Cultural Conflict in Schools

Introduction

This paper will examine the elements of a cultural conflict that popularly occur in schools. As a teacher of a school with learners from many countries, there are numerous perceptions and ideas that conflict. This paper will focus on one incident relating to a child from a religious home and one from a non-religious home. A conflict that ensued whilst teaching about dinosaurs and its implications for science and religion is discussed.

The Incident: Evolution versus Creation

In a class where learners were taught about dinosaurs and the basic elements of our world, there was the need to show that the dinosaurs inhabited our world for some hundreds of millions of years before humans showed up. This is important in laying the foundation for future studies in the natural sciences. Hence, there was the need to demonstrate the nature of dinosaurs in the Jurassic Age and previous ages that came before it.

Then, after a few lessons, one child from a very religious and traditional home with Judeo-Christian values rose up to question whether there was direct evidence that dinosaurs existed, because his parents and Sunday school religious class had taught him that human beings were created by God in the Garden of Eden. Another student from a secular home with a father and mother involved in science stated clearly without mincing his words that the Bible is a fraud and there is no evidence that the world was created in seven days and the world was younger than a few thousands of years.

Basically, this would have been brushed off as a minor incident. However, the secular child had a lot of information about the subject. And he had evidence to prove some of Darwin’s advanced concepts and theories. He could articulate his views very well and there was a form of competition in the class. The smarter religious children countered him and those from other religious backgrounds started quoting the Bible about the fact that the world was created, and destroyed by the floods of Noah and we not being in a position to understand what existed before Noah and the floods.

The secular children stated that Noah and his wife and three sons could not have populated the world after the flood. The raised issues of how Adam and Eve managed to populate the world if they were the only people in the world. These were extremely deep questions that provided an issue with the faith of people who have stayed religious all their lives and many got confused.

The exchanges went back and forth and the class was heavily divided. This division reflected the broader divisions in America which is between conservatives and liberals and it became apparent to me that if nothing is done to address the cultural differences, there would be a problem that could go far beyond the class. This is because the children were most likely to report what they had heard to their parents and this was going to create a problem that could cause an administrative problem in the school. Therefore, it occurred to me that the problem was one relating to values, rather than mere child’s play or arguments between equals.

Reasons behind the Incident

Culture is the “software” of the mind and it shapes the way people think and understand things[CITATION Hof12 l 1033 ]. Literally speaking, culture helps to define what is “sane” and what is “insane”. It shapes what is acceptable and norms. Thus, culture has been defined as the way a group of people live and the relatively stable cultural practices that define a group[ CITATION Sch13 l 1033 ].

The human being is programed to build up perceptions and worldviews over time. In doing this, people are supposed to give credence to some kind of authority or power over them. This would differentiate between right and wrong and define the parameters of actions and perception of information. For generations, people have relied on spiritual authority. Countries and communities have relied on priests and other persons with spiritual authority to define what is right and wrong and set the parameters for society. This led to religious values and rituals that define different societies around the world. Any attempt to go outside these frameworks and processes was considered to be blasphemous or heretic. History has shown that many people in Christian Europe were burnt in the stake for questioning the fundamental values of Christianity and one of them is the creation story. Anything that is said about creation that seemed to be in bad taste was suppressed by the Catholic Church and its agencies.

However, in today’s world where there is a liberal constitution, anyone can say or do anything s/he wants about religion. Therefore, there are no real punishments to “blasphemy” or “heresy”. This means people could say and do whatever they wanted to. And the parents of these children could choose whatever they could say. Hence, they lived in their homes and were exposed to ideas of their parents.

On the other hand, the growth of science and technology has provided alternative explanations to the genesis of society. Charles Darwin and other scientists have explained how the world was formed and this provides an alternative thesis to the creation story and how the world was supposed to have come to being. Therefore, alternative explanations could be put forth to justify different things in our world.

These ideas have created a secular world and a religious world. These two worlds have their own followers and their followers, are equally protected by our constitution to teach their children what is right. Therefore, the class was opened to people from all backgrounds and all valid views and ideas were to be shared in the class.

Thus, it became apparent to me that the real problem had to do with the differences in views of the world and its origins. The clash was because different people had been made to revere different authorities of information and of the world. Therefore, they were all bound to see things differently and build different values. The religious children saw their Bible as the main source of authority and the Word of God which must be revered and obeyed. The secular children saw the Bible as a cultural tool that guided a previous generation but not them. Therefore, they saw their views to be compatible with the realities rather than the Bible. Hence, the conflict was somewhat legitimate and it resulted from the natural conditioning of the minds of the children.

How to Resolve the Problem

The fundamental premise of the problem is that our world in today’s world is heterogenous. Unlike a totalitarian country where the truth is one and absolute, the only way out was to create an avenue for difference to thrive in the classroom. In 15th Century Europe, it would have been completely proper to expel the children who viewed the dinosaur as the earliest creatures that evolved into modern creatures. This is because they denied Creation as per the Christian context. On the other hand, in the Soviet Union or today’s North Korea, it would be completely acceptable to report these Christian children for upholding the view that the dinosaur was a creature that existed before Noah and the flood. Since Christianity was banned and the Bible was illegal.

However, in today’s America and in most parts of the world, it is unethical and inappropriate to take action against anyone. As a matter of fact, telling any of the children that he was wrong on his views would have been a breach of the constitutional rights of these children and their families. And their families could have come to the school to take action against the school. This is because the First Amendment of the US Constitution provides freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. This means parents can hold on to any view they consider to be appropriate and proper.

The Fourteenth Amendment also gives parents the right to family relationships. This means any parent can teach his or her child any idea that is considered fit by them. Hence, the school has no power or right to instill anything in the child that is against the parents’ values. Therefore, it was a dangerous thing to take a stand on the topic and issue and support any of the views against the other.

In effect, the right thing to do is to move the debate from an issue of whether Creation happened or not or a competition between whether Science provides a better alternative to Religion or not. This is because the constitution and laws of the land require relativism in the society. This implies that there are no absolute truths in our generation and in our country. Truth is based on what people value and what their cultures are. As educators, our job is therefore limited to the need to ensure that children thrive in their respective cultural systems in order to achieve the best and most appropriate goals and ends in life.

This meant that the solution to this problem was to focus on the generally accepted facts and obvious truth. Like (1) the dinosaurs existed (2) the dinosaurs are now extinct (3) deposits of the remains of dinosaurs provide fossil fuels and this is the basis for petroleum. There was a non-judgmental view of the comments and opinions of the religious child as against the secular child. This only sought to divide the class further.

Then, the class had to move on to provide a lesson on the need for mutual respect. This is because we might be different in the opinions and views we have as people. However, we have common values and standards that bring us together as human beings. We must respect them and focus on our lives and try to be the best we can be. Based on this, there was nothing to contend over in the class and focus was returned to the main issue under discussions – dinosaurs, their extinction, sources of fossil fuel and how today’s world thrives on that aspect of history. Later on, they would encounter biology and advanced religion and they would have to decide what they believe. That is the essence of education – to enable people to become the best they can be within their own unique cultural and ideological framework or context.

Conclusion

Culture is fundamentally premised on the way people think and it is reflected by the series of values and authorities they grow to accept. This case at hand involved an issue relating to the dinosaurs, which threatened to turn into a debate on how the world came into being. This brought the religious up against the secular. However, the laws of the land mandates that there is freedom of religion and freedom to raise families. Hence, parents have the right to inculcate their values into their children. The classroom was not a place for the furtherance of any child’s view over the other. Therefore, the right thing to do was to cut the debate and present universally accepted facts about the issue at hand and teach the learners to respect each other’s views. As they grow, they would have the right to take the decision they want to take on whether to remain religious or accept scientific explanations as absolute.

 

References

Hofstede, G. (2012). Culture: The Software of the Mind. New York: FT Press.

Schein, E. (2013). Organizational Culture. New York: McGraw Hill.