In the upper Northwest, above the borders of Idaho and Montana, lies the Alberta English Language Arts Council whose mission reads, “Connecting people to their natural love of stories & sharing that passion with others.”
If you follow the link from the homepage of their website, you can read the November 2016 Alberta Voices, featuring an article beginning on page 19, “Missing the Mark in Cross-Cultural Communication: A Case Study of a Stoney Nakoda Sioux Community.”
According to the authors, John W. Friesen and John D. Snow, “This article demonstrates why meaningful communication is sometimes difficult to attain between people who hold to significantly different value systems.”
While the article focuses on the Nakoda Sioux Community—and what comes next is not intended to belittle this at all—it seems to me the premise of the article could generally apply to communication between educators and their students’ parents/guardians.
The article suggests how educators might handle cross-cultural situations:
“In one of his last essays, the late Cree elder and psychologist Joseph E Couture (2013, 293) suggested that those who function in cross-cultural situations should first come to grips with their own value system. This advice has particular relevance to such professions as social work, counselling and teaching. Once practitioners are firmly familiar with and appreciative of the limitations of their own value orientations, they may be able to avoid becoming cultural converts, unwarranted critics or value imperialists. Hopefully, practitioners will also realize that others value their own personal belief systems as much as the practitioners value theirs. This realization should provide a measure of objectivity and respect for diversity in cross-cultural functioning.”
In “Society, Institutions, and Common Sense: Themes in the Discourse of Book Challengers in 21st century United States,” NCTE member Emily J. M. Knox reported on conversations of book challengers about why they challenged books. She expands on this article in her book, Book Banning in 21st-Century America. In both she found that challengers’ worldviews and discourse fell into three themes that led to their challenging books:
• Society is on the decline and children’s innocence must be protected.
• Public institutions are public symbols of the community.
• Reading is a powerful practice with significant short- and long-term effects.
On the face of it, these three worldviews may not differ from what we believe as educators. But, as educators, we want students to read texts that broaden their worlds rather than restrict them, even when those texts are difficult and, perhaps, troubling—something often forbidden in challengers’ worlds. So, as right as we see our choices to be, it’s important that we see that challengers to texts are judging the value of texts through a completely different lens.
Listening can help “provide a measure of objectivity and respect for diversity in cross-cultural functioning”—can help us work through challenges before they blow up into community affairs.
There are—or should be—policies in place in schools to map out how to work through a challenge fairly and effectively. See “Defending the Books” in The Students’ Right to Read as a model. Check out the school board policies on your school/district website and look under “Instruction” to find the reconsideration or challenge policy.