Other cultures to be confronted -- and understood

"Every undergraduate student in a US college or university must in some significant way confront another culture and achieve some real understanding of that culture."

That's Jackson H. Bailey, professor of history at Earlham College (Richmond, Ind.) talking -- and he's been talking that way for a number of years.

Further, he's been infusing not only the Earlham campus with this radical notion, but also brother and sister institutions such as Beloit, Carlton, Ripon, Albion, Antioch, Kalamazoo, and Oberlin.

In fact, there are many liberal-arts campuses in the US which are grappling in some significant manner with ways for undergraduates to "confront another culture" and to "achieve some real understanding of that culture."

Dr. Bailey, an East Asian scholar, is not, he explains, just talking about learning languages and traveling in a foreign country.

His interest goes much deeper as he explains, "The [academic] disciplines themselves must pay more attention to cross-cultural comparisons and insights gained from other cultural experiences." And as he and other leaders in undergraduate studies argue, such cross-cultural comparisons can only come from an interdisciplinary approach to education.

Certainly, the age of specialization at the undergraduate level and even at the graduate level is in full challenge. As Dr. Bailey succinctly puts it: "Let us know more and more about less and less."

He suggests, "For us to pretend that most of our students are going on to graduate school is to ignore the facts." His solution: Make undergraduate life relevant to today's world. And encourage a deeper understanding not only of "other" cultures, but of our own.

Accordingly, Earlham, and many other similarly concerned colleges and universities are developing new cross-cultural courses and helping professors gain interdisciplinary understanding.

For example, a course on development might point out differing national and cultural views; and a course on social responsibility might well include developments in non-Western as well as Western nations.

As Dr. Bailey envisions progress in less specialization in graduate school, he sees a wider diversity at the undergraduate level, and of course, further cross-cultural understandings at the undergraduate level will further more broadening graduate studies.

Of immediate concern on many college campuses is the very lack of any broad experience on the part of language teachers themselves.

That is, how many professors of Spanish are prepared -- linguistically and academically -- to teach a course in Latin American history in Spanish? How many French teachers can teach the French novel -- in French?

In Milan, Italy, in a public secondary school for university-bound students, a bilingual Italian/English teacher teaches a course in the novel -- a comparison of Italian and English novels of the same period.

It is this sort of interdisciplinary and cross-cultural exposure in US colleges and universities which Dr. Bailey sees as the way to "confront another cu lture and achieve some real understanding of that culture."

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