Celebrate St. Patrick's Day by listening to two SF faculty members explain how they are connecting their students to Ireland. Discover how ethnomathematics can be used to explore history, and cultures. Learn about the relationship between Irish literature and the American Civil Rights movement. Learn what makes Ireland unique and distinct from either English or American history and culture. Be sure to wear a little green to get the luck of the Irish.
Vilma: Welcome to Santa Fe College. My name is Vilma Fuentes, and this is our podcast on Developing Global Citizens. Today, I am joined by two very special faculty members, Professor Rebecca Johnston, English professor, who is usually found teaching out at the Davis Center in Archer, and Professor Breanne Hooks, professor of mathematics, who also usually teaches out at the Davis Center. Ladies, welcome.
Rebecca: Thank you for having us.
Vilma: The two of you have been doing a lot of interesting work exposing your students to Ireland and Irish culture. Can you tell us a little bit about what you've been doing?
Rebecca: I've been integrating the Institute of Study Abroad Ireland's Global Perspectives online course. It's like a virtual course we can bring in, and it serves as an example for my students of very well done research that dives into a culture's history, into their folklore, their mythology. It's just a phenomenal course that allows them to see an example of a very well done research that they can then hopefully apply themselves to countries that they're interested in researching.
Vilma: When I think about Ireland, I don't know, I'm thinking, isn't that just like the US? Isn't it like Canada or something? Exactly like the US?
Breanne: I would argue none of those countries are the same. I think the more you leave the US, you get to see that every country has its own cultural practices.
Vilma: Give me some examples, please, of how Ireland or Canada, for that matter, Breanne's Canadian, how Ireland or Canada are distinct.
Rebecca: Well, Ireland has its own language.
Rebecca: English is the second language for people in Ireland. Actually both languages, I say Gaelic, but I think they have a different term for the name of their language, both languages are required in school for students, for children. That makes them very distinctive. They have their very own language. They also have a history in literature of folklore that goes all the way back in the tain. It's like having a Beowulf or even older in their languages being brought back. Of course, their literature and their language was somewhat oppressed during the British rule, but it's all coming back. They have a distinct history in mythology and folklore and stories in their very own language.
Vilma: Well, I was just teasing when I made that comment. I mean, I know that Ireland is not the same as the United States or Canada, and it may be that some groups of people within the United States might think of it as such. But certainly when I think about myself, someone who was raised in a Spanish-speaking household, second generation American, parents from Cuba, Honduras, Ireland is not normal or intuitive to me. It's very much a foreign country. I've never eaten whatever it is that people eat during St. Patrick's Day. It's not the cultural foods and the cultural traditions that I grew up in. I'm wondering how your students react to learning so much about Irish culture.
Rebecca: So far, the feedback has been pretty positive. I'm getting feedback like, well, they had no idea Ireland spoke another language, which suggests that while they know it's a foreign country, they might not realize how foreign that division is. It's caused them to reflect. Kind of like you were saying, it's causing them to reflect on their own cultural heritage and consider that. I feel like it causes them to feel more comfortable with their own cultural heritage, being comfortable to bring that into the classroom and feeling accepted, which I think is very important.
Breanne: I think it also is just opening the door to those conversations about what is your culture, because I know the first question I'm asked is, what do they eat?
Vilma: Well, actually, since you raised that, what do they eat? Potatoes? Cabbage?
Breanne: The real fear I've heard is fish. How much fish are we eating?
Vilma: Ah, fish.
Rebecca: There's a lot of fish options, which is great for me. I love fish. Because I have an Irish American heritage, I thought there'd be a lot of potatoes, there would be a lot of shepherd's pie. I found out that if there is shepherd's pie, which frequently it wasn't even on the menu, it is not anything like my mom cooked. Hopefully she's not listening to this. She's a wonderful cook. But at home, we're making it with ground beef and potatoes and everything. There was lamb. If you got shepherd's pie, it was lamb.
There's so many lamb dishes. Apparently people really like lamb. I prefer fish. There's so many wonderful fish stews, fish with potatoes, all kinds of fish, fish pies, all kinds of options. But on the study abroad trip, students will be spoiled with the kind of food they're given. They treat us to the very high level of Irish food, Irish cuisine.
Breanne: I think that those conversations open doors within our community that then students realize we're not all eating the same thing. A lot dependent on the families we came from and what identities we have. We think that everybody's the same as us until we have the conversation and realize, no, there's a lot of differences to celebrate.
Vilma: Thinking out loud, even in the US, even if you are a 10th generation American or something, if you were raised in New England, you might be eating something very differently than what you might eat if you were raised in Georgia or Mississippi or something.
Vilma: Do the Irish see the English language, English culture as the colonial language and culture?
Rebecca: That is a good question. I think perhaps one better ask for an Irish person, but from my perspective from visiting, I would say that they see a very big distinction between English people and American, two very different groups. I didn't feel that anybody had any kind of upset with me speaking English. Everyone speaks English. It's both languages are required. I don't think they see the language itself as part of colonialism, but there is definitely a lot of harsh feelings towards any signs of colonialism. Maybe like the British monarchy aren't maybe as celebrated in Ireland as they might be sometimes in the States.
Vilma: I can imagine that. From the Irish perspective, what do they see based on what you've seen as an American traveling abroad, how do they see us? What do they see as having in common with us or not?
Rebecca: Well, I think it seems from my perspective that they really like Americans a lot.
Vilma: Why? We like Guinness.
Rebecca: Well, there you go. Something we have in common. We like Guinness. They like Guinness. But really, I think there's a very common thread between our cultures. Just even if you look back to the national famine, we call it the potato famine, which apparently is a no-no, it is not the potato famine, it's the national famine, but that led to I think it was like one and a half million Irish people immigrating here. That forged a very strong connection in their minds for our two countries, one that they haven't forgotten. I think there's some connections too.
We could probably bring in a history or political science professor and discuss those connections of what influence the Irish have had lobbying in the past the 20th century in the US. They see these strong connections, the connections between the Irish civil rights movement, the African American civil rights Movement. There's a lot of intertwining. Of course, although English is their second language, it is a language they all learn.
Vilma: You're saying that there's a strong connection between the Irish and the Americans, and you're specifically highlighting civil rights. I'm wondering, is this how Americans would see it? What about difference subgroups of Americans, whether you are African American or Anglo American or Hispanic? Would they see the connection that we have with Ireland? I don't know. How would you explain it to a group of students?
Rebecca: Well, I would say that we tend to forget the parts of our history that aren't pleasant to look at. I like to say I'm an Irish American, although Irish people would probably remind me I am not Irish. I'm American. But looking back to my great-great-grandmother and grandfather who came over on a boat, yeah, I'm Irish American. I didn't know this. I have a bachelor's degree that is a double major in history. I didn't know this until I went to the Institute of Study Abroad Ireland and started hearing about this connection. I think it's pretty common a part of history that we don't know.
I explained this to students by starting with Frederick Douglass, that Frederick Douglass, this great hero who fought against oppression for equality, went to Ireland. He toured their country with people who were fighting against oppression in Ireland, and they learned from each other how to bring about that equality in their own countries. There's a very rich history that goes all the way back to there. I've heard Andrew Young speak in person talking about how the Irish have this connected history and how they helped fund his his own run for politics, his very first run for state in politics.
Vilma: Who's Andrew Young?
Rebecca: Andrew Young is a leader in the civil rights movement even now. He's involved in politics, although he's not somebody I have personally studied. When I went to the Irish Consulate in Atlanta as part of the Institute of Study Abroad Ireland's trip, he was there speaking with us. He has a very long history, all the way back into the 1950s and '60s, of standing alongside civil rights leaders, of being that civil right leader, and is still working today in politics and supporting the move for equality.
Vilma: Now, Breanne, you teach math.
Breanne: I do.
Vilma: What does math have to do with Ireland? I mean, has the mathematics that I learned in elementary school changed somehow? Why should math students care about Ireland?
Breanne: Well, I think there's a lot of different angles to take that and perspectives. But first, mathematics is not just the academic mathematics that we're used to. There is a whole field of ethnomathematics, that's this blend of culture and mathematics. And that mathematics isn't devoid of culture. And that really based on where it was being used, that influenced the mathematics that developed. When we look at different groups, we can see that more clearly. In Ireland, there are specific influences, whether it's the Celtic or the Catholic Church, and we can see how those differences and similarities played out.
Vilma: In math?
Breanne: In math.
Vilma: Can you give me an example?
Breanne: Sure. Calendaring we think of very traditionally as our 12 month, but that is not the calendar that all groups used historically. Our calendaring is one of the first ways we interpret our lived experiences. We can look at how Celtic peoples develop their calendaring system and why they developed that. The Catholic Church also uses different calendric systems. We can look at that and then we can compare that to the modernization and standardization of calendaring. You can also see that mathematics is used to interpret cultural artifacts that we wouldn't necessarily think of. When you look at the beautiful knots that are used in Celtic imagery, that's very mathematical. We can look at that side of it.
Vilma: What are knots?
Breanne: If you look at the cover of the Book of Kells, or if you see beautiful bracelets with intricate tyings, that's all knot, the knot theory.
Vilma: So, like a little braid?
Breanne: A little bit more than a braid. Think of the images that circle back on themselves and maybe kind of look like four squares all united together. That's not theory. We can look at that from mathematical perspective.
Vilma: I'm having a difficult time still wrapping my mind around ethnomathematics. I understand the calendar. I understand knots. But I'm used to thinking, well, our college students are taking, what, algebra maybe trigonometry.
Breanne: Like our counting, on the clock, we use a 12-hour system. Outside of the US, a lot of countries use the 24 hour.
Vilma: Correct. What we call military time, right?
Breanne: What we call military time is not military time to everybody else. Now it's standard practice, we base our numbers, especially in English, on one through 10. But historically, not all number systems were based on one through 10. Some were based on one through 20, because we have 10 fingers, 10 toes. Some were based on 60 because there was a religious component. Sometimes in certain languages the way you count still like harken back to that idea of it was really a base 20 and not a base 10.
Vilma: Why a base 20? Oh, because...
Breanne: That's obvious. Sometimes there were other reasonings for that too. And then just even, where did mathematics come from itself? Well, it was people trying to explain their world. Your world was intricately and is intricately related to your culture. There's this intertwining of the two. I think it's important that we think of mathematics differently than what's in the traditional classroom. And that really mathematics is a tool and it is an art, but it's also a lens that we are trying to decipher and codified and explain our world.
Vilma: Like a language.
Breanne: Mathematics is absolutely a language, and that's the struggle sometimes is dealing with the exactness that mathematics is.
Vilma: Do you think our colleagues in Ireland would find that our math is different from theirs or no?
Breanne: There's the two parts. Our academic math is pretty standard. I think it's interesting when American students get to interact with students from other countries and hear how their academic mathematics is different than ours. Well, it might cover the same subjects when you see those subjects could be much earlier than others and then how that's presented. Because in America, there's still this acceptance that it's okay to not be good at math, and that's not quite as strong in other countries.
Vilma: You just need to memorize. You need to learn it. You need to do the math.
Breanne: Right. Whereas in other countries, it's presented as comfortably as it is to read and study literature and poetry. It's not this othered subject.
Vilma: Right. Rebecca, and you recently had an opportunity to travel to Ireland in preparation for a study abroad program. Tell us a little bit about where you went and what, if anything, did you discover that was new to you?
Rebecca: Yes. I had a phenomenal opportunity to go and preview the study abroad trip that Professor Hooks and I will be leading this May for Santa Fe College. I got to preview it. We landed in Dublin, just like the trip will, and we traveled as a group over to Donegal and where we stayed in the city of Bundoran, which is a very small city on the West Coast, the wild way of Ireland, right on the ocean where they actually teach surfing lessons. That was something I learned. I had no idea people surf in Ireland in full wetsuits, because they're not crazy, it's cold, but they're surfing over there.
We were able to travel up to Derry in Northern Ireland, which is the location of, if you know the U2 song, Bloody Sunday, that's the location of that violent incident. We were able to preview all of that and see what our students will be going through or experiencing so I can bring that back to students. Aside from surfing, which was a very fun thing to learn, but maybe not as important, I think when Professor Hooks and I went into planning a study abroad, we really wanted to pick a country that we felt would be welcoming for all Santa Fe students. We wanted to feel comfortable that anyone that came on the trip would be welcomed.
I went into this preview looking to see what handicap accessibility there would be, how open we could be in accepting students. I found that Irish people were very attuned to the needs of others in this situation. That there was very much a willingness to make everything that could be made accessible accessible. I feel that we could have a very wide range of challenges brought with us. I was also really happy to see how welcoming they are to the LGBTQ community.
It was super interesting, because in the United States, my understanding is that when a law is made, like same-sex marriage, this is something that the people that we voted in are making this vote, but they actually had a direct vote where people were directly voting whether or not individually they supported same-sex marriage. It passed with a very nice majority. When that happened culturally, even those who voted against it felt, well, now it's done. This is a done deal and we now move on and we accept. There's a very overwhelming acceptance. As an outsider, that's what I'm seeing.
I actually was able to reach out to a pride group in County Donegal that was very eager to go ahead and meet with our students in some of our free time for anybody that's interested. That was a big takeaway for me is just how welcoming Ireland is for all people.
Vilma: You went to Dublin, Donegal.
Rebecca: Donegal, yes.
Vilma: Very rural, very urban. I don't know. What is Ireland? Is it urban, modern? Is it rural? Is it new world? Is it old world? How would you describe it for those of us who've never been there?
Rebecca: My American take, and Breanne can chime in too because she's been on her own as well, Ireland is just so peaceful. It is so beautiful. It's so green. I would say from my perspective, it's a very mixed old and new world. I mean, you're in Dublin and there's these old beautiful buildings and you're hearing Irish music, but you're also hearing modern Irish music. There's musicians singing Zombie in the streets from The Cranberries, and you've got your Pandora stores and very modern stores. Also, they're a very welcoming country. You have a very, from what I saw, a very diverse people group.
You have people from all kinds of countries, which was very interesting for me to hear somebody speaking English as their second language, but they learned that language in Ireland. You hear that effect. It's normal to walk through the streets and see a fairly good amount of diversity and an openness towards that diversity of all kinds.
You have your modern parts of Dublin and then you have your old world parts where you can walk through Trinity College and see the Book of Kells in Long Hall. If you don't know what that is, please Google it because the image is just so beautiful. But then you can go downtown and you can have a modern experience in a modern museum or restaurant or club.
Breanne: I think also it's where you are and the importance of the coast and the water and how that plays out in different communities is always interesting to see.
Rebecca: Yes. I would say the coast is extremely important to them. I mean, that's why there's so much seafood, right? They have a large coastline, a very active coastline, a big fishing industry. And of course, sheep everywhere. If we're talking about what Ireland is like, my big disappointment on my first trip to Ireland was that the sheep are not friendly. They're not friendly. Institute of Study Abroad Ireland told me that sheep were never friendly, but that's not the case. Irish sheep will not let you pet them.
Vilma: Note to self, don't pet the sheep. Now, you primarily teach at the Davis Center in the City of Archer. It's a very, very small rural town. Do students there know what knots are, or am I just the one that, I don't know, I missed the memo somehow?
Breanne: I think no. A lot of us don't know maybe the terms of any these things. It's that we can recognize these things and we might even see parallels between different artifacts that we're familiar with and what other cultures bring. But it's now let's name them and talk about them. I think the beauty of the Archer Center is there is a lot of diversity to celebrate and having these conversations allow different students to talk about their own identities. I think we can really tease out what all of that means between identity and culture and practices. It's even listening to a group of Hispanic students clarify to their peers that we're not all the same.
Vilma: How diverse is the Davis Center? Give me some examples.
Rebecca: It's surprisingly diverse. Right now I'm teaching four classes in person and I have students from several different countries all in just my four little classes. I've got Vietnam represented multiple times. I've got students from Ecuador and Egypt.
Rebecca: Arabic students. Venezuela.
Rebecca: I have students that culturally descended from Russia. A very diverse population, a lot of Hispanics. Puerto Ricans, a lot of Puerto Ricans. It's really great to see that diversity coming in. I was just thinking back to your question to Breanne, I think the students there are very hungry to learn and to experience things they haven't experienced before. We have this great diversity, but they haven't necessarily... My students that are born and raised in that area haven't necessarily left the state.
They haven't necessarily had that international opportunity, so then they get to come to the Davis and they get exposed to all these wonderful different cultures and all the diversity that we have at Davis, and they get to hear about Ireland. It's just a wonderful experience for them.
Breanne: I think the discussions about Ireland allowed to further discussions and celebrate many different countries and cultures.
Vilma: Whether they study abroad or not, by studying other parts of the world, they're able to understand the local maybe, local diversity?
Breanne: Yes. I think we look at the history of mathematics and I think that that can sometimes be very white and very Eurocentric. If we dive a little bit deeper, that's not the truth. One thing we can do is from any culture or country that we identify with, we can look and see what is the math history there, and that can lead to a further conversation about how did mathematics develop similarly and differently, and then who gets credit for what.
Vilma: But it almost seems like there is one single dominant mathematics that has taken root, and it's not the math that the Mayans were using.
Breanne: I mean, colonialization is everywhere.
Vilma: Even in mathematics.
Breanne: Even in mathematics. Racism is everywhere even in mathematics. I think it's important we take that step back and correct the history that we teach about mathematics and correct the image of mathematics that we project.
Vilma: Well, I don't know that we'll be able to change the way math is used or taught, but I suspect that just by getting students to pause and think about the culture and the society that gave birth to different types of mathematical tools that that might make them more attuned to how these tools are being produced.
Breanne: Yes. I think that we're talking about a lot of this historically, but that this is still playing out. I think that that's important that all our students feel is that we are all a part of this community and we all should be active and celebrated in it. That includes a world of mathematics. It's not only for certain people, it's for everybody. We all use mathematics every day, and we all need to have a fluency and competency in it.
Vilma: I don't know much about it, but artificial intelligence is all mathematics, right?
Breanne: Yes. When mathematics is only controlled by certain groups, then that perspective is narrowed. You can see that in science. You can see that in AI. You can see that in the field of mathematics. That if we don't have enough voices that have different experiences and perspectives, how things are developed and the way things are viewed is skewed.
Vilma: Do you think studying abroad or even staying right here at home and doing something like this Global Perspectives course from Ireland, do you think that having students participate in that helps them recognize and appreciate the diversity in our midst?
Rebecca: Yes, definitely. Anything that can cause you to step out of your comfort zone of getting out, of that normal circle that you're in the United States and getting that outside perspective is going to help notice the diversity that is amongst us. Also, I think that the Institute of Study Abroad Ireland, that's one of their goals is to cause people not only to learn about Irish history, but to look around the world and look for those systems of oppression, for colonialization, for looking at your own history and your own communities. That's very much encouraged by them to take that home and reconsider that diversity in your own midst.
Vilma: Well, thank you both for sharing these experiences and these insights, and I'm so excited to see the impact that this is going to have on our students. I know without a shadow of a doubt you're helping to create global citizens.