The 11th Isaac Armitage Lecture was delivered by Professor David Smith, Professor of Education and German, Calvin College, Michigan, USA on 16 July, 2015 at Shore. Gillian Davis looks at the challenges Professor Smith posed on how schools model hospitality and cross-cultural learning.
Professor David Smith’s very lucid lecture was a challenge to the naïve view of the world which many Christians hold as a result of an unmediated cultural identity. Drawing on his extensive research conducted in some North American Christian schools on the way foreign languages are taught, David showed that the prevailing paradigm is that ‘we teach languages from the perspective of the tourist, the consumer’ rather than for the purpose of understanding other cultures and providing hospitality to the stranger.
Even allowing for the North American bias in the research, there is a challenge for us in how we relate to people from or within a different culture. For some of us it might require a deep shift in thinking and a good dose of humility as Western Christians. This is especially so considering the Christian face today is not western or white but rather South American, Asian, African and poor.
Drawing on the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 and the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well in John 4, David cleverly modelled for us how cross-cultural learning can take place without informing us at all. David invited us to read the passages and identify our assumptions. Then he helped us to see that we were not alone in holding these assumptions. Countless commentators, including many that he cited, had made similar judgements on the woman’s circumstances and moral guilt (John 4) and the treatment of the victim in Luke 10. He used these examples to create a supportive environment in which to reflect upon the tensions within our assumptions. Why Jesus asked the questions he did? Why the discourse? David then read the interpretation of the text by a group of Afghan women. Because of their cultural identity they saw the woman at the well in a different context altogether. She was not a woman who was able to make choices, not even wrong choices. They saw a woman carrying deep shame. We saw a sinful woman who needed to repent. We were made aware of a new way of thinking, a new framework as a result of being exposed to ‘the stranger’.
Any sense of feeling comfortable about the way we treat or relate to people who are different to us is dispelled when we recognise how, inadvertently often, we exude not humility towards the stranger so much as a patronising sense of pity.
As David said, the heart of Jesus’ words to the scribe in John 4 is the need to learn how to obey Leviticus 19.
It was in the discourse following Megan Krimmer’s response to David’s lecture that the real bite of his message became quite evident. Discussion around a different way of teaching a foreign language in the school led to how we do service, how we do mission trips, how we care for the disadvantaged in our consumerist society, and how we need to learn from the stranger rather than just show them hospitality. Herein lies the challenge for all of us as classroom teachers to develop a meaningful pedagogy that promotes authentic cross-cultural learning.