Recently I had a whole class discussion with Grade ten students. Their pre-discussion work was to read two short stories – The horse and two goats by R K Narayan and The third and final Continent by Jumpha Lahiri. They had to scan the two short stories and bring evidence from the text on habits, traditions, lifestyles, priorities, customs, etc., of the different characters they met in the texts. They also had to distinguish between cultures showing, with evidence from the text, how culture defines identity.
The discussion was set in three stages (Ana and Paloma, Spanish teachers, also joined in the discussion towards the second stage).
Stage one involved discussion related to the stories and the evidence they had collected, differences and similarities in the characters or setting. Insightful comments on characters, plot and setting was shared by all the learners.
In stage two, we moved into a more personalised outlook with the question,”How does your culture influence your identity?” The learners had surprisingly thoughtful answers. It started with Paloma explaining that she was from a different culture and one of the primary things she had to do when she came to India was to adjust to a vastly different culture without losing her own identity and also without offending the people of the new land.
Ana mentioned that exposure to different cultures had helped her son to become culturally sensitive. The students agreed with this and explained how they behaved differently at home, with family, with grandparents and with friends.They felt that although they did not relate to some of the earlier customs or spoken languages, they tried to follow them out of respect to elders- which they agree is a big part of Indian culture. They also believed it was essential that culture should not be restricting but should allow for growth and changes. The students explained how their home environment allowed them to accept other cultures and habits if they felt comfortable doing so.
In stage three, we moved beyond personal identities to the wider community. The question put forth to them was ‘if they had encountered any flawed perceptions or stereotypes in the larger society they lived in’. After much deliberation, one student remarked on the need to be careful when choosing attire as the larger community had set views on how girls should dress and anything not aligned to this was not tolerated.
The answers for the last stage were few, perhaps because they needed to time to look around and form opinions. But I believe a discussion of this kind helped them in observing, analysing and evaluating rather than blindly following.
The experience was enriching, especially since we had inputs from two wonderful participants who have walked the talk. As one student wrote in his reflection- The experience was engaging beyond just being ‘informative’. Muchas Gracias Ana and Paloma!