On Culture and Education

The first step to cultural proficiency is to look inside yourself and pinpoint your knowledge of others. There are several ways to do this, but the most effective is just to look back through your life and see how it is you were raised, what your interactions with different people were like, and how it was you moved on. Thankfully, there’s an algorithm. It’s called “the cultural autobiography.”

            There are numerous cultures coexisting in ever society, even in every person. However, as faulty as this logic is, the one characteristic of culture humans have a tendency to focus on is race and ethnicity. I love using this line: “there is but one race, the human race.” I was raised in several small cities across the southwest United States. My parents always lamented the fact that we have to clarify our ethnicity on applications. They always wondered why it mattered. The same should be true in education. My mother is a teacher, and she had always said, “they need to be taught, regardless of what they look like.” I’ve taken that to heart, but, not everyone feels the same way. I’ve been called every derogatory name in the book: cracker, whitey, KKK, you name it, I’ve been called it. If we are all in this journey together, why is there dissention? The greatest civil rights leaders remind us that we should judge people by the fiber of their character, not the color of their skin. Well, if that’s to be held true, can’t we move past this ethnic divide? According to the AEIS reports, African Americans are among the lowest performing reporting category. However, this does not take into consideration the highly skilled African American students. It solely labels all African Americans as underserved. I believe a better solution is to ignore ethnic demographics and focus instead on the needs of the individual. This though, strangely enough, seems “culturally blind.” Plus, there is so much talk about existing racism, and discrimination in total, and how to legislate it out of existence. But, no one is asking why there is still discrimination. You can’t tell someone it’s illegal to treat a person differently because they’re of a different ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, et. al. and not draw attention to it. The goal is to create a people with shared experience, not disparate ones.

            In response to gender identity, I am a man, born a boy. My parents stressed the importance of hard work and success, and through that I was taught what it means to finish a job. They weren’t explicit in teaching me “manly skills” and “home economics.” It was understood that if I didn’t have the “equipment” of my mother, then I must be like my father, a man.

            Recently, sexual orientation has been highlighted in the news. Various organizations are fighting for equal treatment. No one should have to fight for equality. It is implicit in the Constitution. People just need to stop adding laws prohibiting certain actions. They should just look to the founding documents and ask themselves, “are these people able to pursue their happiness?” If the answer is no, don’t do it. If the answer is yes, great! I say that to say this, if a person is homosexual, isn't it his or her right to be so? Building a school culture that allows people to be who they is the most important idea here. There is no sense in laboring the fact that this person is attracted to the same gender. What we should be thinking instead is, “oh, they’re homosexual? Great. Now how can I help to serve their academic needs?” I understand that there is still unease from some people when it comes to sexual orientation. So long as we are able to teach that when a student is in school, his or her job is to learn, not discriminate, the culture of the school should take care of itself.

            Perhaps the greatest indicator of student success is socioeconomic status. There are exceptions to the rule, but the schools that are in poverty-riddled neighborhoods trend low-performing. The populations typically are minority groups. So, what’s the solution? These schools have, on average, teachers that have between 1 and 4 years of experience. Then, there’s turnover. Why? Is this a culture issue? Is this a lack of support? Sure, the culture of poverty is one that has eluded defining for a long time. And, that, I believe, is the greatest question that needs to be answered. Perhaps it’s time to redraw districts. Perhaps it’s time to start assuming that hard work is a “white thing.” Perhaps it’s time to end unemployment benefits and welfare checks. I don’t know what the solution is, but there is a huge disparity between social classes. And, the problem isn’t between poverty and upper class. There’s a distinct divide between poverty and lower-middle class families. In a 2013 study of Kenyan public schools, researchers found there is a close tie between a parent’s level of education and socio-economic status and the performance of the student.

The study found that parents’ level of education correlates with academic performance of students in KCSE. It also found that income and family size influence academic performance while family structure and parents’ occupation do not. Parents with higher levels of education were found to have higher levels of family income, provided more support to their children’s education, and had higher expectations on their children’s education. In turn, these led to better academic performance of their children. In addition, the level of parental support to child’s education differed by family income with parents who had higher income supporting their children more than those with low income. However, parental support did not differ by parents’ age, family structure and occupation. (Mwihaki, 2013)

            This same study recommended that parents become educated through adult classes. These classes not only need to offer academic information and assignments, but also make the parent aware of school policies and procedures. The Kenyan schools invited the parents to become participants in their child’s education, so they can see what it means first hand.

I, for one, am confused about all this cultural proficiency talk. They say it’s our similarities that make us stronger, but we must educate a child because of his or her cultural differences. If my lowest performing students just happen to all be African American, is it unseemly to group them together in small group instruction? Would that be considered racially prejudiced? I would like to say that my outlook is culturally proficient because I recognize that we all come from different backgrounds, and it is the knowledge of those backgrounds that help in moving a child forward, but it is more important (or at least it should be) to find out what the academic needs of the child is and tailor an education to those needs. I, for one, believe that building a school culture around success and hard work will create a more harmonious population than will a culture that concentrates on the color, sexual orientation, faith, and class of the student. This makes me sad, because I think most people would read this and say, “man, that guy doesn’t have a clue.” But, I have to ask in response, why not? Can you tell me where I’m wrong?

Works Cited

Lindsey, Randall R. and Raymond D Terrell. Culturally Proficient Leadership. Corwin Press. London, UK. 2009.