Global Issues

We Have Sex Ed — But What About Cultural Education?

sex-ed
Image by flickr user Dean Hochman.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#33cfbe” txt_color=”#ffffff”]”Every man I meet is in some way my superior; and in that I can learn of him.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson. [/mks_pullquote]

Image by Flickr user Dean Hochman.

My sexual education class happened in a large auditorium with 700 girls and a clearly uncomfortable nun who pointed to reproductive organs on a laminated chart. There was a boxy television set that played out tame scenes interjected by drawings and pointing arrows. Every time one of the nuns uttered the name of an obviously male organ, the entire crowd retired into a quiet chuckle. But the quiet chuckle of 700 girls is hardly quiet, so sister principal rolled her eyes — convent school code for immediate silence.

Despite how hilariously archaic those graphics were, the class was necessary.

Sex ed (when done well) teaches you how to respect your body and the bodies of others, how to protect yourself, and, most importantly, how to take ownership of what is yours without stepping on someone else’s space.

Imagine replacing respect for bodies with respect for cultures.

That led me to this thought: Why in the world don’t we have cultural education?

A great traveller could potentially make a great citizen.

I’m still waiting for the day I walk into a Starbucks to use all the knowledge I acquired in my mandatory calculus class. While I’m sure that there are plenty of people who have benefited from bad-ass algebra skills, I believe there is place in our curriculum for things that have everyday life value.

For instance, a space for celebrating the differences in the world and acknowledging how important they are in building a nuanced perspective.

A great traveller is sensitive to the unfamiliar without condescension.

She attempts to understand without bearing judgment.

She asks questions without answering them in her own mind.

She understands that there will be things that she will never truly comprehend and that it’s okay.

She looks at tolerance not as a sign of subservience but as an indicator of courage.

Great travellers have the potential to make pretty swell citizens of the world.

While skills like these are learnt best on the road, a head start on sensitivity and openness can make a world of difference. Tutoring kids on the sensitivities of dealing with people and places unfamiliar to their own lives would make this world a better place. Even if there is just one less-misinformed youth graduating from high school, we’ve made a difference.

sex-ed

Image by Flickr user GotCredit.

Kids are easier to teach than adults.

“Children are like sponges,” my mom would often say.

Imagine how much easier it is to teach a 7-year-old kid about cultural sensitivity than a 30-year-old who has spent years marinating in the stereotypes and tropes that society has projected onto her.

To anybody who understands the art of a well-layered cake, you probably know that even one rickety layer can cause a tumble, and no amount of frosting can save a rigidly dense cake.

Unlearning is so much harder than learning. Research shows that kids in their natural state are far more understanding of complex relations than adults.

What would we learn in Cultural Ed?

I’m going to get all Charlie and the Chocolate Factory here — all dreams need a vision.

Imagine infusing history and geography with a side of tolerance; a class where you watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi and hear a 90-year-old immigrant talk about her identity crises.

What if you were taken on a class field trip to a fledgling Mexican community a few blocks from school to learn that chimichangas are not Mexican at all?

The circumference of travel is so vast and limitless. While the sheer scale of what one can learn is endless and overwhelming, it’s learning that can happen without resources or classrooms. It’s learning that is alive and everywhere. It’s an opportunity to see a more balanced version of the world.

As for who should teach it? You, reader, might be the perfect person.

Do you support cultural education? Sound off in the comments!

Sruthi Vijayan
Blogger Sruthi Vijayan is a photographer and a writer. She lives in the scorching South Indian city of Chennai and hence freezes at a not so cold 20°C.She travels to please her insatiable need for great food and awesome people. Visit her website @ www.sruthivijayan.in. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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2 Comments

  1. You’ve made a great point, Sruthi. The extent of my education of other cultures in elementary school was participating in the annual multicultural fair, which was a party with parent-prepared “ethnic” dishes, which they were assigned to prepare and share with the class.

    Otherwise, it was the real life interactions with my neighbors and my family (some of my extended family are from Jamaica) that taught me about their cultures. There wasn’t much diversity in my home town when I was a kid, but I happened to have neighbors from Brazil and India, and during the summer students from Ireland rented the house next door to me. I became friends with the kids in the families and learned from them, but even the adults took the time to appease my curiosity. They always invited me over for meals, which always felt more authentic than the multicultural fairs.

  2. Great article! There are places in America that are WAY more culturally diverse than you’d ever expect. While some communities and families embrace diversity, others can be very closed. I would love to learn about and participate in more circles and communities that help to create more cultural understanding – especially ones where the kids themselves do the “education” part and own and experience the discovery and mutual respect that comes from travel (whether in person or online). Here’s a great story that I love sharing! http://4ggl.org/boys-girls/

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