Ugly. The ugly American. Heard of it? It has been some time since the read and even longer since I have heard a reference to it but I find myself using it more and more. Why? Simple. The novel gives us a meme for its time and it sends a lasting message.
The Ugly American expects everyone to act and everywhere to be just like everything he knows.
Think about it. The stranger in a strange land. Not Heinlein or Iron Maiden. Not the Alien.
The teacher, like the student, brings to the classroom every experience they have ever had. And let us be honest, it is much easier to force those in your care into shining metal boxes. So much easier to push, file, stamp, index, brief, debrief, or number than to plan, listen, adapt, rewrite, prepare, adjust, learn, flex, redirect, and so on.
It is important that we acknowledge who we are and what we bring to the situation so we may set it aside and teach from a more neutral space. Not everything that we teach requires connection to our own lives. It does not need to be shown through our lens nor does it require a frame in order for appreciation to occur. Surely, our desire to explain and expound–to mediate through language–often reduces experiences.
I am reminded of my time standing for hours at the edge of the Grand Canyon. In my life to that date, I had never witnessed so much nature and expansive views at one time and decided to spend my afternoon in one spot to take it in rather than to keep moving with a group who had ventured down into the canyon itself. For one rare moment I was without words as every descriptive I could access seemed inadequate. A gentleman walked up beside me. He sighed. His arms folded and unfolded. His limp hands slapped against his thighs as he let them drop. He looked directly at me for a minute or more before he said, “Isn’t it just neat?”