Dept. of Religious Studies
St. Thomas University
E3B 5G3 CANADA
Dept. of English Literature
Eastern Mediterranean University
Gazimagusa, via Mersin 10
01190392 366-4478 ext. 1387
Who's Learning What?
Teaching and learning cultural differences,
We want to look at the range of possible relationships among teachers and students from different cultural backgrounds, the influences those differences have in the classroom setting, and how best to imagine and build relationships that enhance our learning.
dft: I've been teaching in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus for 1 ½ years. Hired to teach seventeenth-century literature in an English Literature department which offers an undergraduate and master's degree, I wondered from the time I was hired to the time I arrived in Cyprus (a) why students from Cyprus would even want to know about Milton, and (b) how I might teach this corpus in a way that was relevant to the students' experience. A year and a half later these questions still stand, and I'd like to take this opportunity to explore them within the paradigm of this conference.
tcp: I've been teaching at St. Thomas University for almost twenty years. Hired to teach World Religions, especially the religious traditions of India, I was soon asked to teach a course on "Indian Religion." If made now, this request would sound very different. Now, if it were made to me at all, it would be to teach a course on the "Spirituality" of First Nations peoples. I doubt the request would be made; if it were made, I would refuse to teach the course. Yet, I continue to offer two courses in this area: Native American Religions and Miigmag and Maliseet Religions. I'm looking forward to use the Inkshed XV conference as a venue for exploring the incongruities I've introduced here.
dft Why might students in Northern Cyprus want to know about Milton? Well, the short answer is, most don't. And in that they're not much different than most undergraduates in North American Literature programmes. Why they 'should' want to study Milton is probably a better question: the British colonial presence here is faint (certainly fainter than the present Turkish colonial presence). Colleagues in the department teach literary theory--mostly deconstruction. They claim that theory can be applied to any aspect of experience, cross-culturally. I have a sneaking suspicion that the theory taught for the most part is as culturally bound as the history I teach. What matters here, and it's glaringly obvious, is that the content of the course (whether Paradise Lost or Of Grammatology) matters much less in our interaction with these students than the pedagogies we use.
tcp: Why might students -- both Native and not-Native -- want to learn about Native American religions from someone who claims not even a distant great grandmother who might have been a Native person? The answer is, many don't. This has not always been the case. As recently as ten years ago, the ratio of Native to not-Native students in my fairly well attended classes was two-thirds to one-third. Five years ago there was a huge increase in the not-Native interest. Since that time both interest and attendance in these courses -- especially among Native students -- has dropped precipitously. Each time I have to decide whether or not to teach these courses in a particular year, I have to confront the ethical dilemma posed by my place in this academic array.
It is our hope that when Dorothy Turner tells her story about English Literature courses at Eastern Mediterranean University in the same conversation that Thom Parkhill tells his story of the Native American religions courses at St. Thomas, and other inkshedders tell their stories of student/teacher cultural differences, we will learn more about the kinds of interactions that are mutually beneficial for learning.
As part of this workshop we will ask participants to inkshed a story of cultural differences based on their personal classroom experience.
A description of the workshop can be inferred from our abstract. We will introduce our stories briefly, then ask participants to inkshed their stories. Following this will be a time for reading and marking the inksheds. Next, we will talk about whatever insights we have that have come from reflecting on our stories. This part, too, will be brief, and as much to initiate discussion as to report findings. Discussion will then take the remainder of the workshop. There may well be no conclusions, although we may try to sum up what we've heard by way of closure.