Old South/New South

Today there was a piece on npr about the Jackson (Mississippi) Advocate, a newspaper renowned for its strong civil rights stand. What is germane to our work as foreign language teachers as we debate among ourselves issues like comparative public health systems (see “Sicko”)is that the Old South statistics get figured in with our national averages.

I’m just reading over a textbook on Romanian which promises an integrated cultural approach. In it I have found nothing about how coal miners were brought in by the government to savagely beat student protesters nor do I see anything about the mistreatment of gypsies and other minorities. Hmmm. I also see little about the daily customs that are required to help the student fit in to daily activities. Instead, I see a series of articles about famous cultural and historical figures. Would Mircea Eliade have approved of the coal miners beating the students? Would he have been beaten? No discussion.

And that is how we often conduct discussions of American culture when we make comparisons in our classrooms: the family in Destinos that owns a giant hacienda, is Spanish in origin, not Mexican, and where all the children own their own businesses or are professionals. Then we compare that with the high-income, suburban White family of 50s TV fame (Ozzie and Harriet, the Cleavers, etc.) Most teachers are realistic enough to mention “poor people”, but often as “others”, despite the fact that many of us have “them” in our classes.

How many of us talk about the ingrained violence and poverty so common in many places in this country? Or do we think that is not proper fodder for classroom discussion? Do we fear parent or adminstrative backlash if we speak honestly about why test scores are low in certain schools and high in others? I never got backlash from parents or admins but I sure did from students. They really did not like to hear of the correlation between test scores and family income. There were always a few who listened with interest and even contributed their own take on the topic, but many shut down, even the kids living in poverty. Why? Because it challenged the Standard Myth.

My question for my fellow fl teachers is: is part of our job to teach culture and if so, all of it or just the sanitized version? Do we teach about the roots of the riots in France and do we compare those to the urban riots in our own country? Do we give both sides or do we present just one, liberal or conservative? What are our responsibilities?

Do we teach the New South or the Old South? BTW, the Jackson Advocate, in a new era, is going after Black officials as well as White. That’s progress, isn’t it?

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