Culture is often compared to an iceberg which has both visible and invisible parts. The tip of the iceberg represents the elements of culture which we can see, such as food, language and customs. Those elements which are less obvious, such as values, beliefs and world view, comprise the much larger portion of the iceberg underwater. We discussed this model recently when planning a Year 4 unit of inquiry on understanding other cultures.
In Desiree’s class, students classified their questions about other cultures into ‘above and below’ the tip of the iceberg. They were surprised to discover that all their early questions related to the tip of the iceberg, but have gradually developed an understanding that there’s more to culture than the 3 F’s. (food, flags and festivals!)
To further support their learning, they have opportunities to interact with people of other cultures. Raj, his son Aditya and a colleague Deepali chatted with them and answered their questions live from Chennai, India via Skype last week. Next week they will Skype with Corinne in Japan. Another class will engage with students in New Zealand, some of whom are Maori and Pacific Islanders. (Remember the days when you could only learn about other cultures from books?)
After the session with Raj, students explored some differences and similarities. While Hindu beliefs and customs and the way of life in Chennai are very different from theirs, they found plenty of commonalities. We too have a festival of lights, we too eat traditional foods at festivals, we too have an interest in sport and in particular they could identify with the relationship between father and son!
I was reminded of a presentation by Ruth Van Reken at the IBAP conference. In her talk on inter-cultural understanding, she suggested adding a third level to the iceberg, the qualities that make us human. She further suggested turning the model upside down. By starting with the human qualities, finding what we have in common, we can more easily relate to and connect with people of different cultures.
Rather than focusing only on the tip of the iceberg, we need to make this kind of understanding our goal in teaching and learning about other cultures!