Part of the reason, I guess is that it is connected to those gnarly subjects 'cultural appropriacy and responsiveness', which can lead to some strong, occasionally critical, reactions. The elephant in the room is often the feeling of not knowing how to react appropriately, and a fear that the people with whom you are interacting would not be sympathetic to your not knowing.
The session I was participating in was a professional development session about facilitation. We discussed the idea that facilitation can take many forms, and whether it is 'good' or not is in part dependent on context and interpretation - and all of these are factors are likely to change over time as beliefs around learning and teaching shift.
All great so far...then my brain went into overdrive - for me, given the points above some of the interesting conundrums included:
- If a person does not share your values around how facilitation is conducted, what are the implications around that?
- Can a person elect to not engage with the way a learning experience is set up? What is the result of this?
- Can you go in with humility if you have a set of values up front - should they be negotiated as part of the process?
- Can we assume that every school, institution, iwi or whanau accepts that the values you go in with are the most valuable ones for them?
- What do we have to learn about the people that we are going to be working with?
- A suggestion was that it is necessary to bring something to a session that is 'part' of the people - analogies, images, ways of talking about things. But, how do you do that in a diverse community. What if the analogies are meaningless to some of the people in the room? Do you focus on the majority? Do you try to cover most of the cultural groups? Do you cover all of them? How? Or, is the main focus the people in the room with the most influence? People who are from that part of the world?
I think of myself as a person who has travelled a reasonable amount through Europe, South East Asia, and Australasia, and I have spent several years in the Middle East. It came as quite a shock, therefore, when I realised that I was having an emotional reaction around cultural responsiveness in this session - something I had experienced before, but never so strongly. It was always something that I read about in articles and research papers, and saw as an integral aspect of learning design.
Another thing I noticed, though, is as soon as I started feeling uncomfortable - I stopped really listening and engaging with the other people in the session. The only reason I remember anything except the emotional response was that I could access the notes I took at the outset of the session.
I have since spoken to other people who have experienced similar reactions...but interestingly people would have a "wow, I'm so pleased you mentioned that. No-one has before and I just thought I was being precious" type reaction. Often the reaction is dismissed as an over-reaction.
Bigger question for me, therefore, is how many times have I made students and colleagues feel similarly uncomfortable? Only one time has a student spoken about this to me (and after the sense of mortification on my part dissipated a little, I was able to consult with another student to help me work out what I had done to offend, how to address that situation, and how to make sure I didn't do it again...phew!).
There are several things I need to do and think about including:
- grasp every opportunity to learn about other cultures in a meaningful (rather than token) sense;
- work with individuals who I know I can ask dumb, and perhaps what turn out to be insensitive, questions - where that they will understand I am learning...and making mistakes;
- find the courage to speak to people in a non-confrontational way when they make me feel culturally 'other'...but to go with suggestions around how this might be addressed so as to not leave them feeling high and dry; and
- work on, read about, and research how to design culturally responsive and appropriate online spaces and experiences - such that they are neither 'sterile', nor inclusive of only one or a few cultures. Rather I would like to design great spaces to learn and communicate for as many cultures as possible.
- "Culturally Responsive" (education420.wordpress.com)