La Bandera in Acapulco

June 14, 2012

In 2009, I went to Mexico City to study.  For a short weekend getaway, some friends and I went to Acapulco.  This was one of the treats we enjoyed while relaxing on the beach: Shrimp Cocktail (Estilo Veracruzano) and to drink?  La Bandera de Mexico…Tequila for the white, sangrita (literally blood, really tomato juice) and a lime.  Yum!


2009351138globe_children_illustrationThe vision for 21st century language teachers should be to develop global cultural consciousness in our students.  We are at a crucial state in education where we have the potential to transform our understanding of culture through globalization.  We must move away from cultural information which only provides us with superficial snippets of cultural beliefs and practices that can often lead towards cultural stereotypes.  Our goal should be cultural transformation which takes us on a long journey of rediscovery that ultimately should lead us to reconstruct our own identities.  This process allows us to see our own culture with a different, more critical eye that opens us up to a new direction and brings about new meaning to our world experience.

To develop cultural consciousness in our students, we must be critical with the types of teaching materials we choose to use in our teachings and these materials must be authentic.  Kumaravadivelu (2008) explains that there are three reasons for educators to pay close attention to the designing of teaching materials.  First, “textbooks have a ubiquitous presence in the language classroom, but they seem to have a magical hold over teachers and students” (Kumaravadivelu, 2008, p. 186).  Second, teachers seem to automatically pass on the cultural information included in the textbook without critically analyzing the contents.  Third, textbooks are not neutral, they include a particular worldview that is directly or indirectly enforced on the teachers and students and they carry hidden cultural values within their contents.

In the era of globalization, textbooks offer only a limited view of culture and should be redesigned to include information that can challenge the learners in a deeper and critical way thereby moving them towards cultural realism.  The Internet is one good source that can provide teachers with unlimited resources to use in the classroom.  This media is ideal because it is rich in resources and the students are very familiar with it.  Currently, our students are more culturally aware than ever before because they are not limited to geographic boundaries and through technology they are able to explore other cultures around the world.  Due to this cultural awareness, “there are very few students today who will unhesitatingly and unquestioningly accept whatever is presented in interested textbooks or by interested teachers” (Kumaravadivelu , 2008, p. 189).

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2008). Cultural globalization and language education. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.


Textbooks have been a teacher’s guidebook throughout time.  Traditionally a teacher uses a textbook to plan his or her lessons, which usually falls in place with the curriculum that the school administrators would like the teachers to teach.  Now textbooks even have connections with state learning standards, making them even more of a resource for teachers who are asked to align their lesson plans with the state and national standards.  However, textbooks do not meet the needs of today’s globalizing society.  Many times teachers treat themselves and the textbooks as authorities on subject matter, forgetting that the students themselves might have something to bring to the table.  The purpose of education used to be to produce docile, disciplined workers, but today this is not what is needed.  In today’s borderless society with diverse cultures constantly in contact both physically and through cyberspace, students need to be able to negotiate meaning within their own contexts and then apply integrated meanings globally.  This is not always possible through textbooks.  Textbooks may serve as one source, but students must be asked to question the textbook and be in dialogue with this information, so that they can recreate what they learn through a lens that critiques the power and hierarchical structures that are often presented in textbooks.  This can be done using political cartoons, newspaper articles, magazines, literature from diverse cultures and viewpoints, websites, blogs, music, etc.  These real world resources help students see the relevance in what they are learning, but these resources should never be seen as an authority.  The students must search and create meaning based on information that they are presented, reflect on how this information relates to their context, and how power plays a role in all texts that they read.  The varying perspectives of our students create a more realistic representation of our globalizing world than a textbook could ever provide.  The challenge is not in what textbook to use, but rather in how to make sure that all of your students’ diverse voices and talents are heard, and used as resources rather than deficits.