Like most language teachers, I spend part of every day thinking about culture. What do we mean by “culture”? Is there any way to teach it in 45 minute blocks” How can we immerse our students in it, whatever it is? How can we use our teaching to push back anything that threatens or undermines, well, it.
How can we immerse our students in it, whatever it is? How can we use our teaching to push back anything that threatens or undermines, well, it.
Just imagining the word “culture” in this context conjures up the voice of a dear French colleague. Her Parisian pronunciation is a lesson in culture itself–passion meets meaning meets expression.
There are as many frameworks to understand culture as there are ways to define it. Does one choose the beliefs and practices route? The language and landmass one? The generative or generational one? The “pop” one? Increasingly, the populist one? Is culture imposed in an Imperial sense or goes it spring up from fertile ground? More than anything, I think we can successfully teach culture if we help students ask these questions of themselves and others. No “Fiesta Friday” or lectura cultural can every be more meaningful.
I’ll close with an example that I share with my Spanish 4 students, an example that comes from Marco Denevi’s microcuento “El eclipse.” It’s the story of a Spanish priest in the jungles of Central America during the Conquest of the Americas. This poor priest overestimates his own Western culture, underestimates the mathematical and astronomical genius of the indigenous people and pays for his blunder in blood. To frame the discussion, I show a photo of a European-style reading room, furnished with dark wood and full or leather-bound volumes. I then show them a photo of a Mesoamerican codex. I ask my students what each they represent? They typically fall into my trap, victims of their own preconceptions about what it means to be cultured and what exactly a cultural archive is.
By the end of this exercise, I think they begin to see that to be cultured means recognizing the myriad ways it is to be cultured. True enlightenment is seeking continually seeking enlightenment, not archiving it away. The same can be said for culture, right?
Take that as my overly complicated conception of culture…or take my colleagues formula of passion plus meaning plus expression.