Educators of all populations are constantly confronted with how to help individuals make meaning of their experience, both in informal and non-formal settings. Adults bring to their learning situations complex and varied experiences that have both a positive and negative impact on their learning. Part of our task as educators is to provide a context for learning, so that new information and new concepts can be understood.
Additionally, educators have been concerned with expanding the horizons of their students, although the exact meaning of such "expansion" has changed over time. The concern for educators has been expanding the horizons of their students, although the exact meaning of this has changed over time. It once referred to the impact of learning particular pieces of information and tying into an educational tradition. Today, this emphasis has shifted. Adult educators, in particular, talk more about reflection in practice, ideology, and the need for individuals to understand their unspoken assumptions. A concomitant point is that individuals, through education, will change their perspective, the way they ascribe meaning to experience, and hence become more productive (thoughtful, reflective, or critical) members of society.
Educators are thus faced with multiple tasks. On the one hand, they are helping learners understand their own contexts and their own situations, while they are also trying to understand the worldviews of their students. They are trying to both individualize and generalize about their clientele at the same time, activities that can seem at times to be contradictory or at best confusing. Additionally, much of the language of this new educational focus, such as critical reflection, dialogue and praxis, are borrowed from the language of revolution, but today are used to mean a variety of activities often with little or no political aspect. As the language of the classroom becomes mixed with that of social movements, there has been a seeming fusion of purpose, as if both groups had similar aims and goals.
Within this situation, "Learning Across Cultures" is an enticing concept. It expands our notion of diversity, emphasizing not simply racial and ethnic categories, but moving beyond these to encompass different cultural milieus, ideologies and ways of living. This approach also offers ample room for a confusion of goals and mixing of political intentions. At heart is the issue of what are the goals of this type of learning, what kinds of learning are anticipated, what are the purposes and what will the consequences be of such learning? All too often, educators discuss these issues without regard for the political aspects that these questions can raise.
Present-day discussions of diversity owe a lot to earlier notions of cultural pluralism. (Although there are significant debates about whether there is a direct link and what the nature of the relationship is.) The older idea of cultural pluralism as put forward by Horace Kallen and Alain Locke, posited that different cultures were a fundamental aspect of American identity. Thus, the "American idea" to use Kallen's term, was constantly changing and evolving as new cultures were added to it. Inherent within this concept was the notion that understanding of one's own culture could lead to greater appreciation for the other cultures that make up the broader American culture. Cultural pluralism was the antithesis of the "melting pot," which presented American culture as a merging of different cultures into one. Cultural pluralism, on the other hand, was committed to the notion of cultural identity and distinctiveness within the "American tapestry" Kallen went so far as to assert that ethnic identity and consciousness were biologically rooted and could not be erased.
Nevertheless, attempts to develop programs around the notion of cultural pluralism are rooted in the cognitive. That is, simply learning about …