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Story 09: Beyond Museum Walls

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And what could the museum offer?

Written by Dorothy Merrill

The main business of Community Services was staff training—helping community staff and parents to become familiar with the museum, to use the museum's resources, and to make the most of their own resources. We introduced new ways to use household materials (milk carton blocks and drinking straw bubble-makers, paper beads, scrap wood xylophones, etc.) and showed them how to use factory castoffs such as rubber washers, thread spools, cardboard squares, and dice to create simple math and reading games designed by the Teacher Center. We brought out artifacts from the museum's kit rental and collections departments to show children how people in different times or places lived. We introduced communities to the art, music, food, and cultural celebrations of a variety of groups. And, with the help of Cooperative Artists and RECYCLE, we helped them celebrate in their own fashion. This training happened over and over again.

But while teaching cultural content out in the community we recognized a need for our own internal staff training to open our own minds to each other's perspectives. The Ethnic Discovery Project was created to contribute to our ability to serve communities, beginning with our own little in-house museum "community." Ethnic Discovery materials proved to be just the tools for helping staff in different museum departments to know each other, understand each other's cultural backgrounds and work out some of our differences. The Ethnic Discovery curriculum describes the program as follows:

Ethnic Discovery is an approach to exploring cultural diversity with schoolmates, teachers and friends....The Ethnic Discovery process consists of two principal components: finding things out about one's own background and finding out what one's cohorts have been finding out about theirs...Because Ethnic Discovery is fundamentally an approach to personalized social study, not a curriculum with circumscribed scope and content, the activity descriptions should be viewed and used as examples of the approach designed around a variety or educational, social and personal objectives. Many other objectives and activities can and should be imagined, in as much as the subject matter for Ethnic Discovery—ourselves.

Next: How were the programs staffed?