The university is responding to the Pentagon’s call that culture matters. As for the hoped-for impact of educational change on the overall military – “That’s a set of outcomes that the Southern Association does not ask us,” says Brian R. Selmeski, director of cross-cultural competence at the Air Force Culture and Language Center, created at Air University in 2006.
He adds, however: “It is the fundamental reason, I think, why most of us in the center are here and doing what we’re doing.”
The Air Force Culture and Language Center is intended to be, in the chief academic officer’s words, a “catalyst” for the infusion of cross-cultural education across the university’s many schools and colleges, which include, as a sampling, the Community College of the Air Force, for enlisted airmen, the Noncommissioned Officer Academies, and the Air War College, which educates senior officers. Air University’s proposed quality enhancement plan – in shorthand, QEP — is due to SACS this month, with on-site assessment of the plan scheduled for spring.
The proposal is built upon a number of student learning outcomes that, now in draft form, include the acquisition of “foundational knowledge of culture-general ideas and principles.” The focus of the QEP is on general knowledge of culture. For example, students would learn about the concept of kinship, and that it plays out in different ways in different regions.
The draft learning outcomes also include a focus on demonstrating “skills necessary to work effectively in cross-cultural contexts,” “positive attitudes toward cultural differences that predispose learners to effective learning and action,” and, finally, “the ability to apply culture-general learning effectively in specific cultural contexts.” The center’s next hire will be a psychologist who will serve as assessment chair for the effort, Selmeski says.
“The idea is rather than finding anthropologists and co-locating them with military units to assist” — which describes a controversial initiative known as the Human Terrain System — “our focus is to get all of our airmen, all of our students, to be able to be sensitive to these cross-cultural concepts and be able to use them wherever they’re deployed,” explains Bruce T. Murphy, chief academic officer of Air University. “Rather than focus on a particular region, rather than focus on a particular language, what are the five or six or seven or whatever it is, basic questions that everybody has to be able to ask before they go into a region, to do their own operational missions but do them with cultural sensitivity?
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