Module 1: What is Culture?
Barnett writes about Bethune’s contributions as a feminist, transformative educator, and social activist, yet one idea that permeates all three of these aspects of Bethune’s efforts is education. The feminist Bethune “came to believe that African American girls urgently need education to help them in their multiple roles” (p. 223). The transformative educator Bethune believed “that education was essential for the survival of the African American community” (p. 224), while the social activist Bethune believed that “the education of African American girls and women was the key to equality” (p. 227). Education, education, and education. We can continue Bethune’s efforts in a broader context by providing an excellent education that meets the needs of each and every student we work with in our classrooms. Through our efforts we will help our students in their multiple roles, help them support the communities in which they originate, and help encourage equality for all educated students.
The term “cultural competence” has two parts; understanding my own cultural identify and how that impacts my thinking and understanding the cultural identify of those I work with/teach and how that should impact my approach. If I am aware in both of these areas and effectively acting upon my awareness then I will be providing best education possible to my students (assuming the other aspects of being an excellent teacher are covered).
Module 2: Personalizing Cultural Diversity
My Post (IAT):
The IAT was very interesting. I felt in some ways like I was taking a “brain age” tests as opposed to a test about implicit associations. Because I tend to approach things very strategically I quickly found myself developing a system to try and respond as quickly and accurately as possible that involved saying things like “Me-D” or “they-K” while watching images and punching buttons. This happened kind of organically since I did not know anything about the test before starting it.
When I compared the results with the answer to the profile questions I answered at the beginning with regards to political associations, the IAT indicated a less extreme association than I thought of myself as having. When I contemplated the results I wondered if this was a result of my “strategy”. I wondered if others that take the IAT find themselves using a strategy to “do well”; that is, quickly hit the correct buttons. These thoughts also caused me to feel a bit dismissive of the test’s results. If some people naturally, jump into strategy mode, and other don’t, is that being accounted for? I certainly don’t know.
Module 3: Religio
Reading about Carter Woodson, I was struck by how entrepreneurial and creative Woodson was in his efforts to disseminate transformative knowledge to schools and the general public. Until I read the Banks text, I did not realize how Woodson’s ideas and approaches were progenitors of many programs in place today.
The establishment of Negro History Week was one of the first of its type; an effort to improve the educational opportunities related to a specific minority or cultural group. It had staying power too, Negro History Week eventually became Black History Month in 1976, which is still observed today. It has also inspired a number of copycat education history efforts, including Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month and American Indian Heritage Month. If imitation is the best form of flattery, then Woodson has a long line of compliments following him in the history of multicultural education.
Unfortunately, Woodson may have felt more disappointment than pride if he were to learn that more than 60 years after his death we still need black history month. According to Agnes Roche, “It was the founder of Negro History Week, therefore, who above all looked forward to the day when it would no longer be needed.” (article in Banks, 1996, p. 101) As a fifth grade teacher who is tasked with teaching American history from pre-colonization to the creation of the Constitution, I still find a regular need to supplement our provided curriculum (published in 2010) with additional information and sources so that students are provided with (what feels to me like) an adequate multicultural history education
Module 4: Access
The concept of “caring” resonates with my own experiences after ten years as a classroom teacher. The quote from the presentation is “Caring relationships are, and will always be, the centerpiece of effective teaching and learning”. Students know if a teacher really cares about them. I am convinced that this is true. Furthermore, if a student believes a teacher truly cares about their well being and progress, they will take on things they might otherwise skip.
I recall a student who transferred to my class from Eastern Washington early in the year. This student came in fairly rebellious was initially unwilling to take risks or really try. I stuck with him over the next few months and he began to turn. At the mid-year parent-teacher conference I started reviewing his academic progress with the parents and they stopped me and said, “We don’t really care about all those details, we are just thrilled that Nick loves school again. Thank you for taking an interest in him”. This student stopped by periodically through high school (I taught him in 6th grade) and I knew that the caring relationship we had established was a positive factor in his progress as a student.
With that positive story shared, the ongoing challenge is to provide equal access to all of my students to my “caring bank”. Sometimes the well-behaved, quiet students are the ones you have to make a special effort for, since it is easy to fall into a routine where you expend all of your energy and attention on the high needs or behavior challenged students.
Module 5: Instruction
The idea that multicultural education “dumbs down” the curriculum seems almost counterintuitive considering the additional learning and complexity that were introduced in the example modified lessons. Take the lesson on estimation where students go from estimating jelly beans to estimating the number of different types of people represented in their textbook. The lesson went from a math only to a cross-disciplinary math-social studies lesson that requires what could be classified as enrichment level thinking; that is, applying basic skills from math to a critical thinking activity related to textbook content. Students are actually applying their estimating skills to a problem outside of the purview of a pure mathematical exercise.
Another excellent example was the fable lesson. Comparing and contrasting the form, style, and purpose of fables from a variety of cultures is a much more complex activity than merely reviewing several “classic” fables and identifying their morals.
I don’t claim that the majority of my lessons have been modified as suggested by these examples, but I do know that whenever I have modified lessons in this way I have worked and thought harder to prepare them and my students have worked and thought harder to learn them.
Module 6: Materials
There are many ways to address bias in curriculum and material. One way is to provide additional perspectives through the use of field trips or visiting presenters that provide new perspectives on learning.
Our school is fortunate enough to be able to host a Northwest tribe member who puts on a comprehensive two-day workshop with our fourth grade students. They learn about Washington history and culture from the perspective of this presenter who shares stories, art, photographs, tools, and perspectives on life that are different than those of the “Washington Our Home” textbook our district uses. They learn about the disease brought by European settlers that decimated his people and resulted in their villages being burned to the ground as a sterilization method. All that is left of those villages are the black and white photographs of the long houses and totems. The children learn that and gain some new understanding of the historical period that resulted in the transformation of the land they live in from a place with villages of peoples from several tribes (they also learn they didn’t call themselves tribes, Indians, or Native Americans) to a place of cities and towns of other people.
Module 7: Communication
Culture has a number of influences on communication. One is the dynamics of communication in different cultures. The examples of African American and Asian American communication tendencies were part of the presentation this week. Another example is the tendencies of Israeli students in America. I have had a few of these students over the years and through discussions with them and their parents found that a very active approach to discussions, including debating/contradicting teachers is common. This is done not out of disrespect, but rather out building understanding through discussion.
In addition to dynamics, actual vocabulary used in conjunction with “standard” English is impacted by culture. This includes not only Ebonics as mentioned in the presentation materials, but also Yiddish phrases common among many American Jews and Spanish slang used by many Mexican Americans.
Module 8: Parents and Community
Parent participation can be impeded in many ways. Work is one of the biggest impediments across household types. Many two-parent households include two working parents whose work schedules are often not conductive to participating, whether it be going to school during the day or spending time during the evening with their children on schoolwork, or attending PTA meetings. This is even more difficult for single parent working households, especially if there is more than one child in the family. For non-working parents, barriers can range from financial to feeling unwelcome or unsure of how they can contribute.
Another big impediment is language. Parents who lack strong English skills are often not made welcome at schools through programs that are designed to engage parents, but only if they have a decent mastery of English. This can range from inadequate communication from the school in other languages regarding participation opportunities, to a participation model that does not provide a mechanism by which non-English speakers can meaningfully contribute and be involved.Other Factors and Summary:
Chenfield (2004) shares four “Metaphors of Hope”; stories about teachers she has observed and been inspired by. Interestingly, one commonality in these observations is the focus on classroom social/emotional environment. Not one of these stories is about how to teach children from different cultures academic subjects, rather they focus on how to create a classroom community where children feel emotionally safe and empowered so that they can learn.
The first teacher featured “was thrilled to see how the twice-weekly Town Meeting honoring the feelings and agendas of the students carried over into the everyday life of the group.” The teacher (known as Mr. T to his students) now had students that were emotionally prepared to learn. His town meeting work has paid dividends that will be transformed into improved student learning.
It so happens that I took a class that was very similar to this one about a decade ago. The first time was as part of a teacher certification program while I was student teaching. Now I have taught for 4th to 6th grade for about ten years (and still teach a multi-age 4/5 class) and am getting a Masters degree. In fact, the earlier course used the same Banks textbook!
For me, what is interesting is to think about how my own experiences and current perspective has changed how I view and process the content of the course. Where as the first time the course was more about helping me get a certain mindset going into my career, the second time the was more about using course information or ideas and applying them to specific situations I am currently experiencing in the classroom, in the interest of improving.
In the end, that is why teaching is a career that I find so enjoyable; there are always new challenges, always new things to learn, and always ways to revisit and apply things you learned before in new and interesting ways.