Expanding cultural education


A few days ago, I was talking with a friend, a music education major, about the subjects we learn in school.

She said she thought it was odd how curriculum in primary, secondary and college-level education is often focused on European culture more so than cultures from other parts of the world.

As I hope to graduate with a degree to teach English, I considered what she said, and I wanted to refute her. I was fortunate enough to attend very high-performing, progressive elementary, middle and high schools.

I wanted to believe that we weren’t like that — that we didn’t focus on the education of one culture more than another. But as I thought about it, my schools were highly focused on American or European cultures in our humanities classes.

White, male American and European authors wrote much of the literature I read in my English classes. 

And in 2010, Time Magazine compiled a list of the top 10 books that are most read in schools across the country. Out of the authors of those books, nine out of ten were male, and each one was either European or American.

My friend’s point was: Why not teach more culturally broad literature and history? We should be reading more translations of works from South America, Africa, the far East, the Middle East, etc.

On a similar note, the bands I played for in high school and in college performed almost exclusively classical music, usually American or European. Students should study classical music that emerged from European culture in conjunction with indigenous, as well as contemporary, music from different non-Western areas in the world to expand cultural understanding.

The history I learned was heavily concentrated on the Western hemisphere. That phenomenon was not specific to just my high school.

School curriculum needs to expand beyond Western culture in all subjects that deal heavily with culture; subjects such as history, music, art, dance, theatre and English.

Focusing in so severely on Western cultural practices when learning about different subjects in the humanities gives the impression that Western culture is above any other because it receives more attention than any other.

Teaching history, art and literature from cultures heavily differing from our own should lead to more open-minded students, and ultimately to less prejudice and ignorance in regards to other cultures.

But I recognize the need to learn deeply the history and culture of America. That kind of education leads to a sense of identity and patriotism that is imperative for Americans to have. But we have to be learning about more than just our own country — we need to understand the rest of the world.

I also recognize that there are American school districts that make an effort to offer classes that recognize world cultures and histories. There are schools that have classes specifically geared toward examining non Western cultures.

Obviously, this is an idea for education majors at the University to keep in mind when planning how they will teach in their own classrooms.

We need to broaden the teaching of cultural education because it will better equip students to understand the world and different cultures.

It would also universalize education in a way. Students, or their families, come from a variety of different backgrounds, obviously not all of which are European. Therefore, it isn’t fair to place so much emphasis on European culture and history.

This is also something that could, perhaps, be implemented at the University level as well. As undergraduate students, we are required to take two cultural studies classes: one Western and one non-Western.

Even the fact that the cultural classes are divided into Western and non-Western seems to imply that there is already a heavy emphasis on Western culture, not just American culture. Why would Western vs. non-Western be the divide? Why not American culture vs. non-American culture?

It’s wonderful that we are required to take a non-Western cultural course at the University. But, I think there needs to be more cross-cultural education for those who are not already majoring or minoring in a cultural studies field.

That non-Western cultural class is the only one of its kind required by the University for all majors. I think there should be more, and that non-Western culture should be better integrated into other academic areas at the University.

The point of having general education requirements at the University is to produce well-rounded graduates who are able to succeed in a global sense.

We’ll only be well-rounded if we are able to understand the world around us and have some kind of understanding of the different cultures. That’s why it is great that we are required to take a non-Western course, but also why there needs to be more emphasis on these courses at all levels in education.

Alex is a junior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected].