How many of us grew up with friends from different cultures, races, religions, and socio-economic strata?
I know I didn’t.
Most of my friends, and fellow students, were white. We all considered ourselves middle class. We were Christian or Jewish. We had no idea of the advantages we enjoyed solely by the accident of being born white, Judeo-Christian, and middle class in America.
But today’s schools are a different story. We have whites, blacks, browns, yellows, and reds in our schools. We have multiple languages spoken at home. Students have cultural identities that we don’t recognize, aren’t aware of, and don’t know how to deal with. I am convinced that as educators we can use this diversity as a stimulant to propel us forward faster than we ever thought possible. But not just by wishing, we have to understand the processes of cultural competence.
The people who study culture point to five elements that feed cultural competence.
Valuing diversity is merely the first. It means accepting and respecting differences.
Having the capacity to culturally self-assess is second. It means being able to understand how our actions affect people from other cultures. We take most of our actions for granted, which results in cross-cultural miscommunications that can create huge gulfs.
Perceiving the dynamics of cultural interactions is third. Are we aware of factors and experiences that may affect interactions? Different cultures perceive different degrees of fairness of the system, and different roles of authorities.
Institutionalizing cultural knowledge is the fourth. While we all as individuals can value diversity and increase our ability to self-assess and perceive the dynamics of interactions, we can have a more profound change when we integrate cultural competence into our schools, districts, and communities.
Adapting our behaviors to our new awareness is the fifth and final element. This involves applying core knowledge about culture, belief systems, and traditions to the different ways we interact with students, and with each other.
Randall and Delores Lindsey have written extensively on cultural proficiency in schools. They will be leading an interactive online discussion on April 11, and you can find out more and register at Edchat Interactive.
It is not part of a true culture to tame tigers, any more than it is to make sheep ferocious – Henry David Thoreau