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Expert Q&A | John Hunter

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John Hunter

Q: How important is diversity and respect for people of other cultures in today's environment?

A: Our reality today is diversity. Diverse worldviews and heritages are now a relative fact of existence. In today's world, through the ease of travel, media and all forms of connection, we can now more easily see and experience the lives of those seemingly much different from ourselves. We must decide how we will live with the understanding that differences exist and are real, and that similarities abound as well. In my experience, I have discovered that the extending of respect and the initial offering of goodwill to everyone yields much benefit to others and to ourselves.

In my work as a teacher, relationships form the fundamental basis of the best learning environments I have encountered. A genuine, pervasive and continuing extension of respect and goodwill establishes and maintains a wellfunctioning environment in the classroom. The same extension of goodwill and harmony could do wonders for society.

Q: What are the building blocks in teaching and inspiring cultural curiosity and cultural competence in children?

A: The fostering of curiosity, tempered with a baseline of respect, is the natural start of our interest in the other, which is how different people first appear to us. A sustained reflection on the nature of others, their feelings, their lives and their humanness, and upon our own selves reveals over time that there is little real substantial difference between us all. We can use our natural curiosity to drive our deeper understanding and knowledge of others.

A sustained reflection on the nature of others, their feelings, their lives and their humanness, and upon our own selves reveals over time that there is little real substantial difference between us all.

With continued reflection and deepening personal awareness, we may come to find that any singular perception we may have at any given moment is in actuality only a fleeting, fluid and changing perception. Our dearest friend may become an enemy, or a former adversary can one day become a dear friend. That our perspective is not hardened or fixed, but indeed open and fluid, is what makes our understanding possible. We come to understand, with time and awareness, that each individual from any culture can express the entire range of human feeling, just like us. With these realizations, we can find some ground for common feeling, based upon our actual experience of those from other cultures.

In teaching, example is better than precept. Wishing our students to have cultural curiosity and cultural competence with peoples from many different cultures, we as educators must model what we wish children to achieve. We can learn a few words in the languages of the cultures around us. We can learn, at a minimum, the most basic and essential customs of proper greeting and behaviour. We can learn the attitudes and postures within different levels of social discourse. Learning another culture simply requires us to learn to ask an "insider" how we may ourselves become an insider. If we all become insiders, who is left out?

Q: How can teachers foster compassion and respect for others, such as through the World Peace Game?

A: Compassion and respect are things I believe are good, useful and helpful for us all, but they are not something I set out to teach explicitly. If, in my classes, I were to pose one way as right, I would automatically set up its opposite as wrong. The result would be that I am inadvertently "telling" my students what to think or believe.

My students would then feel they must, out of respect, believe me (or pretend to). I have found belief to be a very limited and unstable thing to base learning discovery upon. I would much rather my students find an actual workable fact or truth to build their understandings upon. I prefer they know rather than believe.

The students who play the World Peace Game, time and time again, arrive at a basic conclusion that compassion and respect are products of a deep struggle with the chaos of life. The game has dynamic, interconnected and ambiguous situations built in that present chaos to the students. Coming into contact with these elements and sharing the learning journey with their classmates make the students feel wonderfully empowered and connected through their problem solving.

Exercises like the game can pose and facilitate a self-revelation and personal discoveries of the mechanics of life within one's own personal experience. A personal experience, while not always gentle, will yield more understanding than any didactic approach in learning. My students, through their experience with the game and its dilemmas, will know rather than be told. I hope that my students' learning can be self-evident and that their knowledge and understanding are practical and based upon a direct, personal experience.

—Our Kids
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