I am going to begin by saying that I am still pissed about “Chopsticks and Courage” (if you have no idea what that is, message me). Why that is even the title of anything I’ll never know why. However, since then, and a little bit before, my mind races to something very big in my heart: why is there no culture in schools. Yes, insert target right to my forehead. I get it, I could be a little bitter but I think I’m also just paying more attention. Hear me out:
Celebrating culture is not celebrating it once a month or a day out of the year. That’s obligation. Celebrating culture is not putting up posters highlighting various ethnic practices or famous people. That is show.
Celebrating culture is what is infused into a classroom and is what the teacher expects to infuse into it everyday. It’s literally changing the way you teach to reflect each individual person and it is, ultimately, sacrificing what makes you comfortable in the name of creating a community. Many might say that this is a terrible opinion to have because the only experiences I have had are with coaching, being an EPA and running a summer camp. Let me tell you about these and how I didn’t just plan random shit and hope for the best and I didn’t just consult a manual on how to deal with poor kids or non-white folk.
My culture is Thai culture. Yes, I was raised by white parents but I was ALWAYS amongst Thai people and if not, I was always amongst a diverse group of people. In fact, the only time I felt like I was being drowned out by caucasians was at family reunions. Thai culture is rooted in community, loud chit-chat and very high expectations. Respect for your elders was the most important and you treated each other like family but kept your family business to yourself. There was discipline but no more than there was lively music, the smell of spices and the sound of papaya being beat in a bowl on the floor. Every girl learned to Thai dance, some longer than others. It’s ironic because until a few years ago, I really didn’t like the chit-chat! School was FULL of culture. It was so full of culture, we never actually really talked about it or celebrated a month of any them because, culture was everywhere, everyday. You just knew who you were, where you came from and you knew who your friends were too. There was no cultural insensitivity or racism for that matter because you literally all had SOMETHING wrong with you AND something cool about you. Little moments throughout the day you learned about different people and why they had dots on their forehead or why they only ate certain food at lunch. I knew some of my friends spent a month fasting, and a few others couldn’t focus without music playing in their ear, others danced their way along the hallway. I haven’t seen any of that here. “Sit down, stop walking like that, look at me, my goodness you’re full of energy, you’re not listening”… It’s come to my realization that the very things we say (I say “we” because I’ve caught myself saying these too) that the very things they might be doing might very much have to do with WHO they are. Their culture. I’m not saying let the kid run down the hallway or ignore the world with headphones in their ears but I’m saying, observe.
I owe success to running summer camp to the fact that I actually do not have the best attention span and am scatter brain (or as my mother likes to say, “cart-before-the-horse). All my life all I’ve ever known is movement and energy, lively lessons and high expectations. I owe that to my culture and to my teachers of so many different cultures. The out-of-the-box-thinkers. The ones who realized that in order for all of these groups of people to get along and to thrive together, one cannot stoop to the level of “easy”, one must rise to the occasion and amaze the shit out of showing up to school each day. IF we ever had to sit down at our desks for longer than 5 minutes it was because we were writing a test OR because we were writing down our plans to take over the world-that can take a long time. We were putting on costumed plays, not just once a year, but regularly if you wanted. You were learning about Canada’s history by becoming part of it-setting up stalls to sell your First Nations goods that you learned how to make from the class before. Your stall had price lists + GST, a little write-up about your product and of course, the write up about you, the First Nation seller. Maybe for science you were inventing an alien, talking about its adaptations, life cycle, percentage of them on the planet, how much area their habitat took up, creating sound clips of what your alien would sound like. <— Grade 4. Every Friday there were “rotaries” where you participated in a club for an afternoon, based on what you had selected a few weeks back. There was theatre, scrapbooking, camp cooking, inventions, math club, photography, outdoor rotary literally something for everyone and they changed each month. <— Elementary school. You know why these were good days? Because our teachers picked something THEY loved because, teachers have passions too. They loved being there at their rotary and you just knew it.
Okay, I’ve strayed from the point…back to summer camp. It was exhausting and hard, I’m still recovering. However I attribute that to the way I handled things-not the way I used to handle things. Sometimes you play around with your personality and I discovered, the sit down, turn around, don’t make another sound personality was not me. I like being fun (who doesn’t) but I’ll amp it up above what might be considered normal. Each day we played music whenever there was a chance. I’m not talking the Top 40 Children’s Bop playlist, remakes by Barnie’s child followers, or the approved Wiggles CD, I’m talking REAL music. The rap songs and the deep Andra Day. Anything less IS insulting. There was a lot of dancing. There was a lot of cheering and moving around. This is how I remember being as a kid in school. But Ornmadee, it’s day camp, of course it has to be fun. Again, very insulting. Our whole summer was surrounded around STEM projects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). We did things that required thinking but I was in no way about to hand out the work booklet. No, I don’t get off that easy, I actually have to prepare stuff but it’s easy to do when you know what you expect of yourself. I took responsibility that it was my job to make something meaningful.
I never played the music or danced or did the cheers because I thought it would look “good” or be “twitter worthy”. I did it because I am from a culture where you’re allowed to be alive. It’s who I am. No child under my wing will feel like they can’t express themselves if it’s not within the prescribed methods that the books tell you are okay. So what I am wondering is, in a system that is trying to be culturally relevant, bringing in people of different cultures is an okay step, but it’s not forcing the topic on anyone. It’s saying, “you get your people, I get my people”. If you want a rich and vibrant community of diversity, then that’s literally what you have to emulate and become. You might be doing it alone, people might think you’re trying too hard, people might equate you to a missionary, or they might just be pissed off that you’re in their business. Do it anyway. If you want groups of people to flourish, then you need to become aware of who they are-the parts that cannot be changed by any sort of program. Want them to participate in music completely? Stop singing songs that have no value, get into songs that are full of vibrancy, life, energy and where there is no way it would be successful without movement of all body parts-not just the ones you want to control. Our music teacher had us doing Stomp! There was none of that “fuzzy, fuzzy, wuzzy” BS. Want them to be active? Play games that have a purpose and a goal-not just running around pylons. How about reading? Why does reading have to be silent? In a world where communication is a large part of how you will survive, why are we telling kids they cannot talk? For most, enjoyment is reading and calm chit-chat. Is a kid actually reading when you can hear the sounds of people breathing because it’s so quiet? No, they’re just hearing people breathing and skimming pages. What about writing? A lot of kids have things to say but either don’t know how to express them or don’t want to write about what they’re being made to write about. I get it, you can’t have violence in schools, but please don’t tell the boy who’s super into weapons of mass destruction that he can’t write about it. That’s history, that stuff’s neat. Obviously it can’t be written about another living being but, why not discuss how the world used to be? You can learn a lot about someone based on what they choose to write about.
Get up. Dance. Sing. Stand on your desk. Handshake. Bow. It’s not about making sure that there is an equal amount of posters depicting when Chinese New Year’s is versus when Christmas is, it’s about making culture something that runs IN the walls, the floors and the rooms. It should be what is expected. It’s observing the people that walk into the rooms and rather than forcing them to turn into the common, accepted, standard and writing them up, make them the standard. It will be chaos, but culture has never been about everybody being the same. There are schools dedicated to Francophonie students, schools dedicated to certain religions, there can be schools dedicated to rich culture-it’s called breaking out of the norm. If you can’t see colour, or choose not to see colour, you won’t see culture. Part of the problem is that we’re only focusing on culture when it’s convenient. It should not be something that gets in the way, it should be the way.