"Yo, just got back from the Coliseum. Someone slayed THREE lions today!"
October 31, 2010 8:05 PM   Subscribe

What are some interesting culturally specific conversations students around the world might be having with their friends, parents, or teachers?

I'm writing an English textbook for some students who are really interested in world cultures. We're going to spend 2 weeks on a country, with 1 week on nonfiction and 1 week on listening to conversations. They have to use that source material to answer questions, speak, and even role-play.

The material can be a little edgy, like talking about a boyfriend, but it's for 13-year-olds, so "my entire family was murdered by _____" isn't really ideal. For example, in the nonfiction section of Germany I've got autobahn, long words, Berlin street art, and the Ring Cycle. In the conversation portion, I have students discussing a proposal to extend their short schoolday. Looking for more interesting material though :)

Any country is ok, and countries I definitely need are: Australia, South Africa, Germany, India, Ancient Egypt/Rome/Greece, Switzerland, the Netherlands. But I'll have around 30 countries represented eventually. Thanks!
posted by acidic to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Northern Ireland: You could discuss integrated education, right after you unboggle your mind at the idea that you actually have to have this conversation in 2010.

Ireland: The discussion of whether Irish should remain a compulsory part of the national curriculum is an interesting one.

UK: You could look at the question of the burka as compulsory uniform in fee-paying Islamic schools.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:43 PM on October 31, 2010

In quite a few countries (Australia, the UK, New Zealand, at least) students often have discussions with peers, teachers, parents about whether school uniforms should be compulsory or not.

In NZ and Australia, the question of whether learning foreign languages should be encouraged at high school is often a matter of debate, and (more in NZ than Aus) the question of whether Maori should be compulsory. In Australia, there's a big debate about bilingual education in the Northern Territory (English-local Indigenous languages).
posted by lollusc at 8:43 PM on October 31, 2010

(and not only whether, but also which languages specifically - is it better to focus on our Pacific neighbours (teaching e.g. Indonesian, Japanese, etc) or on countries with which we have historical ties (European languages), or should we just teach the most widely spoken languages (Spanish, Mandarin, Russian...)?
posted by lollusc at 8:45 PM on October 31, 2010

Response by poster: Great answers so far, and just wanted to add two things:
- I'd also be thrilled to read about historical conversations, including things like apprenticeships or finishing school
- Beyond policy debates, I'm also interested in conflicts, choices, and problems/advice. For example, a British girl stressed out that she was not made Head Girl, or a younger child trying to convince his prefect to not bring a misdeed to the headmaster's attention.
posted by acidic at 8:53 PM on October 31, 2010

Best answer: My sister-in-law is from Singapore and she told me that some essential cultural knowledge she experienced while growing up was knowing which snakes on the schoolyard required a teacher's attention, and which snakes you could safely ignore. So maybe a convo about that?
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:57 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Years out of any sort of school, I'm still sort of fascinated by the differences between public/state-funded education in the US vs. Britain. I imagine it would be really interesting for students who are currently in junior high/high school themselves. Stuff like "head girl/boy", Form vs. Grade (I gather that the oldest "grade" in school in the UK is Sixth Form, which does not correspond to Sixth Grade in the US, at all), A levels vs. O levels and all that, the fact that in Britain compulsory education ends earlier than it does in the US, etc. I also gather that university education is less necessary than it is in the US, but that might be because a lot of my fascination with this developed while watching the Up series of documentaries, and they were 14 and then 21 a long time ago, when Britain was a very different place.

Also, in India they apparently publish final exam results in the newspaper!
posted by Sara C. at 9:03 PM on October 31, 2010

Ancient times...maybe something about girls not needing education?
posted by acoutu at 9:11 PM on October 31, 2010

Best answer: India:

Merits of arranged vs. love marriages
English medium education vs. education in the local language
Board exams -- important exams at the end of 10th and 12th grades
Affirmative action in favor of lower castes and women for jobs, college seats and political positions
Religious holidays -- we usually had holidays for most of the major holidays of the major religions and there were many conversations about the different festival traditions and what they signified
Swear words in different Indian languages -- this was a favorite thing to talk about any time you had a significant number of Indians from different parts of the country together
Coalition governments -- the parliamentary system often leads to hobbled together coalition governments with members from several parties; the pros/cons of such governments were a frequent topic of discussion
posted by peacheater at 9:51 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Japan: Should English be required? (It is, six years compulsory, junior high to high school)
posted by Ghidorah at 9:55 PM on October 31, 2010

Australia: conversations about summer/beach/bbq/heat wave ("It hit 43.5 today. That's a week over 40! I wonder if we'll beat last year's stretch of 10 days?" etc.)

Many Australians take a year out before university and go working/travelling overseas. Perhaps a conversation about working in a pub in London or as a camp counsellor in the US or something similar?
posted by twirlypen at 10:28 PM on October 31, 2010

Best answer: 13- year-olds in Switzerland are often talking about how to get on the train without a ticket and how not to get caught. You could have your students role-play buying a ticket from a counter, or getting caught without a ticket.
posted by copperbleu at 1:15 AM on November 1, 2010

Also, in India they apparently publish final exam results in the newspaper!

In England, final university marks (whether your degree is a First, 2.1, 2.2, 3rd, pass, or fail) are posted for everyone to see at the end of your final year. Also, at the end of every year a list is sent out to all undergraduates in the department showing the ranking for the year (at Imperial where I went the only nod to not making people feel bad about sucking is that the actual percentages are only published for the top 10 students). I know this is university, not quite the school stuff you're asking for but I gather that it is very alien to most American undergrads.
posted by atrazine at 3:01 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the Netherlands, children are streamed into different education systems from an age corresponding to Junior High in the US. That means that they will be going to different schools, taking totally disjoint courses and have very different expectations (only the highest stream leads to admission to university education, the 2nd highest goes to technical trade schools, etc.) The age at which you're done with secondary education is different depending on the stream.

I know that Germany has a very similar system.
posted by atrazine at 3:06 AM on November 1, 2010

I spent some time in a mostly aboriginal town in the east Kimberly a few years back. It was station country and the local kids had an option to learn how to be stockmen and women at school. They were taught how to ride; how to muster a mob; how to go about selecting good working cattle dogs; how to round up, brand and drench a one tonne scrub bull; that sort of thing.

At the time, the local school was going through a minor crisis over some decisions the new riding teacher had made about the choice of horses for the riding program. A lot of the local kids and their parents thought that the local feral horses that had always been mustered and trained for use on the surrounding stations were perfect (If I understood correctly, they were generally either Walers or Lake Gregory Arabian/Waler Crosses).

Over many years, the school stables had been stocked with particularly fine horses by the local communities and stations. But the new teacher believed that the kids should be learning to ride "properly" on stud bred Australian Stock Horses. These are the standard for many sorts of horse work and sport across the south of Australia, and I guess the reasoning was to give the kids a more marketable skill set. A large number were bought and shipped up from down south with the intention of replacing the existing stable altogether.

Discussion ensued. Much discussion. Students, teachers, parents, elders, station generals, and anyone else who thought they had an interest, spent weeks talking it over in the big sitting around in a cross legged circle on the ground fashion that's sometimes the only way to get things done in remote Australian indigenous communities.

(And I wish I could tell you how it got resolved, but it was still going on when I left. I suspect that even if the riding teacher won, the kids are still discussing it with her. Loudly.)
posted by Ahab at 4:38 AM on November 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

Japan: Going to cram schools at night. A lot of junior high and high school kids don't come home until 9 or 10 at night, after going to the cram school, where learning is more like, well, cramming. Nonetheless, there is a lot of pressure for the high-school and college entrance exams, and not sending your kid to cram school gives you a rep as a bad parent.
posted by whatzit at 6:31 AM on November 1, 2010

For Australia, a truly bizzarre cultural experience is happening today: the Melbourne Cup. It's a horse race, and it's billed as "the race that stops the nation". According to Wikipedia, 80% of the adult population place a bet on it (work places will often turn a blind eye so that you can go down to the betting shop), and it is watched en masse in workplaces and schools. At school, they can't gamble, but they often have sweeps, where you get a horse and win something if your horse places. In Melbourne, they get a public holiday. Seriously.

I don't get it, because I seem to be missing the Australian requirement to use any excuse for having a flutter (bet). I do appreciate any excuse for having afternoon tea though, so it's not all bad.

Anyway, could be an interesting conversation if you could find some decent source material.
posted by kjs4 at 7:26 PM on November 1, 2010

« Older Are digital thermostats user-swappable?   |   Campy, sexy late-60s romps. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.