Journals from my Online Studies of Cultural Foundations in Education

I have been VERY busy indeed, taking two courses in Multicultural Education and ESL. I have decided to return to college–one last time–to pursue a Master’s degree. I have been doing A LOT of writing, though not here, sadly. I’m just too busy writing every day for academic reasons. Then, I had a thought: Can I not share my writing from another platform? My more formal work is likely to be considered intellectual property, but I’d like to share the contents of my “Private Journals” from the course, so that my scant but hardy readership can take the journey with me, in a sense. I also would like to preserve this work, as I consider it to be some of my deepest writing.

So for each week I complete a journal entry, I will also post it here. I do reference some research and literature in these (my journals are for a small portion of my grade), but I do so informally. These reflections are mostly original or paraphrased material, except where I give direct quotes and citation. Except for where I have provided links, if you want to check my literary and media references, feel free to do so on your own. My purpose is to share my thoughts and reactions to what I am learning, and it is my hope that it will open up a forum for discussion with present and future readers, and like-minded educators– of any second language.

So, that being said, I present my first two entries (actually from a couple of months or so ago).

Initial Reflections on Values in Schooling

  • What are the values that you believe are the most valuable to children who are taught in public schools? Are any of these values or beliefs problematic for you?
  • How do multicultural values influence (or not) the values of how our students are taught in our public and charter schools?

The invaluable values I think being taught in public school today are kindness and acceptance. There is a real push for this, but sometimes I wonder if it is more to meet legal obligations, than an actual belief that kindness and acceptance are integral to a peaceful and productive school community. It often translates to control and mere tolerance. There are many teachers and adults I work with that try to be good examples of these values (myself included, I hope), but I’m not sure this comes across the same way for all students. I think these values must be instilled at home first, to be truly understood. And believed in.

Multicultural values, such as acceptance and valuing diversity, have to be taught with consistency and believability, if they are going to be embraced by our students. Those instilling these values must believe in them as well, and embody these values to some extent. That is difficult for some educators, who may not come from a diverse, ethnic background. Age, belief systems, preconceived notions about race, and personal experiences, play a major part in how an educator will deliver these values to children.

I think kids are excellent “bull -spotters”…even in their innocence, they know when someone is not being completely honest, or doesn’t “walk the talk”. I can feel the shame come on when I teach something I don’t necessarily believe in, and by the students’ reaction, I can gauge whether the message is getting through, in the way it was intended. If it is not something I can teach with integrity, I question it. Then I know the kids will too. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is difficult with younger kids, because having debates and discussions about values can be problematic. So although honesty is mostly the best policy, we cannot always rely on it to instill multicultural values. We have to check ourselves, and change our preconceived notions before delivering a message we want them to believe in. We have to believe it as well.

The American Dream and Schooling

It should be understood beforehand, that no matter the cultural group, almost all parents want the best for their children. This seems to be true across many cultures, and should be, first and foremost, a consideration when working with students from any culture. With that frame of reference, we should then be open to the idea that all students want to learn, no matter their cultural or economic background. Their parents’ attitudes, of course, are every bit as relevant. As John U. Ogbu stated in the article Adaptation to Minority Status and the Impact on School Success :

“From a comparative or cross-cultural perspective, it appears that the problem is not because some minority children do no receive stimulation or early training in the family for appropriate academic orientation (Ogbu, 1992, p.288).”

Because our students come from, among others, voluntary immigrant and non-voluntary/non-immigrant groups, it is wise to look at the histories and perspectives of their cultures. Voluntary immigrant cultural understandings are different from those of non-voluntary/non-immigrants, in  distinct ways. Voluntary immigrants may have a much more hopeful, enthusiastic attitude about American life, and seek success in academic pursuits, and the attainment of the “American Dream”. As an example: In a video clip, an Eastern- European girl discusses her “Dream Box”, showing her wish for money and success in this new country. In the movie High School of American Dreams, the students were more from the voluntary group, but the tendency to “stick to their own” and their apparent discomfort for what they perceived as criticism for not “blending” in a particular seminar class, showed the attitudes found more often among the non-voluntary groups. For non-voluntary or non-immigrant minorities, the American Dream may seem elusive, because they have learned, through familial and societal attitudes, not to trust white, middle-class ideals so prevalent in American culture. They may therefore cling to their own communities, language, and life ways as protection against what they feel is oppression and control, even in school.

The experience enjoyed by voluntary immigrant students as seen in the movie, differs in some very fundamental ways from those of bi-cultural students, and their families who have lived in this country as citizens, perhaps for centuries.The voluntary immigrants acquiesce to white culture and control, accept that their economic and societal deficits can be overcome with perseverance and hard work, and tend to be more successful in academic pursuits. 

The non-voluntary cultures of American society are here chiefly due to slavery, conquest, or colonization. Therefore, they have developed what Ogbu observes as a relationship between them (minorities) and whites, that lead them to believe that they are being controlled, and cannot trust the dominant culture; that whites control the quality of their life and education, which traditionally has been inferior. Their educational strategies encompass the attitudes, plans, and actions they, as cultural minorities, use or do not use in their pursuit of formal education. (Ogbu, 1992, p.290). They  feel that they struggle with institutionalized discrimination (government, law, education) and therefore tend to mistrust them. They maintain cultural language boundaries–these are more likely to need culturally compatible curriculum, teaching and learning styles, communication and delivery, rather than “play by the rules” models (Ogbu, 1992, p.291).

Non-voluntary, non- immigrant cultures have ways of dealing with life in predominantly white middle-class society. As Ogbu’s studies suggest, coping responses are expressed in folk theories about making it, alternative survival strategies, that require and promote adaptational attitudes, skills, and role models, who may or may not promote educational success. These groups can be successful with the ideal cultural strategies in place, but as a rule, fewer involuntary non-immigrants manage this compared to their voluntary counterparts. This is why some succeed, and some do not, but it is by no means indicative of the condition of the entire group (Ogbu, 1992, p. 292).

 As educators, we must strive to provide curriculum and pedagogy as diverse as the student population, and as culturally relevant as possible. But the confines of our society and the school culture, along with political and economic forces, conspire against those of us trying to work in this direction. This has put limitations on the success of teachers working with multi-cultural and so-called minority populations, because they are not adequately supported by a societal framework seemingly only interested in the status-quo.

As Ogbu’s article suggests, conventional education models and researchers ignore minority limitations in several ways: They have an ahistorical perspective of minority school learning problems; They analyze these problems out of context; They mostly ignore cultural models, and the effect of these models on a group’s interpretation, and response to schooling; The group’s frame of reference and identity; and, they are non-comparative in their approach to such studies (Ogbu, 1992, p.288).
This conversation with students should be addressed in school with tact, and a better understanding of their various cultures. This means we need to bond with their families and communities, wherever and whenever possible. We need to bring a diverse cultural world-view and resources to bear in the classroom, and marry these to the existing curriculum, without white-washing students’ cultural beliefs, and embrace the value of bilingualism. Parents are at the forefront of this effort, because, in the end, they are our best allies.

How parents in these differing cultural groups distinguish themselves in beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors directly affects how they prepare their children for school.(Ogbu, 1992, p.293) . If we embrace these differences, only then can we attain the real American Dream in a multicultural, 21st Century society.

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