Every student deserves to feel seen, valued, and accepted in their learning environment, and a great way to facilitate the fulfillment of these needs is to incorporate cultural awareness curriculum into a variety of different subjects, projects, and units.
Whether it’s assigning a novel for English class written by an author from a marginalized identity or creating a project for Social Studies that requires students to research and present on a culture other than their own, there are so many wonderful ways to open students’ minds and perspectives in the classroom. After all, there is a much bigger world out there than just the sector that our nuclear family, friends, people who look like us belong to.
However, one problem that we all face (no matter our age, race, gender, et cetera) when presented with new ideas that challenge our worldview is the idea of ethnocentrism.
The definition of ethnocentrism is as follows: the evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture.
In simpler terms, we as humans tend to judge newfound knowledge of other cultures and ways of living through the lens of what we already know. If, for example, we were to learn about a far-off culture that views listening and creating music as evil and condemns anyone who perpetuates it, we would surely look down upon that group since many of us treasure and revere music as an art form.
Ethnocentrism is not only relevant in modern culture, but it’s threaded throughout the history of the world as well. The Red Scare and Americans’ intense fear of communism in the 1940s and 50s exemplifies how stereotypes about another way of living can lead to persecution toward anyone who thinks differently than those in power, domestically as well as internationally.
The Japanese internment camps and forced assimilation of Native Americans further exhibit the way that ethnocentrism has pervaded American history, but this phenomenon is not unique to the United States. It is up to every one of us to consciously choose an open mind and acceptance of new ideas, and to prevent our internal biases from controlling us.
One excellent resource for communicating the importance of this idea to students entails developing a lesson around a satirical story titled “The Body Ritual of the Nacirema” by Horace Miller that was published in 1958. “Nacirema” spelled backwards is “American,” and as you can imagine the story describes typical American customs and traditions in a manner that portrays them as extremely odd and nonsensical. Below is a short excerpt:
The nature of the story makes it unusual for a reader to figure out that the topic is American culture outright---it slowly becomes more and more clear throughout the narrative, and by the end the reader usually comes to the realization that the alien culture they have been subconsciously judging and looking down upon is one they are actually very familiar with.
By utilizing this story in middle school or high school learning environments, students can begin to explore the idea that they cannot always act upon and trust their initial judgments. Instead, they should approach new learning and other cultures with a mindset of acceptance and the desire to understand, thus planting the seeds of inclusion in the classroom.
Included below are links to both the story as well as a sample lesson plan for incorporating the story into a social studies class (as one example).
For additional resources to assist with personalizing learning and embracing cultural awareness to build equity and celebrate our diverse students, be sure to check out our Cultural Responsiveness course.
Thank you so much for sharing your lunch time with us, and we hope that this post was helpful in terms of providing you with another great resource in the quest to foster inclusion and understanding in the classroom.
See you at the next Coffee Break Chat!