Is it the ability to see oneself as a responsible member of the community and of the wider world? The ability to avoid over-simplifying the world by assuming all cultures and all human experience is extrinsically the same? But the ability conversely to see the similarities between culture? Of course, it is all this and more. Fostering respect and understanding for others’ cultures, languages and perspectives is an essential part of what we as educators try to in the international classroom and in the wider life of a school.
In the English classroom, students learn through studying non-fiction and literary texts to connect with others- to learn empathy. In the current Covid climate, without the ability to physically travel, literature reminds students that the world is much larger than one’s own community. The IB Language A course prescribes the reading of texts in translation and from a range of continents and historical periods- and to see the connections and differences between human experiences. The world of a novel or a Shakespearian play is a microcosm reflective of the wider world. The 18th Century poet William Blake expresses this concept as, ‘To see the world in a grain of sand’. Even as we feel our world is shrinking, students can explore the links between characters’ experiences and their own and to see the bigger picture.
It took a geographical disaster in 1990 for the British-Guyanese poet Grace Nichols to connect with her roots. In the English classroom students connect with the wider world in less dramatic, but hopefully equally profound ways! Listen to Nicholls read her poem ‘Hurrican Hits England’ here. The ‘blinding illumination’ she experiences during the storm in a literal and metaphorical way reminds her of the inter-connectedness of the human existence: ‘the earth is the earth is the earth.’
Joanna Shepley Clarke
Head of English and EAL