Summary: As a Western teacher teaching non-Western people, you need to become a 150% person: you’ll never make it to 200%, but at least you can make an effort to understand and work within another culture’s very subtle customs.
Quick review: Very worthwhile. The author (Judith wrote most of the book) has a keen eye for stories and real insight in revealing their lessons. Here’s a sample:
Yet I was not always successful in this endeavor; sometimes I relied on old alternatives rather than continuing to learn from the context. An example of my failure on Yap to decipher the hidden curriculum occurred when teaching the color wheel during a Head Start class. The first day I confidently held it up and had the students repeat the colors in English after me. They did fine until they came to the colors blue and green. I patiently went over these colors again and again until they could repeat verbatim what I had said. Only ten years later in graduate school, when reading about differences in cultural perceptions of color, did I realize what I had done. In my frustration, I had failed to ask why my young students knew all the colors except blue and green. I now understand that on this tiny island surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, they use many words to capture the distinctions of blue and green necessary to function effectively in their environment. I had solved the color wheel ambiguity by forcing a level-1 solution on a level-2 problem. To be an effective cross-cultural teacher, one must learn the other-culture perspective and derive from it new alternatives for the challenges faced in a classroom. Relying on past experience will often lead to misunderstanding and failure. Only by understanding the other-culture context can we identify appropriate alternatives for teaching that will have maximum effectiveness for student learning.
Here is Judith Lingenfelter’s own summary of the book:
The basic argument in this book is that our culture serves us well when it is the only culture in focus. In fact, it is a palace when there are no other contesting voices around us, when we can live fairly comfortable, ordered lives in the context of our own cultural system. However, when we are pushed into relationships that are outside the boundaries of our culture, that culture becomes a prison to us. We are blind to other ways of seeing and doing things, and we assume that our way is the only way that is appropriate. We become frustrated and angry with those who insist on breaking our rules, and we attempt to enforce our rules on them.