Coevolving through Disrupted Discussions on Critical Thinking, Human Rights and Empathy

Coevolving through Disrupted Discussions on Critical Thinking, Human Rights and Empathy

Susie Costello (RMIT University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4979-8.ch082


This chapter considers how teaching and learning cross culturally inevitably disrupts, or interrupts and disturbs teachers’ and students’ assumptions. Such educational confrontation can produce mind-opening opportunities or mind-numbing fear that can preclude learning. The teacher’s challenge is to find a balance between harnessing disruption as an impetus for learning and creating a safe environment for constructive learning exchanges. Six stories illustrate some of the frustration, confusion, and insight that can arise from mis-interpretation, acontextual teaching, and pedagogical assumptions. The author discusses personal and pedagogical discoveries that emerged during an international social work education program with refugee teachers, health, and community workers from Burma living in exile on the Thailand Burma border (the border). Tensions between East and Western philosophies and methods of teaching called for processes to indigenize the Australian model of social work to the local cultures. The resulting exchanges of knowledge laid the ground for knowledge and cultural exchanges in interactive, unexpected educational processes.
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The Stories

Offering a six week course on social work for Burmese refugees in Thailand confronted the assumptions, beliefs and practices of the educator and participants. On many occasions, cross cultural or linguistic confusions rendered everyone unclear about how to proceed. The teacher had to bumble along, looking for clues that did not translate and making it up as she went along. These uncomfortable moments, however, were often resolved in a flash of understanding that deepened cross cultural understandings. The following stories illustrate such disruptive moments, each of which exemplifies Prigogine and Stengers’ (1984) concept of a ‘bifurcation point’, described as a pivotal point of ‘stuckness’ or ‘not knowing’, which marks a ‘singular moment’ of discovery (Gibney, 1987). Being disrupted from your comfort zone can stretch you intellectually and personally, offering insights previously not considered.

The following stories illustrate six points of disruption in cross cultural education. The first describes challenges of interpreting and translating. The second considers eastern versus western philosophies of teaching while the third story explores differences in east west emotional responses. Examples of cultural conflict and discrimination comprise the fourth and fifth story, with the final story reminding us of the costs of change. The chapter concludes with reflections on the interrelatedness of disruption and discovery with recommendations for transferring these insights to universal teaching and learning practices.

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