I arrived in India filled with great expectations about the amount of material I would gather for use in my classroom. After all, India is a growing economic powerhouse in the global economy and I teach business and marketing. The added dimension of the technology boom in India made this an even richer opportunity for me to “internationalize” some of my technology courses. I would soon find out, I was in for subtle surprises.
About four days into the trip, my journal switched to a noticeably different tone: from one that documented how the people, places and things I saw and experienced were different from home to one where I reflected on how similar things were in India to the issues of my daily life. I stopped rambling on with pity over the things people didn’t have to admiring how rich their lives were in ways I’d never thought of.
As the weeks progressed, I gathered a lot of very useful information about the country, its economy, the people, their culture and traditions, the history, the role of business and government, education, and so much more. I thought of hundreds of ways I would integrate this into lessons in my classroom. I knew that every class I teach would become “more global” in perspective because of this experience.
The biggest impact of this Fulbright experience came by surprise and in a much subtler form. One day, quite by chance, our group was visited by one of the world’s leading Gandhian scholars. We asked him, “What should school-aged children be learning about Gandhi and his philosophy?” His answer forever changed my vision for how this trip would impact my classroom.
“They should not be learning about Gandhi as a freedom leader but instead as a man who believed in Inter-dependence, peace, love AND logic,” he replied.
All of a sudden, my goal was to no longer gather just facts to turn into knowledge for my students. I certainly didn’t want my students to simply have a culture fest where they explored matters of culture like food, dress, history, religions and customs. Now, I hoped they would FEEL something on a personal level as a result of things I would share and encourage them to explore. I hoped it would be things like genuine respect, compassion, shared responsibility, and empathy but I was willing to accept anger, resentment and misunderstanding as possibilities as well. I knew that if something I shared with them as a result of this trip might trigger them to feel, they were more likely to personalize learning and this might lead to a longer lasting impact.
Classroom activities that I use place a much higher value on working effectively together, using strong academic skills to solve real problems and require students to demonstrate their own genuine respect for differences. I wish for my students to learn, laugh, share responsibility with each other and feel a sense of community where they feel free from judgment. This vision allows me to move my classroom towards that interdependence, peace, love and logic the Gandhian scholar referred to.
Denise teaches in Kettle Moraine, WI
Go to Denise’s lesson plans (High School Level)