Asking Better Questions … Helping Change Perspectives

This is a guest post from #globalclassroom teacher @LParisi. Lisa blogs at http://thelisaparisi.com, and this post was originally published here.  

Photo shared by the Global Grade 3s.

I belong to an amazing group called The Global Classroom Project.  I love this group.  The teachers have fabulous ideas, talk about the ups and downs of global connections, and seek out collaborators.  If you haven’t looked at the site, you must check it out.

Recently, a blog was posted by Michael Graffin as a reposting of a blog created by a student in Honduras. The class had just completed a mystery skype call, and this student was discussing the awkward, nearly offensive questions asked by the mystery class, which turned out to be in Texas. The two questions in point: “Do you guys use cell phones?” and “How does your house look like?”  You can read her blog to see her view about these questions.

This started a conversation in the Google group about being careful how we communicate with each other and what questions we ask.  So I just want to put in my two cents on the subject.  (You should note that I already talked online with Michael about my response. He, as usual, invites conversation.)

My purpose for Going Global with my class is an idealistic one.  I hope that my kids do a better job than we have.  I want them to understand, accept, and connect with others, regardless of language, religion, race, gender, etc.  I want them to learn that we are all people, deserving of respect and consideration.  And I want them to remember this when it comes time to work with others, have discussions with others, argue with others.  We are all people!

When I was growing up, in the 60s, we were just starting to talk about differences as positive.  “Be yourself.”    “Love who you are and love the one you’re with.”  But, along with loving each other, I was taught not to insult anyone.  And it was insulting to stare, to ask questions, to recognize differences.  So we never even looked at each other.  Really.  If a person of color walked into the restaurant where I was eating, in my very white neighborhood, everyone would look away.  To make eye contact might indicate that you were afraid of them or didn’t want them there.  So, in order to show our respect, we just didn’t look.  Strange but true.  I wasn’t taught to do this.  It was modeled for me.

Did this work?  Of course not.  I learned that people are different and deserve different treatment from one another.  Poor and rich, black and white, abled and disabled.  Labels were important.  They defined for us how to act and how to treat each other.

But I have grown up.  I have learned that this is not the way.  And I have taken it upon myself to model differently for my students and my own child.  I ask questions.  I talk about clothing, jewelry, political beliefs, religious practices.  I ask questions.  And I keep talking.  And I make eye contact.  And I smile.  And I invite people to sit down with me.  And I make plans to go to dinner, the movies, a book club.  And I ask questions.

My students recently did a Mystery Skype call with a class in Texas.  Once we figured out the states we came from, the questions started flying.  They thought we were all gangsters (New Yorkers are usually depicted that way).  We thought they were all cowboys.  After finding out the truth was quite the opposite, we laughed about our misconceptions.

What did we learn?  That Texan students like the same music we do, watch the same movies and tv shows, and shop at the same stores.  Hmmm.  Not so different.  The accents were certainly different but not much else was.  And my students now have a new understanding of Texans and other Southerners.

I work in a very multicultural climate.  We often have conversations about similarities with our religious rituals, our family dinners, and our weekend responsibilities.  We are so different and yet so similar. I don’t ever want my students to stop asking questions.  Eventually, their questions will get more mature, less “insulting”.  And, maybe someday, they won’t need to ask questions about each other.  They will just accept and understand.

What do you think?

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3 thoughts on “Asking Better Questions … Helping Change Perspectives

  1. Thank you for your thought provoking post. At the beginning of this year our school had a wonderful professional development day run by two WA educators called Connecting the Dots. Our new Australian Curriculum has a much broader scope on indigenous education and what I came away with on that day was to focus on the similarities of cultures rather than our differences. I am almost embarrassed to admit that it was a light bulb moment for me and one I am grateful for. http://geckos.ceo.wa.edu.au/Pages/Home.aspx

  2. I do think we need to keep the age of students in mind when discussing the sophistication of questions during connections. My students are 6 and 7 years old. They are still quite concrete – interested in everyday things associated with their learning partners. Their questions are generally surface questions to begin the conversation – inquiries about houses, language, games played, typical foods, whether they are required to wear a uniform to school, etc. However, as we begin to learn more about our new friends, the types of questions deepen. We learn WHY people in a certain area might live in a particular style of house. (We once learned that our friends in North Carolina did not have basements due to the land their community was built on).

    I think we need to be cautious in our judgment of students and their teachers. This is the type of thinking that makes it hard for me to encourage colleagues to try skype and other global connections. They have a fear of doing it “wrong”. If we come from a place of understanding, and realize that most likely no malice was intended by asking naive questions, we might have the opportunity to make even more connections. Connecting globally is one of the most powerful ways to combat stereotypes. Children find similiarites, but also learn to appreciate differences in culture, religion, lifestyle, etc.

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