Sunday, June 1, 2008

Cultural Design-nation

The activity of creating the cultural collage in its physical semblance created a flurry of mind activity in itself.

Eve's Cultural Collage, May 29th, 2008

In the process of it, I dug through my old artwork from high school, college, and even childhood days.
"Self-Reflection" ~ Eve [sometime during 1998-99]

I leafed through boxes of playbills, movie stubs, work and organization flyers, stacks of magazines, and looked at pictures of my family that brought me back to the roots of my Polish heritage. It helped me to remember - or at least brought to the forefront of my mind what had been stored away on the backburner - part of what makes me who I am.

I believe that I am designed, we are designed, and we also design ourselves and our surroundings through cultural exposure. Our surroundings also have a strong power over how we view but aspects and traditions of cultures have been designed and passed down through generations. They hold great gravity in shaping who we become, how we view society, and what we believe, though culture is not the sole factor nor is it the absolute and end all. Bitterness and rejection of one’s cultural roots can also happen, but we are a part of the nation that we live in and we cannot block out ALL the influences – unless we leave. And even if we leave, some traces of the previous cultural exposure will always move with us.

In addition to the control that we and our surroundings have in shaping us, there is a helplessness in how we can be “designated” and categorized by others and by those in higher power. Our cultural choices create for us a cultural designation as well.

As mentioned in my assumptions, I was born and raised in a white Polish-American Catholic household in the midst of the grand suburbia of North Jersey’s metropolitan area. The setting and the heritage had a large hand in shaping me and my personal culture.

Culture & views shape one another
And as culture is often manifested in several artforms and performance media, the background of an individual or group will affect and influence how they express themselves, which eventually translates into these mentioned outlets. If I am a married black heterosexual Baptist male I will certainly express myself differently than a single white gay agnostic female. Race, class, gender, sexuality, language and religion all help to define an individual and will affect how they behave and see the world.

The resultant paintings, writings, music, dance, and other artforms will flow out based from the experiences of the individual and communities. This all becomes a part of culture. And in this culture’s presence, how we view each of these same factors is influenced. Once we’ve been exposed to the artforms and surroundings of a particular culture, having grown up in our niche in the world, we have a subjective view of race, class, gender, sexuality, language and religion. However all of these particulars are portrayed in the media and art of the culture may be how we will tend to view them. Even if we are not caught under any assumptions, stereotypes, or images presented, it will at least be a factor in working to shape how we view all these facets.

The culture that I have been exposed to is primarily of the North Jersey suburban living and surroundings, with more limited exposures to big cities that I have visited, rural areas like the Amish countryside, time at university, and other countries that I have seen. I visited Poland several times and so had these briefer exposures, in addition to the heritage that my parents and other family bring to the table.

So I am a Polish-American and do enjoy our ethnic food, but I am also a lover of so many different cultures and cuisines. The city visits opened me up to so many opportunities to taste different foods from other parts of the world and to view art from many different cultures and places. I think because our family took trips to urban centers on the eastern seaboard of the US and enjoyed them in general, I formed more liberal views in being exposed to this more liberal culture. That my parents were open to all of this and supported me in study abroad opportunities to Morocco and Australia, as well as friend and familial visits to 11 other European countries, has helped to build a passion for world travel and culture.

Also as mentioned in my assumptions, my parents were open when it came to race, but alternate sexual lifestyle or visual appearance and personal expression differences were judged and critiqued. Particularly my mother, born and raised in Poland in the Catholic religion, held a more traditional view of these things. My views are far less traditional, probably attributed to my cultural exposure here.

How I learn & see myself
I think this made me an open learner, ready to see and know more, wanting to travel and experience the new, and for the most part respectful of all cultures and peoples. I developed a hunger for more cultures of the world, but was this a result of MY cultural exposure or an intrinsic development inside myself? I don’t know. I honestly think that the suburban life made me more fearful of the city, and it did seem like “we had life better here in the suburbs” or something like that. I feel like I definitely had personal conflicts (to deal with internally) in my cultural exposure over the years, and that it certainly has influenced how I view myself and how I learn.

The American media has made me scrutinize myself and see myself as too fat and not pretty enough. I hate those superficial things, yet I still became a victim. That is how culture in the media can influence how we see ourselves. I think my suburban culture made me feel like “have” and made me feel compunction for the “have-nots”.

I also come from a hard-working family and I felt like I could never be good enough. The work ethic of a culture or a child’s exposure to it can affect how they view work and accomplishment. This also created within me a drive to “be perfect” - whatever that means – with an ambition to see and do more, more, more… I see myself as ever-doing, ever-seeking, ever-learning.

What do I stand to bring to the classroom?
This drive will hopefully plunge onward with me as I enter the classroom and show an endless love of life and learning. I will bring with me my passion for cultures of the world, the love of learning about different peoples and backgrounds, languages, foods, artwork, and so forth. I realize I will need to be careful with this as I do not want to appear to show favoritism to any one group, but a respect and recognition of all. How will this show itself? I would like to incorporate some activities involving the culture and heritage of the children in my classes (of course with Earth Science themes as the primary educative subject matter).

Art and personal expression are invaluable for development and as they have shown up in various forms in cultures across the globe, I feel like this is an integral part of how I view cultures. Others may not see artistic forms as important as they may have been exposed to different life conditions. When one has to work hard outside 12 hours a day to support their family, they may not have that exposure or see value to art in the same way. I would not want to “push” students to anything, but to expose them to what is out there by forging connections between the disciplines. I would love to be able to tie art and expression in with science. As David A. Sousa stresses in How the Brain Learns, “The sciences need the arts,” (Sousa, pg 216).

Culture’s Role in the Classroom
Cultural differences can create division among teachers and students, just as differences in faith or ‘vision’ have created rifts and wars throughout history, however I believe even these differences can serve to unite and bring people together. Students may think there is no way that a teacher with a completely different cultural background and set of understandings could relate to them. A teacher with a radically different set of beliefs than a student may begin to wonder, how on earth can I begin to try to understand this student? This might cause distress and frustration or even animosity in worse cases. But in this disparity there can be an awesome opportunity for both sides to benefit.

Recognizing those differences may help to dissipate anxieties or preconceptions about others that are different. I aspire to let my students know that I may not relate to their culture because there is no way that I could without having experienced what they have experienced, but that I care to know and respect. And in allowing them to express their culture in some way in the schoolwork that they do can give us a chance to learn from each other. Just as I learned about myself and explored my culture through this cultural collage assignment, other students learned from me, and the teacher learned as well.

This is also a reason why I see diversity in public education to be excellent grounds for learning and growth. As we discussed in Dr. Wandalyn’s Enix’s Social Dynamics course, the exposure to diversity brings children together, helping to prevent future conflicts and dissipate negative views of other cultures. We fear what we don’t know, no? Of all the cultural design-nations, the more we see and listen and learn, the more of a foundation we will have to approach cultural differences.

Works Cited:
Sousa, David A. How the Brain Learns. Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2006.

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