Applying experience to the class
Fort Worth, TX
By: Hannah Mathews, Office of Communications
Dr. M. Francyne Huckaby has been an assistant professor of education at TCU since 2004, but before she arrived on campus she volunteered for the Peace Corps in Papua New Guinea on a two-year tenure. As a volunteer, Fran worked to establish primary schools in six villages in a remote area of Papua New Guinea highlands. From these experiences, she brings life to classes in the College of Education at TCU.
While living in Papua New Guinea, Fran learned to speak the country’s trade language, Melanesian Tok Pisin, and lived within a vibrant communal culture. Fran learned the daily activities of the Papua New Guineans by observing. Women showed her the techniques of weaving string bags (bilims) and fishing, and Fran followed along, mimicking their demonstrations. Through this method, she was exposed to the community and culture of the village people. Before schools were introduced to the country, Papua New Guinean children were taught much the same way.
In the local elementary schools, Fran noticed a conflicting culture that differed from that of village life. Instead of the communal environment of the village, the classroom followed a linear and individual format typical of curricula in Western societies. In her article titled, When Worlds Collide: A Critical Decolonizing View of Western-Based Schooling in Papua New Guinean Village Education, she describes the contradictory worlds of the school and village. She writes, “The schools trained children to become docile, orderly, and linear; and instructed them in abstractions disconnected from students’ lives in the village…a focus shifted from the community to the individual.” Her explanation continues, “In contrast, village interactions occurred in loosely organized, yet meaningful groupings…and traditional education was woven with village life.”
This paradoxical lifestyle that the children led stimulated Fran and other volunteers, as well as the government of Papua New Guinea, to create a school system that paralleled the daily lifestyle of the village.
After her return from Papua New Guinea, Fran began to use her familiarity with the culture in her classes in the College of Education at TCU. Fran teaches a course on Diversity in American Education that explores ways to understand the importance of students’ experiences and encourages educators to respond to and incorporate students’ cultural experiences in learning environments.
Each semester, Fran schedules one class and teaches it in the Papua New Guinea’s Melanesian Tok Pisian. Students arrive to class to discover the room transformed into one from an entirely different culture. Students are perplexed by the attire Fran wears and the artifacts displayed in the class, since the culture of Highlands Papua New Guinea is one that students have rarely encountered before.
This learning experience allows for the graduate students to change shoes with students who are culturally and linguistically different from the class norm, Fran explained. Her students must feel their way through activities during class, while Fran speaks and gives handouts in a language that is almost incomprehensible for English speakers. What would be a simple worksheet of categorizing daily activities done by men and women in the villages of Papua New Guinea is an impossible task for her upper division undergraduate and graduate students because of the language and cultural barrier. The exercise really seems to hit home with the students.
Although students only experienced this difficulty for one hour, they said they became exhausted trying to decipher the instruction of their professor. They couldn’t imagine trying to do this every day. From the rainforest of Papua New Guinea to a graduate course at TCU, Dr. M. Francyne Huckaby has created a life-changing experience for her students by placing them in a role that forces them to see differently, even if is for just one hour.