Personal experiences in cultural relativism

CV High School, La Crescenta

I was raised in Glendale, a southern California town, in the county of Los Angeles during the 1950s to early 70s where I attended public school in the foothills of the Verdugo Mountains, in a small town called, La Crescenta. Settled by Don Jose Verdugo in 1784, it was originally home to the Tongva Indians. In the 1880s, Dr. Benjamin Briggs, a physician from Indiana found the location as a healthy climate and established health clinics and a school shortly thereafter.  Rockhaven Sanitarium was established as a healthy retreat and became the choice for prominent people from Hollywood.  Marilyn Monroe’s mother was a patient there.

Rockhaven built in 1924

Rockhaven Sanitarium

Although the area was chosen as a healthy climate, I remember the effects of smog. On certain days, the air was so contaminated with smog that if I breathed deeply, my lungs would hurt. I can still recall the feeling.  In later years, the Los Angeles Air Quality Management District would set higher standards, so that today, when I visit, I never feel that pain in breathing.
My parents were familiar with the area, as my mother was a native Californian, and my father had been living in nearby Burbank. The school I attended for elementary education was established in 1924 and named Lincoln School after President Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln School, 1924

Lincoln School

Demographically speaking, La Crescenta was mainly Caucasian; many residents came from German ancestry.  As a child, I was unaware of any cultural relativism.  But, this may be due to the fact that there were few racial groups. Everyone was white. Our community was the same as what was broadcast on television – Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, My Three Sons – this is what my culture looked like.  In fact, Burbank, home to the television studios was my neighboring town.

Hiddenburg Park, German ancestry

From the viewpoint of my community, everyone went to public school, obeyed the teachers, and attended some denomination of church service. In kindergarten, we were taught to be nice to others, raise our hands, and take naps on a special little napping pad brought from home.  Parents were only active in their children’s education by paying dues to the Parent Teachers Association (PTA), which was considered good and proper.  Parents did not volunteer to help in the classroom on a regular basis, and one mom, called the room-mother, was in charge of class parties to be held on the holidays.  Christmas was celebrated and we made Christmas art projects and sang Christmas songs.  If there were Jewish kids in our class, I have no memory of such.  There were no Jewish Synagogues in the town, only Christian churches, the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and the Masonic Temple.

La Crescenta, California

My schools – elementary, junior high, and high school were made up of the same Anglo-Saxon, white Christian families.  We walked to school, car-pooled, rode the school bus, or drove ourselves (high school).  While there were no fences to keep us in, or others out, we had strict rules to remain on campus.  The girls wore dresses, the boys wore pants, and on occasion we might have a special “pants day” for girls.  In high school, there was a small crowd of boys who smoked tobacco, back behind the school, on “tobacco road”.  Long hair was not permitted, and some of the boys wore wigs to hide their long tresses.  I only knew of a few boys who smoked marijuana.
In junior high school, we were tested academically and placed in classes based on our test scores.  If you tested high, the teachers seemed to like you better.  I was pulled out for more testing, along with some other students.  We had tested within the top two percent, and acknowledged as being worthy to be placed in advanced math and English courses.  We were encouraged to go to the school library and read extra books – one being Catcher in the Rye, which was not allowed in the regular classroom.  I responded well to the extra attention, and set my goals to be the best, score the highest.  While this was a worthy accomplishment by my parents and teachers standards, I found that my fellow students would occasionally make fun of me for getting good grades.  I was not part of any clique, but more on the fringe.  From my perspective, this was partly due to my strict Mormon beliefs.  I did not go to parties, I did not drink, I did not smoke, and sex was only for the married (Christensen, 1960).  For the most part, my teachers and classmates accepted me even though my culture of Mormonism had set “truths.”   The general beliefs of white Christians (the dominant culture) were similar to the truths I had been taught to follow, therefore I was not aware of any cultural relativism. The schools remained firm in the truths of a strict policy of dress codes, homework, grades, and Christian ethics.  I graduated valedictorian, and went to college in 1972.

During my college years at Occidental College, in Los Angeles, California, I was more cognizant of my surroundings, and looking back I can check for cultural relativism.  But first, what is cultural relativism?  Initially an anthropological term, it is a way of explaining that different cultures have different perspectives and that those beliefs held dear to one group must be viewed from the outside as relative to culture (Warnock, 1979). It seems to embrace tolerance and diversity – two terms adopted by public schools by the 1990s.  Anthropologists were not to “judge” other cultures through the spectacles of their own culture (Gensler, 2013). The term also claims that there are no “absolute truths” since everyone views truth from their own cultural perspective (Warnock, 1979).  Cultural relativism may go so far as to say, “that good and bad are relative to culture.  What is ‘good’ is what is ‘socially approved’ in a given culture.” (Gensler, p. 44). 

Occidental College

Occidental College was a liberal arts college and embraced diversity and cultural relativism.  The science department was the only area where college did not accept another culture’s belief.  Any belief in God and some form of creation was not tolerated in the explanations of the origins of the universe.  My belief that there is a divine creator that organized the planets was not accepted as a valid answer on any given biology test.  I memorized the evolutionary theories and answered accordingly to receive the all-important grade for my GPA.  My beliefs differ from standard Christians who believe in creation ex nihilio, and from standard scientists who believe in evolution.  Neither my Mormon cultural relativism nor my Christian friends beliefs would have been acceptable answers.  Yet, other areas of cultural relativism were embraced – such as sexuality. This was the 1970s, and the 60s “hippie,” free love era had left its mark.
In 1979, I applied to graduate school at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, to study pharmacology. While being interviewed, one of the professors asked me, “Are you going to hang your diploma in the nursery?”  At first I was confused, thinking of a green plants kind of nursery.  But then I realized he was talking about me later having children.  To this day, I can’t remember what my response was to that question.  Even though I had learned that one of my professors was critical of women in his department, I accepted my invitation and attended the school.  There was one woman professor in the department, so I imagined that there would be no problems.  Unfortunately, I did not feel welcome in the department and only stayed for one semester. I still regret not finishing my PhD.  True, I did raise five kids later on, but this example of cultural relativism set me back.  From my perspective, a woman was fully capable of getting a higher degree, even if she set it aside for a while to raise a family. 

I appreciate the need to respect other cultures.  However, it is difficult to conduct a course of study in a multi-cultural classroom if one group is of the belief that plagiarism is acceptable.  Yet, I recall copying large portions of the encyclopedia in 6th grade for reports. I see the advantage of examples, and even copying good writing to learn to write is not necessarily bad if kept within the context of learning.  Perspective is a much-needed quality in education. We should try to understand another person’s beliefs and respect their culture.  One area that often fails the test is within the home school culture, where recently in Germany, a family of homeschoolers were arrested and taken away from their parents for three weeks.  After the parents agreed to send their children to the state-run schools, the children were returned to their home (Home School Legal Defense Association, 2013). This is an example of a country not applying the principle of cultural relativism to their own people, and forcing their perspective on another person’s belief.  Too often, cultural relativism is applied discriminately – governments and schools choose what to accept and what to reject.


Christensen, H. T. (1960). Cultural relativism and premarital sex norms. American Sociological Review, 25(1), 31-39. 

Gensler, H. (2013).  Cultural Relativism. In Russ Shafer-Landau (Ed.), Ethical Theory: An Anthology. (pp. 44-47). West Sussex, UK: Wiley & Blackwell.  Retrieved from  http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=LxKhwZjkVlIC&oi=fnd&pg=PA44&dq=cultural+relativism&ots=cfP_Uuys3B&sig=M6ChjL1GeLXN2lvvGnMpizJQX2s#v=onepage&q=cultural%20relativism&f=false

Home School Legal Defense Association. (2013, Semptember 20). German officials return homeschooled children to Dirk Wunderlich family on condition of school attendance. The Christian Post. Retrieved from http://crossmap.christianpost.com/news/german-officials-return-homeschooled-children-to-dirk-wunderlich-family-on-condition-of-school-attendance-5255

Warnock, M. (1979).  Cultural relativism and education.  International Journal of Research and Method in Education. Westminster Studies in Education (2) 1. Retrieved from  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0140672790020103#.Uj4ObWTF1_I


An example of how to design online learning activities

Online learning activities should be designed to take advantage of technology, but be based on learning theories which promote authentic learning. Instructors cannot be effective purveyors of knowledge just by taking one of their classroom courses and uploading it to an online platform. While face-to-face learning has some advantages, online learning has the potential to create networks of collaboration, connectivism, and meet the needs of andragogical based learning. Constructivist learning theory is often applied to online learning, where the idea of building or constructing knowledge is a key element (Pruitt, 2011). Everyone comes to the table of learning with some experience from which to build more knowledge. However, not everyone has the same background, and therefore I propose that learning theory must include guidance to diminish cognitive overload. The power of examples is monumental, and provides stepping stone to guide the learner. While plagiarism is always a concern, the educational field is becoming more open, sharing of information and collaboration are the tools to build and construct greater knowledge.

For this assignment, I must design five online learning activities based on a theme. The course will be described as "Successful Blog Writing" and include five authentic learning activities based on guided constructivist learning theory and experiential learning theory. It will utilize constructivist learning theory where learners will construct knowledge by performing authentic learning tasks ((Bannan-Ritland & Dabbagh, 2005). This course will also focus on experiential learning.  Videos will be used for each module to help students see the changes that produce good writing. Then they will be shown examples of poor writing and the needed corrections to make it good. This will take into account guided learning, where they can see and read good examples before trying to do it on their own. Feedback will be ongoing to encourage student and instructor collaboration. These interactive discussions will take place on discussion forums or video chats.


Successful Blog Writing


This course is about how to produce a blog that others will want to read. Businesses are encouraged to start website blogs to add dynamic dialogue to their site. They may have a product that is continually updated, or they may want to promote their products. Today, anyone can launch a website, an online magazine, or how-to site. While this opens the door to anyone creative enough to jump in and start writing, not everyone who blogs writes engaging words that bring visitors repeatedly to their site. There numerous blogs on the Internet, but some are better than others. This course will aim to help bloggers become better writers and make their posts more interesting and readable.

Who will want to take this course? Who is this for?

This course is for anyone who wants to write well. It is for all ages and levels.  However, it will be presented in English and students that speak English as a second language may find it more difficult. Learners for this course will probably have some knowledge of the Internet and online blogs. But it will be helpful to anyone that is already blogging and may need more polished writing skills. It will also be helpful to anyone just starting out.

The goals of this course:

The overarching goal is to assist learners in becoming better writers and designers for personal, business, or educational blogs. In the words of Peggy Noonan, journalist and speech writer for U.S. President, Ronald Reagan everyone thinks they are a writer, "which is understandable because everyone is. Everyone writes letters home to Mom or keeps a diary in weight-loss class on What Food Means to Me. Not everyone plays the piano so most people don't claim to be pianists, but everyone is a writer... (What I saw at the Revolution, p. 76).

Objectives will be broken down into individual activities, making it easy for students to see the goals for each section. Rethink your writing process.


Each activity can be spread over one week. I have found that Coursera.org and Canvas.net have easy to use platforms for online courses. Students have access to all the activities, announcements, course syllabus, discussion forums, video lectures, quizzes, exercises, and the weekly modules on the navigation panel of every page. Clarity in an online course is as important as the content. 

This is an example from one of their courses:

Activity 1:

 Discussion board – Post your blog if you have one. Then tell us what you think makes good writing – what makes it work. List one of your favorite blogs.

This activity will encourage students to connect in peer-to-peer learning, where they can learn from each other and discuss the content of this course as it applies to their own writing (Herrington, Oliver, & Herrington, 2007). Collaboration in discussion will engage the participants in an effort to solve a problem and share ideas. While the process may result in individual products (such as a personal blog), the final products will have been influenced by collaborative interactions via discussion forums. This is especially important for online courses where students will not be meeting in a brick and mortar classroom.

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

Activity 2:

Watch the two video presentations with examples of bad writing and how to fix it. This type of activity falls in the category of a physical demonstration and is an absorb activity as identified by Horton (2011). One of the advantages of online learning is that it gives the learner control. Everyone learns differently and enters a course at various levels of previous knowledge. 

With a video, students can stop the lecture presentation and go back, review and play it as many times as they need to. Plus the instructor is presenting the information in three formats: visual which include images and words, auditory, and text which can be read which addresses the learning needs of individuals (Herrington, n.d.).  

Students are then given a “do” activity early in the presentation to initiate real-life situations where they must use the new tools that have been just presented (Guy, 2009).  Learners will have the opportunity to improve their writing by fixing sentences that do not work, applying the techniques of Bloom’s taxonomy of learning: remember, learn, apply (Overbaugh, n.d.). This activity also encourages students to analyze and evaluate their writing. Reflection is an important aspect of an authentic learning activity that prompts change and knowledge construction that is useful (Gearhart, 2012).

Learning Activity

Learning Objective

Write in Active Voice

Slide presentation with voice-over: examples of active and passive voice sentences.
1) Ten sentences in the passive voice and students must change to active voice. Answers immediately follow.
2)Quiz – identify if a sentence is passive or active. Answers immediately follow.
Write a 300 word paragraph using active voice. 
To write in active voice.

Cut Unnecessary Words
Slide presentation with voice-over: First review of parts of speech – adverbs, prepositions. Student can skip if needed.
Examples of sentences with unnecessary words, and then how to streamline the sentences and remove extra words. Look at extra adverbs, long phrases, jargon, needless prepositions, negatives, and avoiding “there is” and “there are”
1) Ten sentences that need editing and students correct. Answers immediately follow.
Correct a 300 word essay and look for unnecessary words.
To write with more clarity and ease of reading.

Write with Strong Verbs
Slide presentation with voice-over. First a review of nouns and verbs, can be skipped. Next examples of nouns that should be verbs: “obtain estimates versus “estimate.”
Ten sentences with needed corrections, students correct them, answers follow.
 Correct a 300 word essay.

To write with more emphasis on action.

Improve Punctuation
Slide presentation with voice-over. Review of em dash, parenthesis, semi-colon, phrases.
Write ten sentences with these forms of punctuation.
 Write a 300 word essay with these four punctuations.
To use and understand the correct use of em dash, parenthesis, semi-colon, and phrases

Use Parallelism
Slide presentation with voice-over. Show examples of sentences with parallelism and those that are not constructed that way.
Correct ten sentences that need parallelism.
 Correct a 300 word essay, using parallelism.
To improve readability of whole texts by using parallel structure in sentences.

Activity 3:

Blog writing is different than what you learned in school. Short, more like a conversation. Students will follow links to successful blogs and try to analyze why they work. They will add to the discussion forum what they like and provide links for students to follow and read as well. Then they will be asked to find writing that does not work and analyze why. While everyone writes, the ability to communicate through writing is a skill that can be learned and improved. Even within the academic community, higher education often prescribes a type of academic writing that is not clear and even not that well-written (Zinsser, 2006).

Read the following links about blog length:

Link 1
Link 2
Link 3

And now go to the discussion forum and add one or two of your favorite examples of a short, precise, to the point blog post. Also, take a look at what your classmates have posted and comment on at least one of them. Create feedback.

Check out Seth Godin's blog and see how short you can write:

Seth Godin

Activity 4:

Choose an interesting subject that you know about. Write about what you know. Keep your subject tight, keep your words to about 300. You can write about anything, but choose to write about your passion, because then you will have more ideas and your enthusiasm will come through in your writing.

How to Create Great Blog Content -- Problogger

Penelope Trunk

Activity 5:

Images communicate. Choose those that help convey your message. Avoid copyright infringement. One of the best ways to avoid any copyright problems is to take your own photos. Here are two examples of blogs where the author takes all her own photos:

Pinch of Yum
Pioneer Woman

Listen to one blogger explain how taking her own photos made her blogging better:

Let's look at the copyright laws and the newer, Creative Commons option. Take a look at this short video about copyrights:

Where to find images that are in the public domain:

Public Domain Images
Stock Free Images

Now, look at some sources for creative commons sharing, where you can find images to share by giving credit to the author:

Wikimedia Commons

Check out this site, to learn how to use the Creative Commons:

Creative Commons

Next, go to the discussion forums and add one more source of images that are in the public domain or have the creative commons license.


Gearhart, D. (2012). Authentic learning in online courses:  A Course Design Model. Interactivity in E-Learning. USA: Troy University

Guy, R. (2009). The Evolution of Mobile Teaching and Learning. Santa Rosa, CA: Informing Science Press

Herrington, J., Oliver, R., & Herrington, A. (2007). Authentic learning on the web:  Guidelines for course design. Universtiy of Wollongong Research Online.  Retrieved from:  http://community.education.ufl.edu/community/file/download/97286

Horton, W. (2012). E-Learning by Design. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer

Overbaugh, R. & Schultz, L. (n.d.). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retrieved fromhttp://ww2.odu.edu/educ/roverbau/Bloom/blooms_taxonomy.htm

Pruitt, R. A. (2011). The Application of Cognitive-Developmental or Mediated Cognitive Learning Strategies in Online College Coursework. Teaching Theology & Religion14(3), 226-246. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9647.2011.00712.x

Zinsser, W. (2006). Writing Well. New York, NY: Harper Collins


Beginning Course Surveys for Online Learning

Pre-course surveys for online courses have the potential to improve course management during the course and provide information for redesigning it after the course (Starr-Glass, 2011). Not only that, but a pre-course survey lets students know that the instructor is interested in their background and wants to make the class a positive experience (Starr-Glass, 2011).

This is an example of a beginning course survey for an online technology class. Some of the questions have been designed to assess the students prior experience using technology. Students with more experience will have used many applications across several platforms -- iphone, ipad, table, laptop, and desktop computers. The reasons for taking the course are also addressed, as well as the students' demographics. One of the important questions is whether the student speaks English or another language. The teacher and other students will be able to collaborate and connect across multiple cultures if they understand the class demographics. Starr-Glass (2011) recommends open-ended questions at the end of the pre-course survey to get qualitative data.

To better encourage student and teacher communication, one of the questions asks what method of communication is preferred. This is important, as it lets the student know that the teacher will be making an effort to reach out. Online courses have many benefits, but the presence of an instructor is important for a guided constructivist learning theory (Sung & Mayer, 2012). Distance is minimized by communication and that connection with the teacher is a necessary aspect of online learning. The pre-course survey can be used by the teacher to fine tune the class and connect with the students.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.


Sung, E. and Mayer, R.E., 2012. Five facets of social presence in online distance education. Computers in Human Behavior, 8(5), 1738-1747.

Starr-Glass, D. (2011). Beginning Course Surveys: Bridges for Knowing and Bridges for Being. International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 12(5), 138-157.

Disqus for Online Learning