Monday, May 25, 2009

Cultural Insensitivity

J's class has spent the last month learning about China and I was really happy to see them do so. Up until now, their world has been limited to the state they live in with occasional forays into the country. The kids got interesting projects with themes related to China assigned to them and if they were willing to look deeper and further than Wikipedia or Google's first ten results per key word search, they could learn quite a lot. I wished they had rounded off the month with some Chinese food and music in the classroom - it would make for a lovely finale.

This is exactly the kind of learning I never got to enjoy as a child and really wanted J to have. The kids were challenged to come up with the most unusual facts on the subject they were researching on a given week. This required looking beyond the easy to find sources of information, reading books instead of browsing web sites and generally stoking the urge to discover more.

So, it came as a surprise and more than a little disappointment to see the reading comprehension passage the kids were assigned at end of the project month. The story was titled "The Chinese Bowl" in which a little girl breaks a big, heavy bowl "Made In China" accidentally and is worried it may be one of her mother's antiques. We are told that her mother has things that are hundreds of years old - dishes from England and furniture from around the world. Naturally, the girl thinks this bowl is a Chinese antique.

In the last line of the passage the mother walks into the room and asks her "Did you see that ugly little bowl I got at the hardware store for the puppy's food ? I think it's too ugly to keep"

I found that very offensive in the context of the month's theme and the title of the passage. I asked J what she had thought of the passage and she said "I didn't really like it". Apparently she had got the same vibe as I had from it "being rude to Chinese people" in her words. J is possibly more than a little sensitive about this being a minority herself and having a close buddy who is Chinese. In one fell swoop a month's worth of good, positive work was undone.


ggop said...

I am disappointed too. Perhaps the lack of diversity in the schools there make them insensitive. I wish J's friend's parents express their sentiments with the teacher. Someone has got to give feedback.

I'm really surprised by how un PC J's school is! I've heard of blanket statements about Hinduism in "World Religions" chapters in textbooks. But this is still surprising..

Heartcrossings said...

ggop - In my neck of the woods, minorities are supposed to sort of blend in the best they can.The locals have for the most part never stepped foot outside the county let alone the country.

There is only much PC-ness or cultural sensitivity you can except from such folks. They would not even get what the problem was if someone did give feedback on this issue for instance...