As a teacher in the information age, I believe it’s important to layer media literacy into my courses. The access today’s students have to limitless information via the Internet is both a blessing and a curse. It is unprecedented to have the aggregate of human knowledge at our fingertips. However, as we have seen over the last few years, the Internet has also made it easy to spread both dis- and misinformation. My primary goal as a college educator is to teach students to find and evaluate information, think critically about it, and draw accurate conclusions. This must include teaching students to navigate the information they find online, especially regarding current events.
During my time teaching an introductory gender studies class
at Santa Ana Community College, France’s then-recent prohibition on burkinis
was in the news. I took the opportunity to tie this current event into a lesson
on cultural relativism and power differences. We were reading Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristoff and
Sheryl WuDunn as part of the department’s shared curriculum. The book offers a
broad survey of some of the most dire circumstances of women around the world,
and while the information is important, it is occasionally presented
paternalistically and without needed cultural relativism. Additionally, parts
of the book discuss the specific forms of oppression that face women in the
Muslim world. I knew based on the demographics of my class and my discussions
with them that most had never met a Muslim person, and I was concerned that
without addressing this issue, the book might reify some stereotypes of Muslim
women as disempowered victims.
For the crux of the lesson, I chose a video from CNN
(unfortunately no longer available) in which two Muslim women were invited on
the program to debate whether or not it was appropriate to ban certain
religious forms of dress in a secular Western democracy. One woman, a hijabi
herself, argued that ordering Muslim women to remove their coverings was the
same sort of policing of women’s bodies that is a symptom of rape culture. The
other woman argued that religious practices rooted in patriarchy should not be
welcome in a secular society that aspires to equality.
Before sharing the video with my students, I provided context that I knew they would need in order to understand the debate. I shared the relevant text from the Quran and briefly explained why showing modesty before God is important in Islam. I posed some questions for the students to think about while they watched. In particular, I suggested that they think about what an equivalent conversation about women’s dress in the West might be like. Just after the video, I had students turn and talk to a partner about what surprised them in the video and which arguments were most convincing to them. I find that having students discuss a topic with a partner just before a whole class discussion primes the pump for more thoughtful contributions.
In the classroom discussion, I let the day’s learning outcomes guide the conversation. I wanted students to be able to apply the idea of cultural relativism not just to Half the Sky, but also to media they consume in their daily life outside the classroom. They should understand that these sorts of debates on 24/7 news stations often set up false equivalencies. Ostensibly, in a debate, two sides of an argument are presented equally. However, to offer another example, a debate about climate change between a climate scientist and a scientist who is in the tiny minority of climate change deniers does not provide a balanced representation of the issue as scientists understand it. This kind of equality obscures equity. Likewise, presenting the burkini ban conflict as a debate between Muslim women is disingenuous when the number of Muslim women who support such bans are a tiny minority.
These are the sorts of questions that guided our discussion:
Who has the power to define what forms of dress are appropriate for women? What
message is CNN sending when they represent the issue of burqa bans as a debate
between two Muslim women? Whose ideas are amplified and whose are depreciated? After
spending some time discussing the CNN video, I asked students to connect these
lessons to their reading. When you read Half
the Sky, who has the power to define women’s problems and offer solutions?
How are women’s voices represented in this book? Eventually we came to the
final question, which tied that day’s lesson to larger questions in the course.
What kind of balance do you think is appropriate when it comes to using
cultural relativism and fighting for women’s rights? Who should get to decide
where the line is?
While this particular lesson grew out of a specific assigned reading for a gender studies course and a specific current event, this framework could be easily adapted to other contexts. This lesson could be used in any course that covers the ways in which power structures determine public narratives. For the purposes of teaching cultural anthropology, this lesson could be used in an introductory course to teach cultural relativism, or in higher level courses that deal with the anthropology of gender or the anthropology of Islam. With some tweaking, the basic structure of the lesson could be used to teach other topical areas as well. I recommend looking for current events that link to the subject matter at hand. For example, if I were designing a lesson based on this framework to use this fall, I would look to the recent news about Colin Kaepernick becoming the new face of Nike’s latest ad campaign, and news about the NFL police brutality protests in general. I would share the video linked above with the class, in which two sports analysts debate the NFL protests, and pose these sorts of questions: Is this group really as homogeneous as the first speaker says? What power dynamics are obscured by presenting this debate as “black and white folk talking together” about this topic? Whose viewpoint comes across most strongly and why?
Teaching Resource Contributed By: Mindy Wynn Tauberg, Graduate Student, University of California, Irvine.
Mindy Wynn Tauberg is a doctoral student studying Muslim-Jewish interfaith activism in Los Angeles. Her research focuses on the ways activists use personal narrative to build connections across communities in conflict. In 2016 Mindy participated in the California Community College Internship Program, and the following year she completed UC Irvine’s Pedagogical Fellowship. Mindy holds an MA in Elementary Inclusive Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.
Yo regularmente uso el corto documental de PBS/Frontline titulado The Woman’s Kingdom (El Reino de las Mujeres) en mis cursos de Introducción a la Antropología, para presentar material sobre el matrimonio, familia, y parentesco. La película presenta a la minoría étnica matrilineal del sudoeste de China, los Mosuo, centrándose en la práctica del “matrimonio ambulante” y la estructura de la familia matrilocal Mosuo. Frecuentemente uso el filme para iniciar unidades sobre parentesco y familia con el objetivo de dar a conocer la diversidad cultural en los sistemas de parentesco, destacando el hecho que los patrones culturales de la paternidad y matrimonios de cohabitación no son culturalmente universales. He descubierto que esta es una forma muy impactante y memorable de introducirse a estos temas para muchos estudiantes.
La película también discute
las presiones que están afectando y originando cambios en la sociedad Mosua
como: la degradación ambiental, el turismo y la penetración de los valores
culturales de la mayoría China han.La película puede ser usada para
comparar y contrastar las luchas que muchos grupos de etnias minoritarias
enfrentan en los Estados-nación grandes. Los estudiantes pueden apreciar que si
bien el cambio cultural es inevitable y ningún grupo cultural permanece
estático, algunos cambios pueden ser más dañinos que otros.
También, he usado el filme
para destacar el tema del Agente Humano. Cerca del final de la versión completa
del filme, observamos que la protagonista principal de la película, Chacuo, se
resiste a sus propias normas culturales, eligiendo vivir con el padre de su
hija, un hombre Han que conoció cuando el visito su comunidad como turista. La
pareja no tiene planes de casarse, sin embargo, siguen comprometidos el uno con
el otro, contrariando las expectativas de sus familias y culturas. Su relación
de pareja no tradicional es una ilustración de como en todas las sociedades,
las personas tienen la capacidad de ajustarse, resistir o incluso transformar
las expectativas culturales de ellos. Esta idea que las personas son agentes de
acción y no son esclavos de su cultura es algo que presento anticipadamente en
mis cursos de antropología cultural. Este cortometraje me permite reforzar este
concepto por muchas semanas en el semestre, que ayuda para la retención, proveyendo
un contexto cultural dentro del cual los estudiantes pueden conceptualizar esta
idea. En las discusiones que siguen, los estudiantes a menudo exploran formas
en las que su propia familia se adapta o
no se adapta a las normas y expectativas de su propia cultura. Los estudiantes
también pueden discutir sobre mecanismos culturales y sociales (es decir:
vergüenza, chismes, entre otros) así como mecanismos gubernamentales (por
ejemplo: leyes sobre la bigamia, apoyo para la niñez, el diseño de viviendas, entre
otros.) que trabajan para hacer cumplir ciertas normas de matrimonio y
La corta duración de la
película (20 minutos) es suficientemente larga para proporcionar suficiente
contexto cultural y profundidad. Sin embargo no ocupa todo el período de clase.
También hay disponible una versión de transmisión más corta (10 minutos).
This 10-minute film available on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YItBnWz0vOU) documents the 2012 Aboriginal Women’s Natural and Cultural Resource Management (NCRM) conference held at the Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve on Weilwan territory in New South Wales, Australia. This film can be used in introductory archaeology and environmental anthropology classes as it calls attention to how women from indigenous communities have important cultural knowledge about the significance of natural resources and their preservation. Coming together for a three-day conference offered an opportunity for these women to learn more about how they can use resources communally while giving anthropology students additional perspectives on the benefits of ensuring NCRM projects prioritize the voices of indigenous women and their communities. Their work underscores how any given location should be considered both a cultural and natural resource in need of conservation methods led by local communities who offer pertinent forms of expertise on conservation.
The idea that a place like the wetlands can be both a natural and cultural resource is also made vivid as they engaged with the land according to traditional notions of community. For example, the women were able to learn how sedge is harvested for weaving and participated in projects where even the most experienced weavers were surprised to learn new traditional techniques. The women also planted native species of sedge to preserve the wetlands for future generations and once again weave together the importance of indigenous knowledges, practices, and aspirations for the future. Cultural tours, planting, and harvesting natural resources like lomandra flax plant used for weaving and trees native to the riparian area became ways of doing and seeing cultural knowledge through community building. These activities reiterated why natural resources like the wetlands should be protected for future generations as well as the need for indigenous women to become more involved in efforts to get their lands returned.
This film additionally provides a concrete example of environmental justice and how indigenous communities are working together to combat forms of environmental racism, such as the inability to own their traditional lands. The politics of natural and cultural resource management are therefore highlighted as workshops, activities, and discussions at the conference also focused on sharing strategies toward the attainment of land titles to protect the cultural heritages inextricable with natural resources like the wetlands. Surrounded by land cultivated for agriculture, the Weilwan people have been able to establish their territory as a protected area through joint management relationships with national parks and the Australian federal government. This film enables students to learn that NCRM can be a political as well as creative process in which activism and artwork can work hand in hand to reaffirm the rightful relationships indigenous groups have with natural resources. In these multifaceted relationships, we also see how indigenous women should have a prioritized voice in the creation and implementation of conservation procedures.
Not only is the wetland a sanctuary for native plants and animals, its creation is part of a dreaming story that once again demonstrates how fundamental a natural resource can be to the identities and lives of local communities. By sharing dreaming techniques at the conference, the women reaffirmed their understandings of the spiritual, ecological, and communal values that are inseparable from the wetlands. They also illustrate how applied scientific knowledge about ecologies also requires sociocultural contextualization that considers the deeper relationships local communities have with them. Cultural activities were therefore enacted as a way to remind women of the knowledge and practices that need to be passed along to future generations as well as reiterate the integral roles they should have in shaping the political decisions that affect them.
Teaching Resource Contributed by Megan Neal, University of California, Irvine
As a companion to their exhibit What does it mean to be human?, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History produced a series of five lesson plans that address topics related to human evolution; adaptation to altitude, the evolution of human skin color, malaria, what it means to be human and strategies for working with cultural and religious sensitivity.
The learning materials related to human adaptation include the following activities:
Designing an experiment to test the difference between acclimation and adaptation,
Investigating how scientific arguments show support for natural selection among Tibetans,
Designing an investigation using a simulation based on the Hardy-Weinberg principle to explore mechanisms of evolution,
Devising a test for whether other groups of people have adapted to living at high altitudes.
The learning activities on adapting to altitude are oriented toward high school AP Biology students, however they can be adapted for use in introductory biological anthropology college courses as well as introductory four-field anthropology courses.