A Treatise on the Cultural Tree (In Lieu of the Cultural Iceberg)

For EDUC 2000: Teaching and Learning in the Inclusive classroom, we were assigned, with the help of the above image, and with Laura E. Pinto’s From Discipline to Culturally Responsive Engagement, to develop a cultural iceberg. In the process, I began to think more on the implications of the “iceberg” as a representation of the visible and hidden self. Below are my thoughts, as well as some pictures of the “iceberg” assignment that I created.

My cultural tree essay and photographs demonstrates my commitment to excellence in the realm of teaching and my passion for expanding and thinking intensely about everything that we discuss in the Faculty. I was intent tis year not to let any opportunities for growth to pass me by. I set out to achieve an average of above 90% and I think that I have almost certainly done that. This assignment in particular reminds me that I always attempt to put extra effort into my work—even when, perhaps especially when, all that is at stake is my own investment and involvement. That is, this particular assignment was not for marks, will not be read by anyone, and in fact was completed by most as short jot notes on lined paper. That my example is so detailed in spite of all of that speaks to my commitment to the field of education.

Ode to a Rhizomatic Effigy; Or A Treatise on the Cultural Tree

Rhizome (n) ˈraɪˌzoʊm/ : An elongated, usually horizontal, subterranean stem which sends out roots and leafy shoots at intervals along its length.
Effigy (n) /ˈɛfɪdʒɪ/ : A likeness, portrait, or image. Now chiefly applied to a sculptured representation, or to a habited image

IMG_20141017_103510My cultural iceberg manifests itself before you in a botanical form partly because those empirical qualities extant in a tree are more conducive to human representation and partly because it affords the opportunity to extrapolate beyond the dichotomy between “shown” and “hidden” to include “intended.” In other words, the top of the cultural iceberg represents those aspects of culture we openly project or those aspects easily associated with whatever cultural group(s) with which we identify (e.g. my piercings—recently removed—might signal to some my taste in music, books, or the arts). The frigid bottom represents those aspects of ourselves others do not see without ‘looking deeper’

Similarly, the Cultural Tree contains, in its roots structure, those aspects of one’s cultural composition not easily identified or recognized by the public eye. The difference between the “roots” of the tree and the “underside” of the iceberg lies in the generative ability of roots. For better or for worse, those hidden aspects of our cultural background inform the person that we outwardly show. The reproductive nature of the tree encompasses the affective link between unseen factors and overt manifestations of culture. Who we are underneath affects who we pretend/try to be (or, in fact, are).IMG_20141017_103554

Conversely, the passive iceberg floats and looms, and underneath, still greater danger looms (i.e. Titanic). The underside of the iceberg, unexposed to sunlight (where roots are exposed to sunlight via photosynthesis), conjures sinister images of our cultural identities. A “dark side” implies that those hidden parts of our constitution should remain unavailable, when, in fact, they are extremely important (and often times positively so) to what it means “to be” you, or me, or him, or her. The iceberg, then, constitutes a floating, gloomy mass, ushered by currents, toward things and away from things, but never with any intrinsic motivation.

The tree motivates itself. The tree constitutes a particularly positive and agential representation of self. That is to say, the tree yearns for growth and searches for sunlight. Like most plants, trees grow at night. When the sun disappears trees crave sunlight and so stretch themselves skyward toward the absent-presence that was the sun, seeking establishment first as a shoot, and then a sapling, and eventually a tree. That is, the tree implies growth—the tree lives and changes. There is affectation and movement in gnarled tree bark and curled branches, while an iceberg is, was, and shall be an iceberg: a stagnant, angry mass, waxing and waning in the oscillating temperatures of the ocean. Icebergs are both bolstered and battered by their surroundings; trees react.IMG_20141017_103529

Accordingly, my diagram also features “Cultural Projections,” those images, associations, and goals conveyed by our “Cultural Signifiers” (the trunk of the tree). Like trees, we yearn towards that which is not there, but always “within our reach.” We attempt to broach new cultural groups, trends, traditions, or even occupations. My diagram, for example, features both “Appearance” and “Desired Appearance.” “Appearance” exists in what would be the top of the iceberg, that is, “Cultural Signifiers:” those aspects of my physical appearance that convey things about me. “Desired Appearance,” in the foliage, literally stems from my significant interest in sports, physical signifiers from my appearance, my verbal signification strategies and all other aspects of the trunk and branches of the tree. “Desired Appearance” stems from me to what I want “me” to be. In other words, cultural signifiers project beyond our physical presence. I present myself a certain way in hopes of achieving a specific rung on the social ladder. I want to be a teacher, so I act, speak, and behave as teacher. Because I’m not yet a licensed teacher, those aspects of my identity that are “teacherly” represent cultural projections based on what I think it means to be an educator.


My tree is organized in such a way that my cultural projections, or those cultural markers I hope to someday turn into cultural signifiers, are closer in proximity to current signifiers that directly impact said projection. My interest in sports has little effect on my desired, adult, romantic life, but my communication styles affect every aspect of my envisioned self. Thus not only does the Cultural Tree occupy a space for introspection that implies growth, positivity, agency, and causality, but it also recognizes the fact that cultural identity can change, and, indeed, we often will that change to happen. As human beings (with an unprecedented existential obsession), the Cultural Tree better represents our need to grow, to enter new cultural circles, to answer existential questions—or, at the very least, to grow through the necessary existential premises on our way towards the sun.

Facsimile of my Cultural Tree

PDF Version of the Above Essay


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