Are you more culturally aware than a fifth grader?
October 17th, 2011
“Cultural awareness and ethics always come up” Daysi Hernandez states of her teaching experience which spans from third-grade through sixth to college-level business students. “For example, when I first started teaching children, my students would ask me if I spoke Mexican. Then I would say, “Well, I speak Spanish”. Then I would ask: “Do you know the difference?”
In teaching adults, I’ve been told by many of my students that my English is so good. They mean I don’t have an accent given that I also speak Spanish. I explain to them that there are so many people who have been born in the U.S. and raised by Latino parents who speak just like I do. This interaction gives me a little insight as to the amount of time I need to spend on Cultural Awareness and the Diversity chapters in the books when I get to those.
In regards to Ethics, the young and older students I have found have trouble defining the term. I also focus a lot on those chapters when they do come up.
Are students receptive to you?
I’ve never had problems with children being receptive to me. They love me the minute they meet me. The majority of the adult students are also receptive to me. Some are not though, until I prove to them that I’m a competent teacher. In fact, I’ve had several students who have confessed to me that at first they thought there’s not one thing they could learn from a “Mexican” until I prove them wrong.
How do you teach diversity and awareness in a classroom setting?
When I do teach the topic of diversity and cultural awareness, I do it in a non-threatening way. I don’t get defensive at all and respect their opinions even when their opinions disrespect me. I talk about historical facts and theories and encourage them to explore the subject on their own. I have found that students leave my class more aware and sensitive to diversity.
You’re at the frontlines of our future generations in the classrooms. What problem(s) do you think America faces?
I believe America faces three main problems. One problem is that we are extremely ethnocentric at times. I’ve been raised and educated here in the U.S. I only know American history, geography, math, etc. My husband was educated in El Salvador—the tiniest country in Central America. Yet, he knows so much world history, geography, etc. He knows different ways of working out a math problem—my way, his way, the Asian way, etc. He was raised in a country that has realized that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Having that diverse knowledge one can use the best solution to solve the problem.
This leads to the next problem America faces—lack of critical thinking, as Bell Hooks teaches. I believe her because America is so engrained on doing things the American way, it doesn’t allow for critical thinking to take place. There are so many solutions to problems that haven’t been discovered. Encourage discovery America! There’s a lot of red tape involved when some genius wants to try something new which inhibits the discovery. By the time people meet the requirements, they’ve exhausted the gray matter.
One last problem America faces is sitting on a problem. Let’s procrastinate on the solution to see if the problem gets any better on its own without any effort.
I know I make up America. I can make a difference. I am making a difference through my students and my own children. I teach them to respect and admire their own culture, but also learn to appreciate other cultures. I encourage them to find solutions to problems that the authors didn’t mention in their books and applaud them when they do. Who am I to tell them they’re not right when it has not been proven wrong? I also like to be involved in their lives and hold them accountable for making progress when they have a problem. I had one student tell me her life was horrible. I said, “Your life is wonderful!” What or who is making you think differently? She said, “Well, my husband is treating me this way, my son doesn’t…”. She went on and on about what others were doing to her. I said, “Okay, you’ve just told me about what others do to make your life horrible. I want you to tell me how YOU can make your life wonderful.” I gave her a week to think about it. She did! It’s been a year. Her life is better. I’ll give it a little more time and I know her life will be wonderful. Just as long as she doesn’t sit on the problem.
What do you think about the constant “otherness” our culture(s) experience?
I believe otherness has been created to differentiate. Differentiation can be used in a positive or negative way. For example, one would want to differentiate themselves from people who have beliefs, values, or behaviors that one does not hold. A child molester behaves in a manner that is not viewed positively by many people in society. Those who don’t agree with molesters’ actions might refer to the molesters as “they”.
I believe it is used negatively if used to have power over, intimidate, or excuse a person or group. For example, one who may want power over territory might use otherness to create a bad belief about another person or group as a way to gain advantage (i.e. conquerors and natives). One person who may want to intimidate the other may use otherness to talk about the rights one group may have over another (i.e. documented and undocumented citizens in the U.S). In addition, one person who may not want to put an effort into achieving something may use otherness to excuse themselves for not achieving (i.e. their genetics and environment).
Thank you Daysi for a day in the classroom with you.
Daysi Hernandez, MBA
Instructor, Salt Lake City Campus
Everest College | 3280 West 3500 South, SLC UT | 84119
p 801.840.4800 ext.147 | f 801.969.0828
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