Cultivating Cultural Competence
Posted 12/13/2017 04:00PM

Cultural competence is one of Whitfield’s six Habits of Mind and Heart—the framework within which we approach a college prep education. We define cultural competence as an openness to and understanding of others, and as with all Habits, we weave it throughout the curriculum. 

Seventh graders in World Cultures & Geography are learning to think critically about different cultures in order to develop a greater appreciation of cultural differences and an understanding of the universal aspects of humanity. Their syllabus includes an examination of the unique aspects of Middle Eastern, Asian, African, and Pacific cultures through primary and secondary sources, hands-on activities, cartography, simulations, guest speakers, and exposure to various forms of literature and film.

During their recent unit on the culture of Afghanistan, students read “Words In The Dust” and participated in two simulation activities designed to cultivate cultural competence.

For the first activity, each student was given a piece of transparency film and asked to write down, or draw, representations of four of their own personal identifying cultural factors (race, gender, ethnicity, religion, familial role, nationality, etc.). Next, they held it up to their face and looked through their ‘lens’ at their classmates as they discussed the question: “What effect might this ‘lens’ have on how I view other people and events?”

“As we study all the elements of culture, I want my students to think about their own culture and how they identify as members of different groups,” said Mary. “We each have a unique lens through which we view the world that includes our different perspectives, values and our personal identity. This activity was a hands-on way to consider the power of perspective.”

For the second activity, students played Barnga, a cross-cultural simulation card game where players are given rules for a card game that will present challenges for each table. At the end of each hand, players rotate tables based on their score. Players are not allowed to communicate with spoken or written language during the game. As the game continues, the results are varied: confusion, accusations of cheating, frustration, resignation, competitiveness, etc.

Students debriefed immediately following the game and discussed how they felt during the game and how they felt others were right or wrong. Students also completed a written reflection.

“Not being able to talk was really frustrating so I got really upset and annoyed with myself because I thought I understood the directions for the game,” said Lele Applegate ’23. “I knew what I wanted to say but I couldn’t. It made me feel like I was in another country and couldn’t speak their language.”

Evie Doles ’23 shared, “In this game, people had different approaches to the game so we were bound to be different. That didn’t mean that anyone was right or wrong—we just had different points of view.”

Experiences like this open our students up to new perspectives and new learning. Over time, our emphasis on cultural competence strengthens patience, respect, and an ability to engage in dialogue with those who have opposing views or different life experiences.


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