sarah weldon

Teacher of English and Geography, British Connection International School

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Is it acceptable to 'pollute' another country's culture with external values and scientific theory?

I came to Georgia from the Uk to teach English language in public schools, but found that actually, most of my job is really about social change and bringing my western values and beliefs to the future generations of Georgian children. There are many things I love about Georgian culture, many things I hate, but how do I encourage change in the places where I as an individual want change, but keep the values that I love? Where does my job as an English teacher start and end? I have to equip children to work with foreigners in the future, which means they need a whole new set of social rules on what is acceptable outside of Georgia. I feel powerful to bring about change in such vulnerable people, but how do I know that I am not doing harm or damaging their society, where is the line? Is it even my job to educate them in this way? Is it good to shake up their beliefs and systems or am I just setting out to make them miserable in the long run?

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    Aug 22 2011: Sarah! Congratulations on doing such good work and for being so self reflective while doing it. I am certain that you are doing a lot of good!
    I think the answer might be as simple as communicating your admiration for the components of Georgian society that are praiseworthy. Just knowing that someone from beyond your borders admires something about your way of life would raise awareness of it.
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    Sep 12 2011: It depends upon the others belief. If its not doing any harm never try to shatter their beliefs. What do you mean by good and bad? Its all in a single person's point of view to know that you will have to take a dive into their beliefs to know its depths. Shattering ones belief is the worst thing a person could do. Already a lot of cultures, languages and religions are endangered and because of what? without any practical good reason. Lets things have their own harmonic flow. There are 2 perspective of things its our world and the world as stated by Devadath Patnaik so our view are converged within these 2. Its better to have the world or others world taken into consideration when you decide to influence others beliefs.
  • Aug 28 2011: My suggestion is to try your best at giving them accurate information. And yes shake and shatter their beliefs (if they are generaly incorrect), make them think, it can only do them benifit. That's what seperates good teacher from average. Everyone has different beliefs and views, certainly don't force them to believe, just present them different views - alternatives so they can judge/decide for themselves. I don't think accurate working scientific theory pollutes at all it's more refreshing/cleansing and universial, I would instead be vary of various so called "religious theories", which inhibit critical thinking...
  • Aug 23 2011: Sarah
    What a question. I am glad you are sensitive to the issues. I have lived and worked in another culture and understand the dilemma.

    Cultures change. Cultures I believe are living adaptive systems. They are constantly shifting even if it appears they are not. It isn't just the introduction of new technology or even a new language. I don't believe you can really know the answer to "But will it be better?": better than what and better than which other culture? Cultures do adapt and change. Can we be careful which values and ideas we introduce? I think so.

    Teaching a new language is teaching a new culture. Language and culture are so tied up with one another. I think that the teacher has the responsibility to consider what am I really teaching here. As someone who is looking to do exactly what you are doing, I think that yes, teachers have a responsibility. Learning English in and of itself teaches new thought patterns and new ways of constructing reality. Use it wisely and well.

    It really isn't that they are "primitive" or "simple" and we are "modern" and "complex." A culture is a way of putting reality together to make it make sense. What I found, is that for example, Latin American culture can teach North American culture a great deal: Relationships are important; time moves not nearly as linearly as we like to think. A good cross-cultural person will learn to live and love in the other culture. If you are teaching English, help them to do the same. Help them to be cross-cultural people.

    Don't worry. You are not the only influence although you might be an important one for those you teach. Cultures change and adapt anyway. Be responsible to make your students truly those who can move in different cultures yet value and adapt themselves to to their own and others..
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    Aug 22 2011: another reaosn to seek something outside of "culture"
  • Aug 22 2011: The job of any teacher is to convey knowledge. The knowledge of individual teachers, and thus what they're qualified to teach, varies greatly.

    If, for example, as part of teaching home economics to Afghani girls, the study happens to stray into the area of whether females should remain uneducated, married off while prepubescent to their paedophile uncles and have their noses cut off if they so refuse, then I think most civilized human beings (let alone teachers) would know whether they're qualified to advise on something apparently outside their curricula.

    Calculus on the other hand...
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    Aug 22 2011: Paula, this is exactly what I have been thinking myself since I came here. Although there have been so many times where children have asked me questions that I would not have had an issue with in any other country, but which terrified me in answering here. They had a right to know, since they asked the question, and to fob them off would be a diservice. But boy, would the answers shake up their whole values and concepts, and would I have parents banging on my door angry at what they might see as 'corrupting' their children? And then I realised, that at the end of the day, the children were already exposed to these topics through new music and tv, and if they didn't learn how to handle this stiff now, then the big world outside of Georgia would be a massive shock and they were going to get themselves in terrible trouble. Then I would be wishing I had give them the tools to deal with whatever they faced. Probably, the most comforting thing was when discussing this with the Minister of Education, and seeing that he too felt this way and was behind us in shaping this new generation of children, even if eyebrows of elders were raised.

    I would love to know if others have had similar experiences whilst teaching or working abroad. Have you ever had your own cultures and values shaken up??
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      Aug 24 2011: curious about what some of these questions would be?
    • Aug 26 2011: Sarah
      I do believe people in most countries are willing at least to dialogue about cultural differences. There are always people who dig their heals in however.

      Living in Mexico I had my values shaken hard and often sometimes. Many of the times for me it had to do with misjudging the importance of relationships even over "principles." I remember returning from a meeting once that had devolved into a shouting match, and one of my best friends, (a gringo too) looked at me and said "What have we missed? Why did we allow things to go so wrong?" We both realized after looking at the situation it did have to do with culture first and foremost, and then with the "principles" we thought we were defending.

      Learning another culture and living there is hard work. I believe though that yes even teaching English is going to involve "cross-cultural" problems.
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    Aug 22 2011: Hi Sarah,
    It is hard to be in a situation when you can see all the needs around you but don't have the resources or knowledge to effect any changes. it must be painful to see their reality and feel helpless...
    But Im guessing this is not your case, you can do many things to help those in need. The question is how much is too much and where do you draw the line...
    In my honest opinion, it is the small things that will make a real difference. I am not familiar with Georgian culture, though I'm officially very intrigued, but they are a people with their own customs and language, you would only be handing them the tools to build themselves up into the new millennium, but what they do with those tools, is unfortunately out of your control.
    Then we come into the ethical dilemma that you must face when deciding whether or not it is right to insert all this knowledge into a "vulnerable" culture with no idea of the future consequences..
    the way i see this, is like raising a child, you teach them to say a few simple words and next thing you know they are repeating all kinds of things you wish they had never heard, but it happens, and they will learn many things that you wish didn't even exist, all because you taught them their first words, now you have no control over what they are learning.
    if this makes any sense, what Im trying to say is that if you feel in your heart that you can teach them a language, feed, clothe them, and give them the tools to survive in this world that some of us have had the privilege to study and experience, then DO IT.
    Ill give you some reasons:
    - There is a need for change.
    - Education is more valuable that any amount of money
    - An educated mind is one less likely to be taken advantage of.
    - Who knows? you might discover a few great musicians/ writers/ inventors/ scientists/ architects...

    Thats just a few, I'm sure you can come up with more.
    Best of luck to you in your journey!!
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    Aug 21 2011: thanks.
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    Aug 21 2011: When you're close to dying, and you're holding on, it seems like devils are ripping your life away. If you've made your peace, the devils are really angels, freeing you.
    Certainly there are traits from that culture wishing to hold on and traits ready to die. Don't preach, just be.
    GOOD LUCK