A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – “It’s Not Bad, It’s Just Different …” – by Laura Blasena. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
I work with another organization that pairs individuals that are studying or working throughout the world with elementary school classes in the United States. I signed up for the program because I loved the idea; I could help educate a class of young students about another country, discussing topics like stereotypes, culture, and addressing differences between people and countries.
For my first article that I had to write about the program, we were asked to describe the place that we were living. There were prompts–weather, currency, prices, and nature found throughout the city–and then there were more open-ended questions that we were allowed to answer as we pleased based on what seemed important to us. For one of them, I chose to discuss the fact that I had discovered I was having extreme allergic reactions to the pollution in Bogota. It allowed me to talk about the recent push to replace the Transmilenio buses with new “eco-friendly” or electric buses and the fact that, though called “eco-friendly”, many of the buses continued to contribute to pollution.
(The university where I work.)
This seemed very commonplace to me. I was discussing the fact that a city in another country struggled with pollution, a problem that many large cities around the world
When my editor sent me revision notes, I was a bit bothered by the fact that she had chosen to remove the entire section of my article that talked about pollution in Bogota. She explained that my paragraph about pollution was too negative. I should just focus on the different eco-friendly movements and I shouldn’t focus at all on the pollution. In her words, I was going to make the young students “prejudiced” against Bogota if I portrayed it in a negative light.
Here’s my issue with that: Even though they may be young, elementary students aren’t incapable of critical thinking.
Critical thinking may be a difficult skill to develop, but that doesn’t mean that it should be avoided. Rather, it should be focused on. The United States education system definitely has its faults, but one thing that I loved about all the classrooms that I’ve worked in is that the environment of education stressed the importance of critical thinking and independent thought processing.
(The office that I’m allowed to use at work is shared by seven other professors.)
I didn’t want to give the students that I had been paired with a “dumbed down” portrayal of another country. Yes, it is true that in the past (and the present) the United States as a country have been prone to broadcasting the idea of the United States as ultimately “good” and other countries as “lacking” or “bad”, but that doesn’t mean that in order to make up for this incorrect portrayal of the world that we should swing the pendulum to the complete opposite. The organization that I was working with was asking me to portray everything about other countries as incorruptibly “good”.
A friend of mine taught me a phrase that she used when working with elementary students in an exchange program that brought students back and forth across the US-Mexico border. “It’s not bad, it’s just different”.
After living in various countries throughout her life, my friend shared the amended version that she had created from that phrase she was told to use in her job. “Just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s bad.”
Sometimes things that are “different” are bad–an idea that in itself seems a bit negative because it’s only talking about negatives. What’s important to take out if is that the cultures of ALL countries have positives and negatives. Looking at entire countries with a dichotomy of black and white, good and bad, is like trying to use the phrase “It’s not bad, it’s just different” because it doesn’t allow for instances when certain norms– sexism, racism, etc.– are different and also not particularly desirable.
To me, being asked to show students an overly positive picture of living in Bogota that stripped away all things even slightly negative was both incorrect and inefficient. In trying to correct the fact that for so long the United States has created a dichotomy of good and bad and placed itself in the good category, the organization was asking me to create another dichotomy of good and bad and place anything that was “different” in the good category. While it was an attempt to fix a stereotype that many people believe, in the end I was still presenting the students with a dichotomy instead of an opportunity to critically examine differences and understand WHY, in many cases, that things that are different are not always bad.
About our special correspondent and senior editor Laura Blasena: Ever since I was a little Kindergartner I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.
I graduated from St. Scholastica in the summer of 2015 with a double major in Elementary Education and Spanish Education after student teaching as a 5th grade teacher and also as a Spanish teacher at NorthStar in Duluth, Minnesota.
While my future plans before graduation were initially to become a classroom teacher, I decided to wait a year to begin teaching in the United States and have chosen to work as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bogota, Colombia. In Colombia, I will be working with a university as an assistant in the language department, attending classes, running conversation clubs, and offering the perspective of a native speaker.
I’ve always loved to travel. In college, I participated in several study abroad trips, visiting England, Guatemala, and Mexico. (I loved visiting Mexico so much that I even went back a second time!). I’m looking forward to the travel opportunities that I will have while working and living in Colombia.
Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu
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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five semesters we have published 200 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. We are sponsored by St. Scholastica’s Department of History and Politics and by the scholarly Middle Ground Journal: World History and Global Studies (http://theMiddleGroundJournal.org).
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Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.
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46 responses to “A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – “It’s Not Bad, It’s Just Different …” – by Laura Blasena. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports”
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Thank you for sharing your story! It is interesting that your editor decided to take out the whole piece on pollution. I can see where the editor was coming from because people want to keep things positive but it is important to state the truth as well. Pollution is a major problem in any big city but this does not usually stop people from visiting. While it does not stop people from visiting, it is definitely nice to let people know what is going on. I do like the saying, “just because it is different, doesn’t mean it is bad.” I try to live by this, making sure not to judge anyone because they do something different than I do. I think that this is an important concept to teach to humans, especially at a young age. The earlier humans develop empathy, the more they are going to live by it.
The University you work at looks very beautiful!
That is very disappointing. I appreciated the phrase you included that your friend used, “It’s not bad, it’s different” and that you saw as a way for your young students to gain some critical thinking skills and knowledge. It is true that different can have a negative connotation in many instances, but is not a word that encompasses some inherently bad identity.
I feel that it is unfortunate that you were not able to talk about the pollution in Columbia. The United States has many areas and cities that are extremely polluted. Many areas of the world are polluted by human expansion and activity.
There are many good things about society. But there is also so much corruption and wrong being done by many governments everywhere. Many people want to avoid the truth when it’s ugly, and hide the ugly so it never has to be exposed, which takes away the opportunity to have the issues to be fixed. Yes, I do agree with you that it is wrong of the University, but I also see that they want to protect themselves and the country. Pollution is a fault of almost everyone, and to have efforts to fix it is bigger than any one person. This world is a beautiful place, but yes, every rose has its thorn.
Thanks for another great piece! I think you hit on a very important part of education; critical thinking. It has been my experience in my schooling years that up until college I was not expected to think critically, rather I was expected to regurgitate information fed to me on a daily basis (until it was in extracurricular activities). I think this is because people become comfortable with the ideas they are taught and in turn it creates a scary environment when another aspect is introduced. Its unfortunate and it makes me a little sad that editors wants to portray a country as all good without introducing any of the bad aspects when that simply is not a reality in any part of the world. If the goal was to simply make them “want” to try a new place that to me is not fair, because they wouldn’t know the reality of the situation.
I am surprised that they would edit that out. I think our children should receive the truth not what we think is a good influence. One of the kids i babysat actually told be that they learned about North Korea in class, that they just have a different leader and their world works differently. She’s ten I’m pretty sure that her class could handle learning that it is an oppressive regime that is threatening the US and most certainly is not a friend.
First, good for you for following your dreams and your heart! I also love to travel, but I hate to admit that I am one of those that say all the things they want to do, but never really do them. Bogota, Columbia looks beautiful. But I agree with you that every country in this world has its positives and negatives. Columbia may be beautiful and warm, but you found the problem with pollution. And when you tried to use your talent of teaching children about this problem, you were discouraged and told not to. That is very disappointing. All I can say is, keep doing what your doing and fight for what you believe in.
While reading this article, I was reminded of how the US and other countries often pick and choose what to teach in history classes. Countries tend to teach their students to forget negative periods in their history. On that note, you described how your editor didn’t like the section in your essay about pollution and she stated it was too negative. Nobody wants their country portrayed in a negative light, but sometimes it is best to educate people on pressing issues, even if they are negative. Sometimes, forgetting and avoiding the topic isn’t the best option.
I really enjoyed reading your point about how different isn’t always bad. Like you said it is extremely important to teach students to critically think. Doing this allows them to be able to critically think on their own. I think it was wrong of the editor to remove the section about pollution but I can see how they would see it as promoting a negative look on their country. Again, it is better to critically think and look at the reality. When we do this we are able to create change, bettering the overall situation. That is why it is important to teach young students to critically think. Thank you for sharing your stance on this concept.
Laura, thanks for sharing your story! I think that more often than not the US portrays itself as “the best” and everyone else is beneath. I think that it is interesting that your editor wanted to cut out the negative aspects about pollution. I didn’t know that pollution was a growing concern there. I think it is important to show both sides to a story in order to portray the truth. “Just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s bad” is a great way of interpreting how we can often be hesitant to new or different things, it doesn’t mean they are bad. Thanks again for sharing!
I agree we shouldn’t sugar coat everything for students. I have nephews who are just about to turn six, and I can see them learning and working things out for themselves. It is important to provide opportunities for our students throughout the US to critically think and problem solve. Pollution is also a big problem throughout the world and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Well I agree with you that it is unfair to only describe the good things about a country. If we withhold all the information from people or students in your case, we destroy their ability to see the world as it truly is, a complex place. And if we grow up thinking that there are no problems to fix, we won’t develop the skills and tools needed to fix these problems. The more information we have the better!
I think that it is very important to tech our youth about both, the positives and negatives , of the society they live in. Np country or community is perfect and its is crucial that they understand this since a very young age. If they are taught what is good than they can see what was done to reach this stage and if they are taught what is wrong then they can work to find a solution for it. Every single country has its weakness and strengths how society decides to act determines if these weaknesses will diminish or not.
This was a powerful article to read. I agree elementary children do understand critical thinking and trying to hide something as important as a country’s traits baffled me. “Just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s bad” is one of my favorite sayings. This not only demonstrates its importance to race and gender but it also ties into the idea of self-image. This is a huge issue today in teenage girls and how they view themselves- possibly males as well. I believe any view taken from the quote can have a huge impact on a wide variety of subjects.
I really enjoy you bringing this idea to light. Things and places, and people, are not usually all good or all bad. Most things are not black and white, but rather a whole lot of grey. Different things can be good, or bad just the same way familiar things can be good or bad or both. Life is not so simple as to make everything good or bad. As you point out, even children know this to be true.
Thank you for sharing what you truly think. I feel sometimes that after a person gets an edit saying something is not appropriate we get upset but we don’t do anything about it. I am so glad that you are able to tell us this story and write the injustices you experiences. I mean sure, this injustice is not life altering but it provides a genuine platform for critical issue.
I think i’s important not only to teach younger children the good but also the bad of a place where they are learning and growing. Sure it may put negative things into their heads but it is important to learn and understand. I personally think that if these children are only learning the positives we shelter them in a way. Not everything is perfect there are also things that need to have light shed on them. I feel like as a society we sometimes try to avoid or hide the truth if it is something we don’t like. This teaches kids to avoid problems and sit back without action. We need people to problem solve, come up with solutions, and take action.
I found this article to be very interesting. I am surprised that you were not able to include the section about pollution, as it seems to be an obvious part of the area. I can see why this is, but you are right about needing to be honest with students and allowing them to think critically about situations. They need to be able to take multiple observations and be open when learning about a place that they don’t know about.
It is very important to tell the truth, especially to young people in elementary school. I like your point about critical thinking, yes it is a skill, and telling the kids about pollution would only help heighten this skill. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for you to have your editor take out a very important part of your summary. The point about things being different not bad is very true. Every country has their pros and cons. Thanks for yet another very interesting article.
Thank you for sharing your true thoughts, it’s important to have transparency with children when you’re in such an important role like that of a teacher. Something important that I thought you touched on was that in different situations something can’t be all good or all bad. The gray area can be large and ambiguous. Great article, I look forward to the next article.
Critical thinking is definitely important and something that if we were to ever fully give up would be a great loss. There is definitely a balance that needs to be found between overly critical and overly praising something, and this is where it can get tricky. Everyone has their own views on each particular subject, and what is a negative for one person can be a positive for another, and similarly something that is a large issue can be seen as extremely minor to the next.
Thank you for sharing this! I have to say that I am pleased that you disagreed with the suggestion they gave you. It is completely true that different places have positives and negatives about them. Another interesting point is people have a different way of life, so what is normal or good to one may not be the same to another. It is important to not just sugar coat everything for our youth also. It is great that you are so passionate about what you are doing! Thank you again!
I found the revisor’s comment a bit shocking at first but after thinking about it I understand why they said it. We never want to talk bad about our country, especially if it is about harming the world. In America we always comment on how other countries need to try and reduce their pollution but do we ever turn around and see what we’re trying to do to counteract it? Yes, granted we are trying to produce more fuel efficient cars but there must be more.
It is important for countries to teach history by covering both sides of the issue at heart. An interesting example I have is not being taught about the American Revolution during my high school history classes; we briefly touched upon the Enlightenment part of the Revolution. But as far as European history goes, the French Revolution seemed more important in the British Empire. I do think that countries should be able to learn from both their past mistakes as well as from their successes. It is not beneficial as a nation for its children to learn only the positive things that have occurred, as this will shelter them from what really has happened. By hiding the truth this prevents the young population from developing real critical thinking skills and from seeking action.
I find it interesting and disturbing that someone would want to edit that out! I agree that “different” tends to have a negative tone, but it absolutely doesn’t need to be that way! There are so many cultures that are different from our own, but that definitely doesn’t mean in a bad way. It’s like apples and oranges. You can’t compare their qualities based on the other fruit. It doesn’t work that way.
I find it interesting and disturbing that they would edit and simplify that. Children are more capable at understanding things than people think, however you must teach the truth because children tend to think with one aspect and are very trusting/dependent. Many cultures are different, but the word “different” often has a negative tone and it shouldn’t! I think that cultures are a good example of this. If you say another culture is different from ours, it automatically has a “bad” tone and you actually mean that it’s nothing like our own in a completely separate way!
You bring up some thought-provoking points… For example, the advice of your editor to mention the positives rather than the negatives. This can be compared to so many aspects of Americans’ lives– our media primarily brings us news that makes us pessimistic about the current states of our country and culture. Is that better for us, or is that making us ignorant of the good current events? I’m glad to hear you had a positive experience with your education in the U.S. It depends greatly whether you were referencing high school, college, or both. I’ve realized, as cliche to say as it may be, the two educations are hugely different.
Fantastic article. I’ve always wondered why we can’t seem to talk about differences in places or cultures without creating superlatives and hierarchies. And the critical thinking is a very important point to make. It took me a long time to develop critical thinking, and I do think it’s in part because of the way public school dumbs things down so it’ll be simpler for us to learn… but what’s the use of learning history, memorizing dates and names, if we’re not taught how or why to think about it? When we just learn Columbus discovered America, missing out on the consequences and the questions we should ask, we grow up with skewed views of the world, which is often much harder to change when we’re adults.
I like the title of your article! I never really thought about the reasons behind teachers glorifying the world or truth to their elementary students, but as children we tend to listen and think what adults tell us is the truth, especially from the teachers. If teachers are able to tell students about the positives and negatives in a balance manner, I think it could really change how students perceive the world. This could totally relate to many things such as the media. I love Disney movies, but knowing the truth behind some of the movies, it really surprises me. It also makes me question as to whether it is respectful to the creator or the origin of the stories as well.
I agree with you when you were talking about critical thinking, we can’t take that away from the youth. As Professor Liang would say that is a transferable skill that we will end up using for almost all of our life, so by not allowing kids to express and use critical thinking we pushing them back from learning skills that will help in the long run. I also like how you pointed out not everything can be labeled as fully good or completely bad, we seem to think that everything is black and white when if we look at the problem we can see that there is gray. I do think it is unfair that you piece was “censored”. Great Article, I look forward to the next installment!
It is my understanding that children aren’t as easily swayed as we would like to believe. Many times when presented with information, they think about it and formulate their own feelings and opinions about it rather than blindly absorbing it. I find it surprising that instead of guiding you towards rephrasing your section on pollution, it was taken out entirely. As a reader I would question why there are eco friendly programs without a known reason. Did you end up not continuing with the program or did you find a compromise?
What you said about elementary students is so true. They are capable of critical thinking and we have to encourage it. I work with elementary students as well and even though their level of critical thinking might be unable to totally understand the complex issue of pollution, students this age are still so willing to learn and they are still so easy to influence, which can be good or bad. The opportunity you were given should have been used how you originally had tried to use it, as a way to expose a problem within a city that so many cities have and look at how that problem is going to be fixed.
This was a very interesting article to read. Specifically, the part discussing critical thinking for elementary students was very interesting. I think that critical thinking is something we often avoid, because it is a very difficult skill to develop. Throughout elementary school, junior high, and even high school, I believe most learning is focused on just facts and memorizing, when we should be working to enhance our critical thinking and application of the knowledge we gain.
I really appreciated this article Laura! Oftentimes I find myself not wanting to learn about the negatives in other countries because I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I don’t want to maintain the idea that anything and everything we do here is perfect and other countries are wholly wrong. It’s important to understand the different things that go on in other countries.
What an interesting article. I find the fact that she told you to take out a negative experience, when you said nothing to offend the country. You simply wanted to share with them something you personally experienced, something that was different. I worry about children in elementary schools today, they are not being taught things they will need to know as adults.
How old are the elementary students exactly? Part of their concern in censoring from your editor might come from the fact that the students are too young to be effectively practicing critical thinking. For example, polluting is bad but obviously not reflective of the quality of a country. Young kids might not be able to separate the quality of the country from the bad pollution and might have a negative association with the country. However, I see both sides of the argument and personally wouldn’t actively censor something like that. I’m simply trying to see both sides of the argument.
Really good point you talked about. People don’t like to talk about whats wrong or what went wrong. In America, we cover the atomic bombings in history class (pre-college) in a paragraph or two. In Japan, entire chapters are about the bombings. We as a country don’t like to talk about it, because it killed thousands of people. People will avoid these discussions at all costs. Another point about the buses and the movement to go eco-friendly. Investigating any of these movements will yield some disappointment. Its easy to be hopeful and to think that going to electric buses will improve air quality dramatically, but like you said, they still pollute. Thanks for sharing!
If it is one thing that countries share it’s the ability to sweep the “ugly” things under the rug. Too much pride I suppose. It is important to know the positives and negatives of ones country because then someone can make informed decisions. It would be nice to live in a place where nothing is wrong, but we all know that a place like that doesn’t exist.
I am glad you are passionate about educating young students on topics like stereotypes and culture. I think it’s important to discuss the differences between people and countries; I believe that’s an area that even some adults lack in. I also am glad that you mentioned that certain things aren’t always bad, just different. I think if more people could see the world that way, we would live in a much different and better place. Overall, very interesting read and thanks for sharing!
It’s always a shame when people edit and take out parts of your own works. I find children to be capable of their own thoughts and I think they can handle the truth. However, kids tend to take whatever you tell them as the truth, so that always something to be aware of. I love your story! I think world travel really shapes people into their true selves.
I thought that this was an interesting article. I think that, even though it’s not always fun to talk about the negative things, it is important to be real about things that are going on in the world. This is not always optimistic and positive. Like you said, we should encourage younger people to critically think and analyze the world around us.
I do not think any child should be limited to one side of the story. If we were to limit them on one side of the story, it would contradict what we learn growing up, such as hearing both sides of the story. Believe it or not, children are very capable of comprehending many things and personally i loved hearing about conflicting sides and what that meant in terms of each other. This can also help them understand things in the long run when they go even more in depth with that subject. It’s like saying to a child that terrorists come from the religion Islam and leaving it at that. By no means is that true, however, they will have no other thoughts to think about and may grow up biased because of it. This is why news is so influential especially on our youth.
Thanks for sharing your story!! I also found it interesting that the editor cut out your whole paragraph on pollution. I do understand that you want to stay positive, but I also understand that you shouldn’t sugarcoat everything, and that there are good things and bad things about everything. I know that elementary school kids do understand critical thinking, and are capable of their own thoughts.
Thank you for sharing this and stating your what you truly believe. This idea that people we should withhold information from students because this information might create a negative impression is very outdated. A problem in many societies is that young kids don’t learn what is wrong, but rather only hear about what is right. How are people supposed to be helpful if they don’t truly know what is going on? This is an issue that I believe needs to be addressed. Again, thanks for sharing.
Reminds me of trying to write news stories as a student reporter at St. Scholastica! I think that there is always a fear that an instituition—or in this case, country—will greatly be impacted by something they consider to be “negative.” But reporter’s or writer’s duty is not to the body they are covering, it is to their readers who deserve and expect the truth.
That being said, i’ve observed news organizations tend to only write about the bad in a country, which has rightfully brought criticism on from readers and others. With the correct cultural lens, however, this problem can be alleviated.