Nonprofit uses multimedia to spur global dialogue in Minnesota classrooms

The movies are meant to highlight cultural differences as well as similarities.

by Haley Madderom

From a pool of thousands of photos from one woman’s traveling experiences over more than three decades comes a series of educational movies that aims to spur dialogue about global citizenship between Minnesota’s youngest scholars.

Now, members of the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development are investing their time in the multimedia project that provokes discussions on international topics of civics, current events, geography and humanities.

Teachers in at least one-third of the state’s middle schools have used the five-part Windows & Mirrors series, said Gail Shore, executive director of the nonprofit Cultural Jambalaya, which began producing the DVDs in 2009.

Each Windows & Mirrors  DVD is entirely composed of photographs from Africa, Middle East, Asia and Latin America, Shore said, and includes commentary about unique traditions, emerging economies and religions from across the world. Some feature places — like Nepal, Egypt, North Korea and Syria — that are facing drastic social shifts caused by modernization.

Cari-Ana Garcia Luna is a social studies teacher and adviser at SAGE Academy, which is a project-based learning high school that focuses on global citizenship and is home to many international students. She said she’s used Windows & Mirrors for the past four years to provoke classroom discussions about cultural stereotypes, values and identities.

“I have a Hmong student who’s been disconnected from his family. … All of a sudden he became really passionate about learning more about [his heritage],” Luna said. “He kind of saw himself in the films.”

Cultural Jambalaya has recently attracted a couple of University faculty members to its board. They say the DVDs effectively start conversations among students about cultural differences and similarities in middle and high school, as well as some colleges, statewide.

Naim Madyun, Cultural Jambalya board member and associate dean for CEHD’s undergraduate diversity and outreach programs, said Windows & Mirrors provides students nationwide with easy access to global issues.

“I think this program allows the world to be a lot smaller,” he said. “It will engage them in discussions that are outside of their current context.”

Doctoral student John Lisec, who interns for Cultural Jambalaya, said he recently began collecting U.S. demographic data and photos for the program’s upcoming series on America.

It will be Cultural Jambalaya’s most ambitious project, Shore said. It will be parsed into five installments on what she said are America’s three ethnic groups: Native Americans, early immigrants and recent immigrants.

Madyun said there is a strong interest within CEHD to foster collaboration around the program.

Rayla Allison, associate director of the School of Kinesiology and founding member of Cultural Jambalaya, said the videos will prompt important dialogues about various cultures.

“Some people, when they meet someone that’s different, it’s like they’re not sure what to ask,” she said. “Just creating that, a safe environment in which that trepidation doesn’t occur.”

William Beeman, chair of the anthropology department, said he hopes that Windows & Mirrors won’t only teach young students about global issues but also get them talking about diversity that’s abroad and at home.

“Here in Minneapolis, you have an enormous amount of diversity,” he said. “In some ways, we don’t need to go so far as to talk about people living halfway around the world in order to understand cultural diversity. It’s possible to discover it at a desk right next to you.”