Learning about cultures through school


Annika Lloyd, Stafff Writer

A problem that has always been prevalent is the lack of respect some people have for other cultures and religions. Lately, there have been many occurrences with tourists disrespecting those cultures, such as the two American men who were fined for taking vulgar pictures in front of a Buddhist temple in Bangkok.

The best way to prevent events like that from happening is through education. If people know more about other lifestyles, these would not occur as often. Imaging the benefit of having a class here where students could learn around cultures from around the globe, not just the ones most people are already familiar with. Speakers of various cultures could come in and discuss how their lives and how they differ from others. Students would be able to see the world from another perspective.

Other high schools in Topeka have classes that serve a similar purpose. Topeka High School has an “Ethnic Studies” class listed in their Program of Studies as part of their International Studies electives where they learn about different ethnic groups and their contributions to US history. Classes like these help students to understand more about groups they are uninformed of.

Mrs. Billie Esser believes that having a cultural anthropology class would be valuable to students. She says, “I think that any time you can learn about people who are unlike yourself, that’s time well spent.”

Many people say or do things that are culturally offensive without knowing it is. Mrs. Dawna Ross says, “People like to be funny, and in an effort to do so, probably behave in a way that might be funny to an American, but not necessarily cross-culturally.” If they had learned about those cultures and how they behave, they would not have been put in that situation.

However, if someone is in that situation, Mrs. Esser says, “I think admitting that you’re wrong and saying that you’re sorry goes a long way. […] I think acknowledging the error that’s been made goes a long way. And not just saying sorry but meaning it too.”

It is a sensitive circumstance, but the best thing to do is to say sorry and learn from your mistakes. The other side of the situation can also be sensitive. When someone says or does something to offensive, it is very easy to get mad without thinking about it. Very often, whatever is said was unintentional, which leads to misunderstandings. In this situation, Mrs. Esser suggests that “before they get offended, they should evaluate and determine whether or not it was intentional. Just because it wasn’t intentional doesn’t mean it’s okay, but I think that we could use a lot of forgiveness on both sides.”

Mrs. Ross shared an inspiring situation in which someone who was offended responded with “I have no time for such things.” It is typically hard for a person to brush off something that offends them, but often times, acknowledging that they might be uninformed and assuming it was not intentional can help control the anger they might be feeling.

Having respect for other people is an important life skill as everyone will be faced with many different kinds of people in life. Mrs. Esser says, “I know that it’s a great big world out there and most people live differently than I do, and I think that it’s always worthwhile for people to recognize that. Just because something is different doesn’t mean that it’s bad.” Acceptance is something that has to be learned and practiced. Having a cultural anthropology class available would teach students how to exercise this skill from a younger age and create a more peaceful society.

In the meantime, Mrs. Ross recommends taking world geography for students interested in learning about this subject. She says, “World geography is not only about the study of the geography of the world, but it’s also about culture as well.” Although the main focus of the class is geography, this class can also teach students about other groups of people who live differently from themselves. Learning outside of the classroom from websites such as culturecrossing.net or researching from databases can help broaden your knowledge as well. Most importantly, Mrs Ross advises students to be curious.