ISJ November 2018: Resolving conflicts in international schools through an understanding of culture
We shall begin by examining how the word is applied. In the diverse society of an international school ‘culture’ is commonly invoked as the basis of differences of opinion between individuals and between communities. In these cases the behaviour or perceptions of one community are felt by another community to be wrong, and the disagreement is about valuations.
Schools often measure their diversity by the number of nationalities present. It may be advertised by a display of iconic indicators of their culture such as the five ‘f’s ( food, fashion, famous people, festivals, and flags) perhaps on an ‘International Day’ chosen for that purpose. These indicators are selected – diplomatically – to be moral-value neutral, like ‘High Culture’, those forms of artistry which are iconic in a particular society. They are not usually a source of inter-group conflict because they are valued for their distinctiveness and therefore not expected to be universal. Cultural conflicts erupt most often in international schools through divergences of opinions on everyday issues or actions between people in two different social groups, or when children or parents expect the school to provide essentials which they associate with membership of their particular society. What these cultural phenomena have in common is that they concern ‘doing the right thing’ and are valued (or taken for granted) within a particular social group. This echoes Goodenough’s
(1957) definition of culture: ‘whatever it is one has to know or believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to [a society’s] members.’