How do we bring our readers into a new world with us? How do we make them accept that this world is real? I have many tools for this in my teaching box. Most of my tools for this are also quite handy when I have to teach anyone that there are many different ways of seeing an object. This latter is a useful tool for writing, but it’s even more useful when I teach cross-cultural awareness.
This month’s set of objects belongs to both these categories.
This picture’s not as clear as I’d like because I wanted to show you how bright these objects are. Let me give you a second picture that shows more detail.
The kangaroo is a Chinese interpretation of a local animal, bought from Australian Geographic. Australian children twiddle the knob and watch the kangaroo jump. It adds to their own interpretation of the world around them. It’s an exceptionally effective tool, for one student in to will look at it and catalogue (often aloud) all the ways it’s different from a real kangaroo. And there’s always someone in a Canberra class who needs to cry over yesterday’s ‘roo roadkill.
German children play with the koala. My friend Katrin Kania sent it to me, because she knew I’d be fascinated. It’s part of a series that come with a particular snack food. The snack is tiny biscuits filled with cocoa flavouring, with a koala’s outline painted on the outside. I opened the packet, saw the figure and said “Stroumph!” This particular figure makes me think of Smurfs in French, you see. Why in French? I photographed some Smurf (Stroumph!) ice cream in Aigues-Mortes (south of France) when I was doing research there some years ago. The picture explains all. It was taken on a bright day and will make up for the fuzzy one earlier.
The fact that these two models are cultural interpretations of real animals and targeted at children means I can use it in so many different classes. Everyone reacts to them emotionally, and I can make jokes about the ice cream.
These two little objects are just as culturally important as last month’s dress. The emotions they evoke, though, are quite different.
The laughter is the bit that I treasure. When my students laugh, they pole vault over quite difficult concepts, without even realising it. This is very important to me. While it’s nice to be able to say to students “Look, all that work has paid off and you’ve mastered the difficult,” it’s even better when they learn so quickly that they don’t even know the concept was difficult. They might think I’m a better teacher if I tell them up front how impossible the stuff was and how good they are, but for anything to do with culture, I’d rather they developed a profound understanding and carried it away.
I think I shall call the two main tasks I use these objects for “the Stroumph Approach to Cultural Understanding” and “the Smurfian Concept of World Building for Novels”. I shall also hope you don’t notice that I have yet to get an actual Smurf to teach with. All I have are pictures of Smurf-flavoured ice cream…