More on Culture

It’s interesting to me that it’s possible for me, a modern person from southwestern America with  to consider all the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome and Israel and (sometimes) Egypt and the Slavs and Celts and Francs and Saxons and Spaniards to be intimately connected with my own. In a way it makes it more confusing for me to figure out what we mean when we speak of “a culture.” What is it comprised of? Is it about clothing and music and dance and food? If I go by the dictionary definition, apparently it is: “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” It says that it comes from a latin word that was all about cultivation – in the farming sense – and then was all about the cultivation of the mind, aesthetic sense, manners, and so on. But sometimes it can also be “civilization, society, way of life, lifestyle; customs, traditions, heritage, habits, ways, mores, values.” That’s a lot bigger! Where I’m teaching we’re supposed to try to teach using Yupik culture. That only makes sense, but it’s also confusing, because they hired a bunch of people who know nothing about it, and then don’t teach us about it. I haven’t heard a traditional Yupik song since I’ve been here: only country and rap. I’ve not seen a traditional dance either, but the kids sure seem into street dance! I don’t think it’s just because I wasn’t invited either: this is what the teens do with their evenings, too, not just when they’re at school. Perhaps I’ll finally ask someone who knows. Perhaps I’ll just figure it out eventually. Attempts at bringing in “local culture” at the inservice that were applauded were things like, when teaching what a substance is, “ignik is a substance made from ash and tobacco.” I’m sure that would be helpful and all, but come on! That, however, is about as much as I, at least, am learning about what is meant by “Yupik culture.” Well, that and dried fish and parkas and guspiks (a kind of clothing I think I misspelled) and moose hunting and beading and agutuk (also misspelled; sometimes known as “Eskimo ice cream”). It’s a start, I suppose. I’m just impatient.

My culture seems to be one of over-thinking things. I dunno… I tend to learn just as well when the people involved are wearing togas as jeans, and I doubt it would make Chinese philosophy so much more comprehensible to me if then ate hamburgers or sang like David Cook. I would probably be more confused, in a lot of ways: it would make me wonder if what I was learning was true, or some Hollywood zen knockoff. Not to say I won’t try to “incorporate culture” – more that I don’t know what that means. I teach computer and art. I’ve been asking around. People here bead and make clothing. I don’t know what to do with that. They rarely make websites, and have never made a program. So… what do I do with that? What on earth would the “Yupik way of designing a yearbook” be? If we’re going to teach 90% stuff that’s not at all traditional, I don’t see why I should expect to be able to teach it through their culture.

And this is when I have one very specific culture to think about. At most US schools teachers are simply told to teach “other” cultures, which could mean anything, or nothing in particular.

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