Friday, October 10, 2008

Culture Shock

I have a postcard that I have kept from my travels that states "I cheer for two teams New Zealand and anyone playing Australia". It serves as a reminder of a time when I thought the two countries were virtually interchangeable. A New Zealand exchange student quickly gave me an education when he retorted with -- "United States -- Canada -- no difference right?". I immediately understood the offence that I had caused and of course apologised profusely (as all Canadians would -- sorry is, after all, one of our favourite words). Even though two countries may speak the same language, have some heritage in common, share common interests and be geographically close -- it doesn't mean they have the same culture.

Zubin Austin, a professor at the University of Toronto, explained at a pharmacy conference I attended how the culture of professions influence how we interact with each other. Specifically he followed pharmacy graduates who eventually went on to become physicians. As they wrote their final exams to become physicians they felt they could have passed them out of pharmacy school, but without the enculturation process of med school they couldn't have functioned as physicians. They wouldn't have understood what it meant to be a doctor; the language, the mindset, the culture, and the values had to be learned.

As a parent, sometimes that's how I feel about teachers. I have spent a great deal of time learning about educational technology, curriculum, and subjects, to the point I could possibly "pass" a teacher test, but I will never be a teacher. Teachers, like all professions, undergo a transformation in university that makes them teachers. It goes beyond the knowledge they attain -- it is the values, beliefs, language and rituals that makes them who they are.

So as I enter the school system, as a parent, and try to help teachers embrace technology I find myself experiencing a bit of culture shock. There have been volumes written about culture shock and they have managed to drill it down to four main phases:

  1. Honeymoon phase -- A person is excited to be in a new place, experiencing new things, there may be minor difficulties but you chalk it up to being part of the newness.
  2. Rejection phase -- This is where a person really starts to notice the differences in culture. Things that the natives find as minor inconveniences really begin to grate on the traveler. There is a lot of complaining at this stage about how the other culture does things. At this point a person will either move on to the "acceptance" phase or will just choose to go back home.
  3. Acceptance phase -- You begin to gain some sort of understanding of the new culture, it's ideals and values. Your sense of humour may return and there is a sense of psychological balance. You begin to tolerate the differences.
  4. Complete Adjustment/Assimilation Phase -- Finally you accept all the habits and customs of the new culture and may even find it preferable to the way you used to do things. You accept that there are just different ways of doing things -- not right or wrong -- just different. You are adjusted to the new culture.
Unfortunately I find myself at the rejection stage. What teachers have accepted as minor inconveniences (filtering, lack of access, bureaucracy) I find infuriating. My knowledge of the system is lacking and I struggle to understand why thing are done the way they are. It's frustrating and I find myself at the point of deciding -- do I go home or do I try to move on to acceptance?

Although it is very tempting to go home, I choose to move to the next phase. I can't say that my sense of humour has returned or that I have a sense of psychological balance but I am beginning to tolerate the differences. I would like to think that I am beginning to understand the culture of teachers, the ideals and values that make them who they are and, if I can manage that, I can function more efficiently in their world.

I don't know if I will ever experience the fourth phase of culture shock and, honestly, I'm not sure that I ever want to. I am not eager to completely assimilate into the school culture. To accept, completely, all the habits, norms and beliefs that are prevalant in the school system right now would make me an ineffective agent of change and I am really hoping for change. So just as New Zealanders and Canadians cling to their identity in the face of their larger neighbours, I too choose to cling to my culture of a being a parent. However, even if we can't, or won't, completely assimilate, I hope that we can put the cultural differences aside and cheer, support and celebrate the common vision of children succeeding.


Mrs. McMahon said...

Love the culture shock analogy, your four phases completely explain the process in many areas of life, the one that grabbed me was moving to another country, those are the exact four phases that I have been through and I think I have begrugingly entered the fourth phase. Hang in there, I can feel your frustration! Just know we need parents like you, people who do more than just put their kids on bus in morning and don't give another thought to the school/education. You have to understand there is a small percentage of you working for change, but change is needed so please keep trying. I love your posts and insights, I hope you keep them coming.

L Winebrenner said...

Tech Mom,

Your statement, "I have spent a great deal of time learning about educational technology, curriculum, and subjects, to the point I could possibly "pass" a teacher test, but I will never be a teacher".

Don't ever forget that you are your children's first and lifelong teacher. Continue to do what you are doing, there will be times you want to throw in the towel but remember your children are traveling through the system. You will continue to teach your children in life, other children, parents, educators, and community members through your use of Ed Tech.

Keep sharing knowledge and even when you think no one is listening or watching...someone will drop you an email or note to ask questions or just say thanks.

For every participative parent, there are 20 that do not want to post on the net, learn anything about a computer, or share knowledge.

So keep doing what you are doing, keep connecting through your Web 2.0 connections and in the end your children will appreciate the real connection that you share.

Keep on blogging Tech Mom!
And know you are not alone