Thursday, August 25, 2011

Teaching Marriage, Family, and Culture

I was talking to Ed earlier this week about my syllabus and what I was planning on doing in class. My focus this semester is culture, namely why we should study it, how we define it, and what aspects are included in that definition. (I plan on incoporating short stories, a couple movies, newspaper articles, academic articles, and poems.) I had decided to include disability, gender, education, and family, but then realized I didn't have enough material for the second half of the semester, so I decided to include a few classes on the cultural aspects of marriage and religion. Ed thought this was a terrible idea, and I began to wonder if maybe he was right, but then I started thinking about this some more.

Utah is homogeneous; it's (mostly) Mormon; it's (mostly) white; the kids do not travel. I realize I had a different upbringing, living in the northeast; cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C. were much more accessible. Getting to Europe was easier, too: shorter flight times; easy access to JFK and EWR; direct flights as opposed to changing planes in Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, or New York. And I had the advantage of going to college and grad school - and teaching - in Long Island and New York City, which is nothing if not eye-opening.

However, I was really astonished to learn how few of my former students had even left the state. I mean, California is right there. Hell, even Las Vegas is only about 500 miles away (although one could argue whether a middle schooler should be going to Vegas). The kids here are simply not exposed to other cultures in any meaningful way. I want to get them thinking about how things are done and defined in other parts of the world.

I'm not planning on being confrontational, and I do need to find more readings that address how family and marriage is defined in other parts of the world. So far, I've found a couple articles on LDS and family (apropos, since the whole Warren Jeffs thing recently went down) and same-sex marriage (again, apropos, since New York recently legalized same-sex marriage). But I could find out more about how families are defined in different Asian and European countries, for example, and differences between families that are religious, and those who practice different religions, and those that don't practice any religion.

I certainly wouldn't dare teach these lessons even to high school kids; I would be afraid to do so. Parents want to control what their kids are exposed to, and to give them their own (religious or secular) background, and I can't say I fault them for that. That's reasonable. But once they get to college, it's time for them to see the outside world, to learn, and to make some comparisons. They don't have to change their own minds about how they define family, but they do need to see that family and culture and acceptability are defined in a different ways.

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