Breaking Cultural “Taboos”

Our world has changed, but our schools have not. We have smartboards, we teach in virtual classrooms, we use AI-powered solutions but we still mainly focus on transmitting information, standardized testing and are afraid of talking about emotions.

Teachers who are willing to teach the unspeakable, may either follow the prescribed set of rules and materials or they can choose to challenge them. Sensitive issues get little attention in schools because of their taboo nature. Most teachers are troubled by performance pressure, applying the same curriculum to all types of students, the limitation of standardized testing which restrains their creativity. Therefore, they can plan different projects including or dealing with these topics or approach the coursebook materials critically.

Portrait of Lili Elbe (born Einar Wegener). Watercolour, c. 1928 – Gerda. Wegener. Wellcome Collection CC BY

What is taboo?

“Taboo” (Tapua) is a Polynesian word that means “not allowed” or “forbidden”, usually a general ban or an object that should not be touched. A taboo topic is one that is better avoided in conversation as it may go against cultural and societal norms thus hurting someone’s feelings or beliefs. Taboos can be words like swearing but also very serious issues like talking about death, prostitution, racism or genetic engineering, then personal matters such as appearance, hygiene, nudity or identifying and recognizing emotions, discussing relationships.

These are the very topics our students keep encountering on media. As a language teacher I find that in coursebooks some of them are considered off-limits, they are screened out and replaced by politically correct ones such as free time, school, sports, pets etc. Does this happen at the expense of teacher autonomy or it gives an opportunity to extend the topic and include the students to share views and possibly profound personal experiences?

Three figures grieve the death of a young man. EtchingWellcome Collection CC BY

Teaching emotions and breaking patterns

If you think of your favourite teachers the first thing you remember is how they identified and managed your emotions or how they navigated your way through them. Below you will find some examples from our blog where teachers dealt with these problems and integrated it in the curriculum.

Pink Triangle – History and Memory of LGBTQ+ in European Culture by bertrandmickael is a learning scenario, where students are invited to discover the history behind the symbol of the Pink Triangle. They talk about persecution and bullying and they are invited to consider the way LGBTQ+ people have gained recognition and finally proved that they are not only victims but also heroes of the European culture.

Students created a poster about the classification system in the Nazi concentration camps [Pink Triangle – History and Memory of LGBTQ+ in European Culture (LS-DI-558)]

Philosophy and Feminism in the Middle Ages: Christine de Pizan by Rosa M Reina Pérez aims to bring students closer to the figure of Christine de Pizan, a medieval woman who breaks with the patterns of medieval women’s lives and contributes with her work to the history of Western thought.

Gender Identity and the Roots of Prejudice by Rosanna Busiello reflects on gender stereotypes and fear of diversity. The students study different stereotypes and prejudices surrounding sexual identity and gender identity.

Creative Writing Using Van Gogh created by Justin Nicholas Micallef, tackles the issue of mental health while also discusses one of the greatest Expressionist artists, Van Gogh.

Developing a Culture for Museums in Health and Wellbeing created by Katerina Mavromichali, an archaeologist-museologist and art therapy counselor, deals with mentalizing the inside story by bridging museum and art therapy research and practice.

Communication and implicitly knowing the person next to us are the ways we can eliminate prejudices.  Communication and Intercultural Society by geaninaturcanu  is an online lesson where they analyze and identify the origins of people in the pictures from Europeana, use their imagination to talk about their feelings.

Farsa de Inês Pereira and gender equality: from the XVI to nowadays created by Maria Santos is related to the United Nations 5th Sustainable Development Goal – Gender equality. The starting point is the previous reading of the play Farsa de Inês Pereira,  written in 1523 by the Portuguese playwright Gil Vicente. The play provides an excellent scope to learn about women’s rights and the evolution of women´s roles in society.

First product after their research based on Europeana resources. Implementation of ‘Gender Inequality in Workplaces’ (SOI-DI-232) by Ana Paula Alves

 ‘Gender Inequality in Workplaces’ created by Marina Stanojlović Mirčić is about the problem of gender inequality and workplace diversity in Serbia and possibly in other European countries. The main goal for students is to think of the question: is it possible for women to work in higher positions?

I realized that if I try to engage students in this way encouraging and helping them to express their views it is rewarding and makes the lessons exciting, more lively. However, never lose sight of the fact that it is a lesson and they must feel in no way pressurised into discussing or revealing things about themselves with which they are unhappy. Also as a teacher, you should remain neutral throughout any discussions, seeking to encourage students to express their views and only facilitate the discussions. If handled well it does not harm classroom dynamics, but it contributes to them positively, motivates them because while getting the arguments on the table, they learn how to be honest and not to insult each other.

by @katalinlorincz Europeana Ambassador for Hungary

Public Domain Mark 1.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana and has been provided by the Nationalmuseum, Sweden.

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