CAMLAW: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog

International Law: Making Teaching Culturally Relevant

If you want to make your international law teaching culturally relevant and sensitive, you have to plug in to what is of concern locally.

"Think globally, act locally" was a maxim college professors in international law always urged.

What makes teaching law in the Caribbean so fascinating is that we have this combination of reliance on the U.K. common law tradition, blended with local Caribbean concerns. Florida is so close, yet Florida law so far away.

For exmaple, the other day in Intellectual Property, we canvassed a number of copyright cases. One of these dealt with Rudyard Kipling's beautiful poem, "If."

If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

After reading the poem aloud in class, we realized that it would be impossible to take four lines of the poem without stealing Kipling's copyright; hence we understood the rationale of the English case holding exactly that Kipling's copyright had been violated.

We read another U.K. case involving a fictional work that copied a historical work on the "Spear of Destiny"--supposedly, the spear that pierced the side of Christ had magical (or perhaps better, sacred) properties and passed through history as a number of figures, politicla and military, tried to use the spear's power for less than sacred purposes.

But when I posed a hypothetical involving the public performance aspects of copyright law, and asked students for an example of a popular song, they suggested a popular Bahamian ditty called "Ghost Moves." The song apparently concerns itself with some less than savory practices as they are practiced like a 'ghost' ... look to the song for more detail. This was a bit distant from the lofty lyrics of Kipling's "If," which had so moved and inspired a bit earlier, but nonetheless, we were in a different genre and in a culturally relevant milieu that seemed a lot more contemporary and accessible than the elegant U.K. cases of a generation passed.

Which is all to say that contemporary material has to be translated into a language people will understand. Here is the Caribbean, topics like free movement of labor, coordination of economic effort, the CSME, and the influence of the Venezuelas and Cubas are much more topical than back on the 'mainland.' And for teaching -- and living -- to be culturally relevant, the contemporary as well as the historical must be incorporated, blended, synthesized, and understood as a whole.

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