American Culture – Melting Pot, Salad Bowl, or Something Else?
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Suggested length: 45 minutes
American culture revolves around a common set of ideals. For example, the Declaration of Independence enshrines our rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Similarly, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his most famous speech described the idea that everyone deserves freedom, fairness, and equal opportunity. Most people would agree that we hold these and many other positive values in common. At the same time, America is a highly diverse country in which we all come from different ethnic backgrounds, cultural contexts, and life experiences. America is often described as a "melting pot" in which these diverse backgrounds gradually melt into a shared American identity. A different metaphor would be that of a "salad bowl," in which Americans co-exist side by side, while maintaining more distinct individual identities. In this conversation, you and other participants will explore questions around America’s common identity as well as our diverse citizenry. By practicing the conversation agreements and sticking to the three-round structure, you’ll learn more about how you and your peers think about whether America today is more of a melting pot, a salad bowl, or something else!
Question Round 1: Get to know each other
Suggested length: 15 minutes
Get to know each other a bit by sharing something personal. Each participant should answer one or more of the following questions:
- How would you describe your town? (e.g. urban, rural, crowded, empty, big, small ...)
- How would you describe your school? (e.g. big, small, public, private, easy, fun, competitive, stressful ...)
- What are your favorite activities or hobbies outside of school?
- What do you want to do after you graduate?
- How would your best friends describe you?
Question Round 2: Listen and share to understand
Suggested length: 20 minutes
Share your views -- and listen openly to others' views -- on the assigned topic, without debating or trying to change anyone's opinion. Each participant should answer one or more of the following questions:
- How would you describe your cultural heritage? Do you see yourself first and foremost as an "American," or as something else?
- How have you been shaped by your ethnic background, cultural context, and / or life experiences?
- Have you experienced cultures other than your own? What did you appreciate? What made you uncomfortable?
- What value do you see in having a single, shared American culture? What should that culture look like?
- What value do you see in having a diverse citizenry? What are the benefits of greater diversity?
- How can we ensure that culture and symbols are inclusive and not exclusionary?
Question Round 3: Reflect and share takeaways
Suggested length: 10 minutes
Reflect on -- and share with other participants -- how it felt to join a Mismatch conversation. Each participant should answer one or more of the following questions:
- In one sentence, share what was most valuable to you in this conversation.
- What new learning or appreciation do you have after joining this conversation?
- Have you found common ground or areas of interest that surprised you?
- What is one important thing you thought was accomplished here?
Before starting a conversation, all participants must agree to these conversation agreements.
1. Be Curious and Open to Learning.
Listen to and be open to hearing all points of view. Maintain an attitude of exploration and learning. Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking.
2. Look for Common Ground and Appreciate Differences.
In this conversation, we look for what we agree on and simply appreciate that we will disagree on some beliefs and opinions.
3. Be Purposeful and to the Point.
Notice if what you are conveying is or is not “on purpose” to the question at hand. Notice if you are making the same point more than once.
4. Show Respect and Suspend Judgment
Human beings tend to judge one another, do your best not to. Setting judgments aside will better enable you to learn from others and help them feel respected and appreciated.
5. Be Authentic and Welcome that from Others.
Share what’s important to you. Speak authentically from your personal and heartfelt experience. Be considerate to others who are doing the same.
6. Own and Guide the Conversation.
Take responsibility for the quality of your participation and the conversation by noticing what’s happening and actively support getting yourself and others back “on purpose” when needed.