II. Culture and World Areas

Interconnected with the theme of global issues, problems, and challenges is the theme of culture and world areas. Since the 1950s, area or culture studies have been a part of many precollegiate curriculums, and in many states culture studies have been mandated. Yet despite almost 40 years of culture studies and programs, curriculums featuring holidays and food festivals, which contribute little to intercultural understanding, still seem to be the extent of the offerings in many schools.

Education about culture in the 1990s has presented myriad challenges to public school teachers and administrators across the United States. These challenges, for the most part, have arisen from minority groups who cry out for either inclusion or exclusion from what is taught. Many minority groups want their history and culture integrated into the main curriculum, while others desire a separate course exclusively for students of that particular minority. Although these conflicts consume the energies of schools and school systems, larger questions must be addressed by schools and systems that want to teach about the variety of cultures that make up our national and world population: What is culture? What forms does it take? What is important for students to learn about culture and specific cultures? Placing the concept of culture into a larger context may help to define what students should know about local and global cultures.

Most parents expect schools to teach about American civic culture, principally knowledge of democratic values: our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence. Democratic values are a common ground for all Americans. Beyond this, defining American culture, as with any, is difficult because our own culture is so deeply embedded in us that it is difficult for us to see. In addition, the United States is a diverse nation, reflecting the values of different groups. Each day we see many conflicts in schools and communities based on these differences. Culture should be an important area of study in our schools. Each of us has roots in one or more cultures, and each day we experience a wide variety of behaviors that reflect the values and beliefs of other cultures. However, most students' knowledge of other cultures is superficial or limited to exotic coverage or monolithic examinations. Yet cross-cultural learning is essential for understanding both our own culture and that of others. By studying other cultures, we learn what it is to be human. When studying other cultures, we should look for similarities to our own culture as well as for the differences that make a culture unique. The study of culture is necessary in order to know that other people may view things in ways that are profoundly different from the ways we view them.

Knowledge Objectives

To teach students about culture and world areas, we must look to those who study cross-cultural learning, such as anthropologists and cross-cultural educators, as well as to those who study history, geography, the arts, and the humanities. They tell us that understanding another culture is difficult. However, if diverse cultures are studied objectively and taught properly, students can gain insights and grow in knowledge, not just about other cultures, but also about their own. The study of human differences and commonalities will prepare students with the skills, knowledge, and perceptions they will need to live in a multicultural society and world. Toward that end, we recommend the following knowledge objectives.

  1. Students will know and understand at least one other culture in addition to their own. Students should study at least one culture in-depth and from many different points of view.1

  2. Students will have a general knowledge about the major geographic and cultural areas of the world and the issues and challenges that unite and divide them. Students should study the major geographical and cultural regions of the world as well as some of the major issues and challenges that both unite and divide these world cultural regions.
  3. Students will know and understand that members of different cultures view the world in different ways. Differences exist within a culture as well as among cultures. Within cultures, diversity may be affected by factors such as race, class, or religion. Cross-cultural educators state that studying other cultures will help students to understand the values and actions of other people as well as their own.2

  4. Students will know and understand that cultures change. All cultures have histories, present perspectives, and future orientations. Students should know that cultures are always undergoing change and will continue to change, especially in the 21st century. Many cultures in the world are being changed by technology, migration, and urbanization.

  5. Students will know and understand that there are universals connecting all cultures. Universals are the ideas that unite us as humans. Material and nonmaterial cultural elements are things and ideas such as food, housing, the arts, play, language and nonverbal communication, social organization, and the like. Ernest Boyer, an educator of renown, listed the universals of culture we all share: the life cycle, symbols of expression, aesthetics, recalling the past and looking at the future, membership in groups and institutions, living on and being committed to planet Earth, producing and consuming, and searching for a larger purpose.

  6. Students will know and understand that humans may identify with more than one culture and thus have multiple loyalties. Every human has values and beliefs. Differences should be respected. Family life, education, and friends and fellow workers shape our world view and give each of us different sets of values and beliefs.

  7. Students will know and understand that culture and communication are closely connected. Languages form bonds that make each culture unique. To fully learn about another culture requires learning its communication system through a study of verbal and nonverbal language.

  8. Students will know and understand that cultures cross national boundaries. The modern world, through immigration, migration, communication, technology, and transportation, has broken down traditional cultural boundaries. Many cultures are no longer defined by common geographic areas. For example, there are refugees forced out of their homelands and cultural groups such as the Kurds that have no national homeland.

  9. Students will know and understand that cultures are affected by geography and history. Studying the location of cultures and their past history is important to learning about another culture.

Skills Objectives

To help students analyze and evaluate cultures and world areas now and in the future, the following skills need to be developed.

  1. Students will analyze and evaluate major events and trends in a culture. When studying a culture, students should look for events and trends that indicate changes in that culture and be able to analyze how these changes may have an impact on students' lives.

  2. Students will examine cultures in the world and recognize some interconnections with their life in the United States. Students should look for events and ideas in other cultures that have an impact on the United States and on its citizens.

  3. Students will compare and contrast diverse cultural points of view and try to understand them. Respect for others is at the heart of cross-cultural understanding. Students should learn to listen to various cultural perspectives in order to understand others. However, understanding does not mean agreeing with another point of view.3

  4. Students will examine the common and diverse traits of other cultures. An open discussion of differences and similarities in other cultures leads to understanding the values and motives of others and is the first step toward the skill of working with others who have different points of view.

  5. Students will be able to state a concern, position, or a value from another culture without distorting it, in a way that would satisfy a member of that culture. Understanding other points of view and being able to explain them clearly is a valuable communication skill for all citizens. Understanding other points of view does not necessarily mean that students agree with these opinions. Students should also develop the ability to critique views they disagree with.

Participation Objectives

A major purpose of studying cultures and world areas in K-12 schools is to improve the ability and willingness of students to interact with peoples from other cultures and to continue to learn about others and about their own culture throughout life. Participation objectives for students studying culture and world areas follow.

  1. Students will appreciate the study of other cultures. When we study other cultures, similarities and differences emerge clearly in our minds. We are able to put our own cultural values into perspective and thus understand ourselves better.

  2. Students will appropriately tolerate cultural diversity. Students should learn to listen to and tolerate the values and opinions of others.

  3. Students will seek to communicate with people from other cultures. Students should be given an opportunity to explore their own interests or have their interests stimulated about other peoples and cultures. Students have multiple opportunities to learn about other cultures in both their communities and the larger world. The modern world makes cross-cultural understanding a necessity because of common connections across cultures all over the world.4

  4. Students will demonstrate an appreciation of universal human rights. Basic human rights should be honored. Students should understand that there are times when the values of individual cultures will conflict with universal human rights. Students should discuss these conflicts and be prepared to defend human rights.

  5. Students will meet and learn from people from other cultures. In the modern world, students have multiple opportunities to meet people of diverse cultures. Schools should provide opportunities for students to learn from one another as well as from international visitors and exchange students.

  1. Robert Hanvey in his booklet, An Attainable Global Perspective (New York: The American Forum for Global Education, 1976), describes four levels of cross-cultural awareness:

    1. awareness of superficial or visible cultural traits: stereotypes;
    2. awareness of significant and subtle cultural traits that contrast markedly with one's own; you are frustrated and confused;
    3. awareness of significant and subtle cultural traits that contrast markedly with one's own; you think about it and start to ask questions and understand;
    4. awareness of how another culture feels from the standpoint of the insider: cultural immersion.

  2. Robert Kohls' descriptors of culture are an entry point for students to learn about the world and other cultures. Under the headings "Some Cultures" and "Most Cultures," he lists points of view or values in relation to the various ways people view the world. For example, in the United States we generally feel that we have personal control over our environment; however, in much of the world people feel that fate determines what they are to do. Conflict can arise when different cultures with different points of view meet to solve common problems. An awareness of such differences is key to cross-cultural understanding. For a listing of what some cultures believe in and what most cultures believe in, see Kohls and Knight, Developing Intercultural Awareness, p. 42.

  3. Craig Stori in, The Art of Crossing Cultures (Yarmouth, Maine: Intercultural Press, 1990), expresses the cross-cultural process as follows: "We expect others to be like us, but they aren't. Then a cultural incident occurs causing a reaction, such as anger or fear, and we withdraw. We become aware of our reaction, we reflect on its cause, and our reaction subsides. We observe the situation which results in developing culturally appropriate expectations."

  4. There are four major traits to be developed and 18 others that support them. They are suggested by J. Daniel Hess in The Whole World Guide to Culture Learning, pp. 12ff. The four major traits are:

      • a high regard for culture;
      • an eagerness to learn;
      • a desire to make connections;
      • a readiness to give as well as to receive.

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III. The United States and the World: Global Connections

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