I have chosen a number of activities which explore the similarities and differences among people. For example, “Meet someone who” focuses on shared experiences, beliefs and values. “The Me Bag” and “Getting to know you” aim at building respect for differences among people. Other activities will be developed, after I have had some time to work with the children. I have decided to form a multi-cultural Community theater group, which will serve as a common enterprise in which students will be required to work. and live together. The group’s major purpose is to present the myths that were selected for this unit, through role playing and Reader’s Theater, and write an original play or myth which focuses on the lives of the various ethnic groups who make up the classroom community.
I have chosen mythology for the content of this unit in social learning, first because it is the core topic of study for fourth grade TAG students. This unit is merely an extension of the existing curriculum, but it should be kept in mind that the focus is social learning. Secondly, there is a natural fascination for mythology, that is held by nine and ten year old children, which easily lends itself to open communication on personal levels. Lastly and more importantly, the mythology of any group, meaning myths, fables, folktales and fairytales deals with basic concerns of human life. They are stories of a people’s culture .
As a starting point, I recommend “Meet Someone Who.” I am asking each child to find other students who are much like themselves and tall.-. with them before making decisions about one’s capabilities or personality. This oral activity will be followed by an evaluative discussion about what traits, and what likes or dislikes the students have in common or what things are different. Questions will relate to the way they perceive individuals. (See Lesson # 1.)
Before beginning the content portion of this unit, it might be wise to hold an informal discussion about students’ perceptions of the different ethnic groups that make up the American society. Make clear certain concepts about culture in general. It’s important that students enter this study with an understanding that American culture, if there is such a term, is a combination of various cultures. The information which follows may serve as a basis for discussion.
Even today, we have been unable to reach a clear and decisive agreement on a definition of the term culture. However, anthropologists agree on certain essentials of a definition. Broadly perceived, “culture is the way of life of a group of people: the sum total of all the values, customs, mores, habits, institutions and traditions, as well as the sanctioned modes of behavior and appearance that the individual must learn in order to become an acceptable member of his society.(Dorman,1974)
Emphasis should be placed on the idea “his Society”. Consider the fact that the American society is made up of various Cultural groups, all of whom brought to this Country—an existing culture; all of whom have had to adjust to new ways of thinking and living.-, none of whom have been able to relinquish their traditional cultural heritage.
According to (Dorman,1974) the anthropologist, Leslie White presents an interesting and persuasive argument in his theory for a kind of cultural determinism, “. . . it is not “we” who control our Culture [;] . . . our Culture controls us.” He believes that one’s culture begins at birth. From the time a child is born, that infant’s Culture will determine how he will think, feel and act. Culture will determine what language he will speak, what clothes he will wear, if any, what gods he will believe in, what he will eat, how he will marry or how he will bury his dead.
While one’s culture remains relatively stable, it does grow and develop. It experiences various modifications, as people discover new and different ways of doing things. The changes may occur within the Culture due to technological advances, or relocation of families.
I offer, in example, a family who moves from a small rural town may find an urban city overcrowded, noisy and busy. The adult may find that he has to assume a number of different roles in a variety of social settings. No longer can he rely on the intimacy of small-town life and kinship. His social circle is now likely to become large and impersonal schools or churches, business offices and public transportation. He is now asked to face and solve problems in new settings and under new conditions. This kind of culture change is known as internal change.
Dorman continues, there can also exist external change, which is brought about from without the Culture, either through diffusion, acculturation or assimilation. Diffusion is a kind of Cultural borrowing of selected Culture materials, whereby culture spreads from one group to another on the basis of limited contact.
This is an acceptable kind of change. It can well be thought of as learning about others, while adopting those parts of another’s culture that is of use within the structure of your, own. This kind of Culture change is best suited for today’s American classroom. For it allows the various ethnic groups to maintain their identities and learn from and about each other.
Acculturation is described as conforming to another culture without destroying the identity of the original culture.(Dorman, 1974) This kind of change, while more disruptive than diffusion, does not require one to completely abandon his culture, only that one understands enough about another’s culture to adjust. Consider the position of a child in the family who has relocated from rural to urban America. In addition to adjusting to the new roles that are required of the adult, the child also faces a new neighborhood and a new school, each requiring a new socialization process; each requiring the child to lose a bit more of his individual culture.
Finally, there is assimilation. One culture incorporates another. The second, or the assimilated group completely loses individual identity and becomes part of the dominant group.(Dorman 1974) This appears to be the attitude of the dominant group, here in America. This perhaps, is one of the greatest reasons that we are under-achieving as a society.
From what we know about the stability of cultures, we know that individuals do not readily give up their culture to identify with the traditions of another. Moreover, dominant groups are rarely willing to incorporate foreign cultures or subcultures. The best we can hope for, here in America is diffusion. We can, at least make an attempt at achieving a multi-cultural society.
By way of introduction to the content portion of this unit, myths and culture, it would be most helpful to familiarize students with the work o Joseph Campbell, who spoke of the commonality in world myths, in his book,
The Power of Myth
. “What human beings have in common is revealed in myths. Myths are stories of our search through the ages for truth, for meaning, for significance. We all need to tell our story and to understand our story.” (Campbell, 1988) If we are to live together as a people, we have to understand the stories of all the people.
At this point students will be asked to read the myth which most closely represents his cultural heritage. Students may elect to read individually or within small groups. (Small groups are preferred). They should be told at this time, however that they will be asked to engage in activities that relate to analyzing and evaluating each of the myths. The myths will serve as a springboard to a comparative discussion of the beliefs and practices that are common among these cultures. Other activities will include role playing, research, creative writing and play production.
In keeping with Campbell’s idea of commonality in myth and culture, we will examine from each of the chosen cultures, myths which relate the origin of fire. From African mythology, “How Man Got Fire”, as retold by Susan Bennett; Ella E Clark’s “The Origin of Fire, a myth of the Nimipu Indian, and the well known Greek myth, “Prometheus Brings Fire to Man”, as told by Barbara Drake in
Myths, Fables and Folktale
; and from Mexican culture, “Opossum Steals Fire” by Pablo Guerrono, from
The Mythology of Mexico and Central America.
The story of Prometheus will be further analyzed through a reader’s theater production of Aeschylus’ play , “Prometheus Bound”, as translated by Edwin Dolin and Alfred Sugg in
An Anthology of Greek Tragedy
The myths have been summarized, for the purposes of this unit. They appear at the beginning of the activities segment of the unit. The actual classroom readings will be taken from the texts, in order to give the children complete information from which to work.
After having read the selected myth and orally summarizing it for the whole group, students will be asked to discuss the similarities, in theme, character and plot structure that exist among the myths. The group will be responsible for charting their findings, once they have heard each of the summaries.
This is a good point in the lesson where role playing can be introduced. Students will need to become familiar with the process for role playing, as outlined in the book,
Role playing for social value
(Shaftel,1967). I have outlined the Greek myth for this activity, simply because it is the more familiar of the four myths that were selected. (See Lesson #2 in the activity segment.)
As a part of the evaluative discussion, elicit responses from the children with concern to the following. This particular story idea deals with the struggle for human survival and the willingness to sacrifice oneself to help another. In the Greek myth, it was the demi—god, Prometheus. In the African and Indian versions, fire came to earth by the ingenuity of a child, the son of the village chief and a young, gifted boy. In the Mexican version, fire is brought to the people by an animal. All of these characters were aware that fire belonged to the gods, but thought it was important that fire was shared with the people on earth. For this act, each was punished by the gods.
Their punishments, naturally took different forms, based upon the beliefs of the culture from which the myth was taken. Prometheus was chained to a cliff where he was made to suffer continuously. The son of the African chief was made lame. The young, gifted child was never seen again in the Indian village and the opossum ended up with a bald tail. These sacrifices, they each decided to make in order to help other. With the exception of Prometheus, who Could see into the future, ( as we will find out in the play, Prometheus Bound), these characters could not have known what would happen to them. Each did know that the people of the villages had pleaded with the gods for fire and had not received it. They each had to have believed that there was a very good reason, why man was not given fire, or they would have had to believe that the gods were mean and unjust in all their dealings with mankind.
We can make a very good argument against that belief if we studied the cultures of the groups more closely. We know from popular literature that the Greeks worshipped a number of gods. Each controlled a different aspect of nature. They were thought of as guardians of mortal man and had the power to determine the way in which one’s life developed. Naturally, the people wanted to be warmed, to be fed; they asked their guardians for fire. One of their guardians saw to it that they got it. Again, I refer to the play, Prometheus Bound”
. . . But I had nerve, and I contrived a way to rescue mortals from the certainty of death that hovered over them. That’s why I’m humbled here by suffering-why pain’s my lot, and pity, too, from those who have to look at me. It was from that pity I made my move—for mortals. Yet it seems, I’m not thought worthy of the same myself. Instead, this lesson in obedience, you see-in discipline—was forced on me, a spectacle that should bring shame on Zeus.
Some Africans believed in a single god and that everything possessed a spirit. Their prayers were addressed to the spirits of their ancestors. There were good spirits to make their crops grow or ward off harm to their ancestors. Naturally, they would ask the god(s) or spirits for fire to keep themselves warm. if their existence were improved in this life, so would it be in their afterlife. They too would eventually become ancestral spirits capable of bringing good luck to their, descendants.
Some Indians accept the man-nature relationship. Every living and non-living thing was sacred. Evil, pain and death resulted from the disturbance of the harmony of one with nature. The village people understood that the boy had disappeared, for he had disturbed nature. We all know that the Indians live as one in harmony with the earth. They make use of only what they need for their survival. They needed fire, naturally, they asked the gods for it. All natural—especially—living beings possess supernatural powers. Some tribes believed in a single supreme being. Still there were other tribes, whose faith was placed in rituals, fasting and sacrifices. We know this to be true, also of certain African tribes.
It would be almost impossible to create an adequate picture of the commonality among cultures, without requiring the students, themselves to make a cursory examination of the cultures. Of Course, it is not necessary to ask each student to research all of the cultures, or all aspects of any culture. Since we are researching ethnic/Americans, it would be a good idea to include some historical background information of the cultures before emigrating to America. I have decided to handle this as a class project.
The project will be billed as “Culture Trek”. This is a non-threatening way in which students can research history, language and customs of a Culture. I have outlined a sample project idea based on the African Culture. It is important to give the children some information with which to work. However, keep in mind that it is always useful to allow students to make their own discoveries and their own choices in directing their learning. (See sample project study in the activity segment—Lesson #3.)
Once the research is underway, students are ready to begin writing their original scripts or myths, that will become plays. Discussions and activities about culture, about the myths about relations among ethnic groups in America, should continue.
Throughout the course of the discussion and activities, students should have an opportunity to talk about themselves, as it relates to any one of the theme ideas that is being Studied. I intend to incorporate the social activities into the academics.
Shortly after, the myths have been read and initially discussed, the play, “Prometheus Bound should be casted and rehearsals begun. At about the same time, the “Culture Trek” project should also begin. (The structure of the program allows for this kind of planning. All students don’t work an the same activities, at the same time. We are not restricted to forty two minute periods, and there are two teachers, at all times.)
With regard to the play, “Prometheus Bound”, it will be performed as a reader’s theater production and will require a minimal amount of work on the production side, i.e. props, costuming, scenery. Understanding and delivering the meaning should be the thrust of the focus, in preparing for the play.
With regard to the discussion of the play, emphasis will be placed on the fact that it follows the myth about fire and relates Prometheus’ punishment for giving fire to man. Also, we will discuss how that punishment fits into the cultural beliefs and practices of the Greeks.
The unit culminates with the a small-scaled cultural festival. (We’ll have the second half of the year to work on that.) Suffice to say now, it will include the results of the “Culture Trek” project, the production of “Prometheus Bound” and the original play of the community theater group.
I offer this quote in closing “We are charged with the moral challenge of creating a humane world community in which all human beings can realize themselves. The anthropologist, Rhoda Metreaux, poses for us the challenge of whether we can, consciously recognizing that cultures are man-made, take the responsibility of directing our social evolution.” (Shaftel,1967)
For myself, I see that our greatest challenge in directing social evolution lies in having the ability to place oneself in another’s position to sense a movement from one’s own cultural environment into that of a subculture. What would be the cultural outlook if one approached events from a culture other than one’s own?