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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Americans

Building Bridges - Unit II

Region
Africa, Asia, Central America and Mexico, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, Pacific Islands, South America, The Caribbean, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe
Grade
Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12
Subjects
Cross-Cultural Understanding

Students will examine what it means to be "American" in the eyes of people from other cultures.

Quote for Thought: It's just not in their culture to tell or even suggest what they think you should do. Even when you are asking for advice, I don't think they feel comfortable giving it. The direct American style is often taken as impolite.

—Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Papua New Guinea

Quote for Thought: Coming from brash America, we have to look hard to pick out the subtle feedback we don't even realize we're being given.
—Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Fiji Islands

Objectives

  • Students will be able to explain how people from other cultures may view Americans as a group as being different from themselves.
  • Students will be able to explain why understanding their own culture can help them better understand another culture.

Procedures

Part 1

  1. Ask students: What are some things about our lives that you value? How do these important things shape your behavior? Then explain that people behave as they do because of the things they believe in or value. On the chalkboard, write the following values that some people from other cultures have noticed are common to many Americans:
    • Informality (being casual and down-to-earth)
    • Self-reliance (not looking to others to solve your problems)
    • Efficiency (getting things done quickly and on time)
    • Social equality (treating everyone the same)
    • Assertiveness (saying what's on your mind)
    • Optimism (believing that the best will always happen)
  2. Explain that not everyone in the world shares these values. Ask students whether they think every person in America shares these values. Does everyone in the classroom share these values?
  3. After a brief discussion, tell the students that they will read about behaviors that others have noticed about Americans. In some sense, these behaviors are examples of stereotypes that others harbor about Americans.
  4. Provide each student with a copy of Worksheet #3, Americans. Explain that each of the seven statements may be true for all Americans, for some Americans, or for no Americans. It is the students' job to decide whether each statement is fully accurate, partially accurate, or false.
  5. Have students work in pairs to complete Part 1 of Worksheet #3 in writing.
  6. Ask students to complete Part 2 of Worksheet #3. Then have students share their responses to Part 2 in small groups.
  7. Lead a class discussion. Explain that the students may not like or agree with some of the stereotypes others have of Americans, but they should at least be aware they exist. For an explanation of each of the seven statements, you may want to provide students with Worksheet #4, which presents the reasons that some cultural anthropologists give as to why Americans may come across to others the way they do.
Part 2
  1. Explain that Worksheet #4 provides explanations that some scholars have given for why Americans often behave and think the way they do. No statement in this lesson is true of all Americans. Within every culture there are wide variations of behavior simply because there are so many factors—in addition to culture—that can cause an individual to behave in a certain way: age, gender, personality, experience.
  2. It's important to remember that no one American is quite like any other American, but core values and beliefs do underlie and permeate the national culture. These values and beliefs don't apply across the board in every situation, and Americans may, on occasion, even act in ways that directly contradict them. But they are still at the heart of cultural beliefs of many people in the United States.
  3. Explain that if the statements about "Americans" were actually meant to apply to all Americans, this would be an example of cultural stereotyping. Ask students: How would you feel if someone from another country had stereotypes about you before the person even knew you? 

Frameworks & Standards

Enduring Understandings
  • To understand another culture, you first have to understand your own.
  • Beliefs vary from person to person and culture to culture.
Essential Questions
  • How does it feel when others see you as different—or as an outsider?
  • How do your beliefs, values, and cultural upbringing influence the way you behave?
  • How can you avoid cultural stereotyping? 

Extensions

  1. Have students in your class teach or tutor younger children who are from a different culture—including language skills, math, reading, or craft work. Tutoring non-English-speaking students in English is always helpful and a great way for your students to serve others while building self-esteem.
  2. Encourage students to interview local immigrants about aspects of American culture that the immigrants have felt to be different, strange, or tough to adjust to while living in the United States. Ask students to include any concepts from this booklet that have played a role in the immigrants' lives. Have the students present their findings to the class. Then have them develop a plan for helping the immigrants they interviewed become more comfortable in the United States. The report could also be prepared for online or print distribution, with sensitivity to protecting the privacy of the interviewees. (You may wish to consult Insights From the Field for a step-by-step guide for students who want to undertake this project. Insights can be downloaded free.) 
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