briefly, is happiness and its constituents.” Here Aristotle argues that everyone completes actions based on what makes them happy or not. He goes on to explain that things like, “plenty of friends, good friends, wealth, good children, plenty of children, a happy old age…” and others are what constitute happiness. Aristotle goes on even further to explain what exactly each of these things are. The problem with Aristotle’s definition of happiness is that it does not reflect the idea that every culture will not only have their own definition of happiness, but of other values. His definitions reflect a culture of the past and are therefore different than what my definitions would be for these words today.

This is problematic because it insinuates that there is only one correct definition or way of looking at things. Adichie discusses the repercussions of having a one sided story in her Ted Talk. I think the most important concept to take out of her Talk is that it is important to take every story and every book as one perspective out of many. For example she discusses reading American books as a child and only knowing American culture from what she read. She also said how her American college roommate only knew Nigerian culture from what she had also read. Adichie warned that they created unrealistic stereotypes about cultures different from their own because of only reading one side of the story, “What this demonstrates I think is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, especially as children” (2009).

This aligns with my experience with this idea and the concept of diverse cultures because I have found that it can be easy to create a judgment or stereotype about a culture based on what you are told by one perspective, or one single story. I liked how she described the problem with single stories because when you, “show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become” (Adichie 2009). For example, in current American media, people from the Middle East are sometimes thought of as terrorists or extremists, when in reality the percentage of those people are probably very small. This is similar to how Adichie described thinking about Mexican people because of the way they were depicted in the literature she read.

I also agreed with her closing statement “that when we reject the single story, when we realize there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise” (Adichie 2009). I agree that people need to remember that there is more than one story for every culture. Not every story you hear about one aspect of the culture defines it or all of the people in it completely. I think a way to embrace diverse cultures and regress from ultimate definitions and single stories is by moving away from Eurocentric textbooks in schools and moving more toward a culturally diverse versions that show many more perspectives. Loewen expands on this concept in the book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Book Got Wrong when he explains how students are disconnected from History classes because they feel no personal connection to it and teachers do not go out of their way to bring in more than the single story of historical events. He challenges educators to expand their pedagogies to go beyond the single story, “Students will start learning history when they see the point of doing so, when it seems interesting and important to them, and when they believe history might relate to their lives and futures. Students will start riding history interesting when their teachers and textbooks stop lying to them” (p. 305). Therefore, the diverse values, opinions, and characteristics make up the cultures of the world. We need to embrace these differences and resist believing our own is better than another, while also resisting believing only one single story within a sea of stories.

References

Loewen, J. W. (1995). Lies my teacher told me: everything your American history textbook got wrong. New York: New Press.

https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en#t-1104310

http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/rhetoric.1.i.html

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