Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Teaching "The Other Legacy," Learning about Ourselves: Latin America in Honors

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Teaching "The Other Legacy," Learning about Ourselves: Latin America in Honors

Article excerpt

Education as the practice of freedom denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from men. Authentic reflection considers ... men in the relations with the world. (Freire, 58)

These words, written in 1968 by Paulo Freire in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, were current in the 1960's and still are at the beginning of the 21st century. For Freire, the ultimate goal is that students should learn to practice freedom in the classroom and to be committed to the society in which they belong. According to Freire, values and ideas should be a topic of discussion in the classroom in order for students to reflect on how to transform or create a better society. He states,

   Teachers and students, co-intent on reality, are both Subjects, not
   only in the task of unveiling that reality, and thereby coming to
   know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge.
   As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection
   and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators.

In this process of "discovering themselves," the exposure to "the other" is a crucial part of students' learning experience. We are who we are in relation to others. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that, through the study of other cultures with which students are not familiar, they learn about themselves, about the historical memory of their own community, and about their connection with the world regarding decisions in a global as well as a personal context. They also learn about their responsibility as citizens, as voters, and as members of a society that is not isolated but is connected to the world's urgent social and political issues. In this learning process students also reflect about human values. From the perspective of the teacher, the teaching of human values helps students to understand unfamiliar topics. As Stanford Ericksen states,

   The ability to relate subject matter with the student's own
   aspirations and values is probably one of the defining
   characteristics of the master teacher.... it is the constellation
   of interests, attitudes, and values the subject matter can help to
   formulate that will remain with students long after factual
   information and concept labels are forgotten or found to be
   obsolete or irrelevant. The instructor must therefore accept the
   further responsibility of defining attitudes and values that he
   (she) believes to be appropriate goals of his/her course. (7, 11-12)

The objective is for students to feel comfortable with "the other" and learn about tolerance and diversity while they explore themselves. Students can learn this through the study of Western and non-Western cultures. Reading Shakespeare, for example, could be a good way to analyze others and ourselves if we learn to study his writings exploring the otherness in them. Someone of non-Western heritage can learn to read Shakespeare looking for those issues and sectors of society that are misrepresented. As Lori Schroeder Haslem affirms in her essay "Is Teaching the Literature of Western Culture Inconsistent with Valuing Diversity?"

   It is in the very nexus of your agreements and disagreements with
   the text that you can learn not only to read Shakespeare or any
   author but, most important, to read and to understand yourself as
   a unique person with unique values. (121)

Teaching topics on Latin America is a great way to expose students to the study of the "other." Since 1996 I have designed and taught six different seminars with Latin American content at the University Honors Program of the University of New Mexico. I have been challenged in my approach to education by the interdisciplinary emphasis used in Honors courses and the fact that students come from many different backgrounds and fields. …

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