Of course, we want to introduce students to the wider world. But teachers have unwittingly introduced other groups and cultures as if those groups were the exotic others.Human zoo

For example, schools hold International Festivals that have the flavor of “look at these unusual foreign people.” When groups of people are seen as exotic or patronizingly precious that are no longer “real” people.

Plus, the people of the world are not only international. They are here. They are Americans, Americans with a wide array of viewpoints and desires. They are people to recognize, appreciate, respectfully disagree with, live with, love with, work with and study with on a day-to-day basis, not just once a year.

Without intending to, we can keep a group of people at arm’s length while, at the same time, giving ourselves the false feeling that we are being inclusive.

We want to remember that as recent as the 1950s, people from other parts of the world as well as African and Native Americans were displayed in the U.S. as if animals in a zoo. The displays were often part of a continuum that ranked groups from apes to real people i.e. Europeans. Without meaning to, our study of other cultures can have a tinge of the same feeling.

It takes more time, thought and true connections with people with whom we’ve had less experience to be able to honor the complexity and variety within other cultures as well as understand our own cultural backgrounds with their unique histories, oddities and perspectives.