What Is Culture?

Culture is the way we dress, the way we carry our heads, the way we walk, the way we tie our ties -- it is not only the fact of writing books or building houses."
Aime Cesaire, Martiniquen writer, speaking to the World Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris [source: Petras and Petras]

What do you think of this quote? Do you agree with Aime Cesaire?

Group Activity:
In your groups brainstorm what you already know about culture and fill out the K and the Q of the .

Why do we study culture?

The study of culture is essential in order to foster global respect and empathy, and to develop understanding of different perceptions and customs.

  • Why do we study culture?
  • Why is it important to foster global respect and empathy?
  • What does it mean to have an understanding of different ways of thinking and doing things?
  • How does this all relate to us?

Group Activity Part One:
Read the following quotes. Why do you think these authors believe that we should study culture?

We need to promote greater tolerance and understanding among the peoples of the world. Nothing can be more dangerous to our efforts to build peace and development than a world divided along religious, ethnic or cultural lines. In each nation, and among all nations, we must work to promote unity based on our shared humanity.”
Kofi Annan

or this:
If you are going to be a global company, international education and experience has to be high on the list. The Boeing Company … needs international education to be able to operate. And the ability to communicate easily in the language of the country, to go to the media, to conduct your meetings with senior corporate colleagues or government officials, is invaluable
Stanley Roth, Vice President for Asia, Boeing Company

or this:
Just as the race to the moon galvanized an earlier generation, the education race must mobilize us to meet the demands of the 21st century...In a global economy, our students need to be prepared with world languages and culture...We need to do better at teaching the high demand languages that are increasingly important in the new world like Chinese and Arabic.”
Senator Jon Corzine, as Governor-elect of New Jersey, USA (now Governor of NJ)

think about what happens when we have no understanding whatsoever of why people do what they do, what their customs are or why they are different.
Difference is of the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.
John Hume

Group Activity Part Two:
Now choose one quote and try to answer the last three questions according to the perspective of the author.
  • Why is it important to foster global respect and empathy?
  • What does it mean to have an understanding of different ways of thinking and doing things?
  • How does this all relate to us?

What will we do in this unit?

Firstly, we want to identify the general meaning of ‘culture’ by exploring definitions through literature, visuals and human behavior. We will also examine different the cultural universals and how these are shown in different societies and in our middle school here at SAS.


Secondly, we will look at how cultures evolve. We will begin this through an analysis of a film: Rabbit Proof Fence as part of our exploration of the impact of contact on the cultures of indigenous civilizations.


This film will be our text for the first part of the unit. We will investigate the themes of family, personal identity, cultural identity and displacement as well as the structural elements of film. The themes of the film will provide us with a basis from which to compare and contrast the effects of major colonizing movements across time.


Thirdly, we will continue our exploration of culture through the text House on Mango Street. Through Esperanza’s eyes, we will experience the reality of the ‘melting pot’, a further evolution of different cultures, and investigate the meaning of E Pluribus Unum (Out of the Many, One).

Finally, House on Mango Street’s use of poetry will give you an opportunity to express your own understanding of yourself and your culture.

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance. ~Carl Sandburg
Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. ~Robert Frost
Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. ~T.S. Eliot, Dante, 1920
(All quotes from The Quote Garden)

"Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."
John F. Kennedy

Page created by Ms. Leong and adapted my Ms. Muench