Coping with complexity in the classroom: On cultural diversity



Part One
THESE days, we usually use the word complex. A complex situation, a complex environment, etc. Complexitys defined as“the quality or state of not being simple: being complex means to be “a part of something that is complicated or hard to understand.”Complex means “involving a lot of different but related parts:difficult to understand or find an answer to, because of having many different parts”. Complexity is a term much used in most study fields, including management, educationand literature.Students are drilled on the complexity of decision-making. How do we cope with complexity in different spheres of human activity, including that in the classroom?

These initial yearsof K-12 implementation reveals much complexity in the classroom to contend with. The integrated approach introduced with the K-12 spiral curriculumis meant to address the complexity of the modern classroom. In a Cultural Diversity in the Workplace class for graduateMAEd studentsthat I conduct, the initial session is utilized to hone them on the meaning of culture. They may not clearly realize that cultural diversitybreeds varying degrees of complexity. Hence, the definition of culture as “a blueprint for living,” or “one’s lifestyle” may need expanding. I found it meaningful for them to mind-map what culture is. Culture elements spiral out in layers as described in a master thesisat Guelph University ofAnn Gordon. Hercomprehensive definition proved useful for a mind-mapping exercise in culture as a “holistic system of interrelationships that encompasses a group’s identity, beliefs, values, activities, rules, customs, communication patterns and institutions.”

After apportioning the foregoing terms to groups, they pored over descriptions of the terms presenting examples drawn from local settings. This activity delivered them from the temptation to merely copy foreign examples from the web, which are often alien from their experience. With group work such as this, rather than mere lectures, students tend to be seriously active than passive. Next, the groups listed the function of culture which is “to teach significant rules, rituals and procedures, reinforce values and relationships with others.”Again, examples were from their experience. They worked on the next layer, into the most significant elements of the core of the culture systemsuch as “history, identity, beliefs, values and worldview of a culture” as well as the next level of elements radiating out from the inner core, which includes ideal culture–culture’s abstract elements which can only be “seen” when these are manifested, such as “customs, rules and even communication pattern of a group.” Similarly they mapped the outer core comprising the institutions and organizations within a culture and the visible structures in the cultural elements such as “education, religion, economics, health, kinship and political systems.”<>

This comprehensive description of what culture is proved to be very versatile. Mind-mapping “culture”would be a very apt exercise for students in the social sciences, psychology and other study areas. So as not to abuse their thinking, I had the MAEd class probe deeper those elements that are commonly visible in the classroom; and for business and governancefreshman masters, those more common to themsuch as on institutions (local governments, departments, industries,church, civic organizations, etc).

Sources of complexity in the classroom

My class would begin with diversity in genders. How does a teacher deal with pupils/students? How about religion? In a non-sectarian school, enrollees maycome from various churches. Socio-economic status may not have a big difference; a few would beexpatriates, not only from the United States but also be from Japan. As for regional origins, besidestheCebuanos, there could be several Warays, Ilokanos, or from the Tagalog regions. Each of these regions would have some difference in culture as in communication patterns–where the Cebuanos would not have the honorifics po or ho or kayo in addressing the elderly which does not mean they are less respectful in their manner of speech as compared to those from Luzon. One of the students asked why one from Luzon would address an elderly in the pluralform of kayo not the singular ka or ikaw. I said that such is a form of respect, such as tapos na po kayo?insteadof tapos ka na? in addressing an elderly or one with a high status (a guest, a director/principal). I further said, when one addresses the Queen of England, one does not say “Are you through, Your Majesty?” Instead, the proper way to address her is, “Is Her Majesty through?” She is addressed in the third person. Similarly, people in Luzon address an elderly differently, in the second person and in the plural form.

With more mobility these days, a teacher from Luzon, a newcomer to Mindanao or to the Visayas, such as Cebu, expects honorifics when pupils/students address him/her; hence may be irked, if unaware of the difference in communication patterns. Or the diversity may be in religion. Some teachers in non-sectarian schools recite very brief prayers. A Muslim student or one similar to or from the United Church of Christ would not make the sign of the cross as Catholics do. This far, we have slightly dealt with complexities in the classroom. We touched on ethnic and religious backgrounds, communication patterns and on socio-economic status. There are other elements on our mind map on what culture is that spawn complexities in the classroom. We will deal next with these.

An institutional management expert, the author held top academic positions at Xavier University (the Ateneo de Cagayan) before heading chartered institutions. After studies in the Philippines, universities, she attended universities in Germany, Great Britain and Japan. An internationalization consultant on call, she is journal copy editor of, and Graduate Studies professorial lecturer at, the Liceo de Cagayan University.


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1 Comment

  1. Lina . HIdalgo on

    I am happy to read this article. As a teacher for teachers for both undergrad and graduate students i realized you need to beyond th content of what you are teaching if you want to be relevant with the “complexities of the times”. The discussion on the importance of culture is of prime importance, I think. Hope to read more on this and make this one important topic in my classes come second semster. I enjoyed reading this article. Thank you Dr. Tumapon for sharing your thoughts.