Teaching Time Suggested: A minimum of 3 class periods.
Several sets of identical pictures (5-6 pictures/set)
Magazines (such as National Geographic) and travel brochures that can be cut up
Drawing: A Culture Model
There is a substantial library of books and articles that deal with cultural perceptions, ethnocentrism, prejudice, and stereotypes. All of these share a common problem. Their exercises are based on word games in which students are asked, directly or indirectly, to expose their stereotypes and prejudices in writing. This may actually block rather than facilitate the dissolving of prejudice many of us, having put ourselves on record, will, for that reason, defend our positions rather than assess and change them. Therefore, before using such activities, we need to try approaches that are less likely to make students feel that they are being manipulated.
One way to get perceptions out into the open, dealt with in a non-threatening way, and without direct challenge to beliefs and values, is to look at pictures. The problem is to get students to see more in a picture than elements that reinforce their stereotypes.
Following are five perspective-consciousness activities that have been used by many teachers at all levels to provide practice in questioning, generalizing, and conceptualizing, differing only in the sophistication of questions and answers. They can be used with individuals, small groups, or entire classes (Small groups generally are preferable, but, if slides are used, can require a substantial mobilization of resources).
Through these activities, students will be able to recognize that:
All peoples have the same needs that they try to satisfy in ways that their predecessors have found effective in their particular environments (e.g. they develop regional cultures)
Cultural differences are not absolute or polar they can be located along a continuum
- People change their ways only when they believe that new ones will meet their needs more effectively
People survive in a network of interdependencies, with security and wellbeing directly related to the size of the network
No aspect of life economic, political, social, religious, or aesthetic can be studied without involving the others
Anyone can skew information to favor a particular perspective
Fact, inference, and opinion, though different, are never immutable, and become interchangeable as circumstances and perspectives change
They have cultural perspectives, stereotypes, and prejudices without having to defend them or take a polarized position.
Introduce a World Culture Model (see: A Culture Model for a sample) to help visualization of the major elements of a culture (list elements on the chalkboard).
Show two preselected sets of pictures (not more than 10 in each) that illustrate contrasting aspects of one culture.
Elicit (and record on the chalkboard under the appropriate heading) observations and inferences on the first set.
Repeat with the second.
Show both sets again without comment for review.
Have students record their summary impressions.
When they have learned that both sets of pictures are of the same culture, discuss the implications in terms of the objectives (Christiane Creighton, developer of this activity, notes that it can serve as a frame of reference for the entire school year).
Using a sample photograph, involve the class in discovering overt and covert stereotypes, biases, and value interpretations.
1. What are the cultural eyeglasses, the norms and expectations, through which we view the photograph?
In 1962, psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner showed some photographs of Russian tree-lined roads to an American class of 5th and 6th graders. A student's question was, "Why do they have trees along the road?" When the question was turned back to the class, replies included, "So that people won't be able to see what's going on beyond the road," and "It's to make work for the prisoners." Bronfenbrenner then asked why some of our roads are tree-lined. "For shade," the children said, and "To keep the dust down." (Saturday Review, 5 January 1963)
2. What has the photographer done to the scene objectively?
What aspects have been emphasized or omitted? Were the people posed? If not, did they know they were being photographed? When was the picture taken? (some cultures are changing so rapidly that pictures only a few years old can be misleading).
How has the scene been affected by the camera and film? (because of the single lens, a photograph makes an area look larger than it is; a telephoto lens compresses front-to-back distances; different films emphasize different parts of the spectrum, making a scene look warmer or cooler than it is, etc.)
3. What has the photographer done to the scene subjectively?
Were subjects chosen because they were "quaint", "exotic", or "typical"? If any of these, by whose definition?
Given the same scene, would a person who loves children take the same picture as one who is interested in historical architecture? Would a native of the culture take the same picture? Did the photographer like/dislike or feel superior/inferior to the subjects? How well did the photographer understand the meaning of a scene or activity to the people who were participating in it? How did the photographer's cultural norms influence the decision to take the picture and the way it was taken? What were the photographer's motives? What message was intended for the viewer?
Divide the class into small groups. Give each group the same five to ten unidentified pictures.
Task: each group is to hypothesize and draw inferences about the photographer's viewpoint, arrange the pictures in the order that best neutralizes the photographer's and their own misperceptions or stereotypes, and present its findings to the class, showing the pictures in selected order.
In debriefing, discuss the variations in picture order from group to group and conclusions drawn.
Note: This can be an intellectually demanding and time-consuming exercise, especially if students engage in research to check their hypotheses. A simpler version asks only that they arrange the pictures in the order that seems best to answer the basic questions and explain their rationale.
Give each group an identical set of pictures (5 or 6). How many elements in the culture model can students locate/identify in each?
Which elements seem to carry over from one photograph to another? Have students take notes as they study the pictures and classify the elements in a classification matrix.
Note: This provides good practice in inference-making, concept formation and organization, and learning that relationships tend to be networks rather than linear. Frequently, with the mutual stimulus of the group, students can create an entire culture model from a single photograph.
Given copies of the culture model, students individually or in small groups find their own pictures to illustrate as many as they can of the items in the model. Have the groups present their pictures to the class and explain how/why the pictures are illustrative.
Second stage: have students compare the pictures that they say illustrate a particular item with those of other groups and identify the common denominators. (This is an effective elementary school exercise.) Students can paste their pictures into montages, hang them on the wall, and connect them to the appropriate country/culture on a wall map with colored string.
The first five activities usually involve examining a single culture which, overtly or covertly, is compared with "ours". Too often, this results in polarization in which our culture is idealized and the other is denigrated.
Pictures can help deal with this in two ways. First, make all comparisons three-way. "We-they" comparisons lose their force when "they" are as different from each other as from "us". For example, transportation is a universal problem. How is it dealt with in various locales? Will the same vehicle be most effective in each? (Compare Alaska, Bangkok Thailand, and France).
Second, put differences on a continuum. Is anything ever all black or all white? In a rainbow, where does one color stop and the next one begin? (As they are weaned from seeing the world in terms of a set of containers into which they throw miscellaneous "facts", students find it easier to organize observations and experiences by themes or concepts in which facts become data subject to test).