The American School/Cultural Differences in Schools

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The American school has come quite far in the past four decades, but still has some way to go. It has been 36 years since fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Eckford walked through a group of raging whites to attend Central High school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Today the overt influence of the Ku Klux Klan is gone, and racial tension has died down, but cultural differences still play a huge roll in certain student’s education. This is one of the most serious issues in the school systems of the United States today.

There are several different and effective ways we can help minorities in the community. One of the most serious issues in the United States today is how to meet the educational needs of culturally diverse students. If our old habits of education continue, millions of students, mostly poor Asian, Native American, Hispanic, and African American students will not get the education necessary to obtain a healthy lifestyle in the United States. We need to start thinking about the child’s education early in their lifetime. It is said that differences in academic performance appears early in the education setting. Students from low economic backgrounds and many children of color consistently achieve below the national level in mathematics and language skills. The gap widens as children progress through school. Gradually, the chance of academic success disappears for poor and minority students (Alexander & Entwisle, 1998, P.1). Early childhood is the best time to intervene in the schooling of these children if we expect to change the outcomes of their futures. A lot of individuals make wrong assumptions about minority students. Some people might think there is something wrong with poor children or children of color and that their genes are not as developed as others. This is wrong. Some children are at risk for unhealthy development because of the downfalls due to living in poverty or in troubled families, most poor and minority children develop normally and their families are able to carry out the necessary childhood functions. Poor and minority students range of learning capabilities is just as broad as other children's. The explanation for the differences in school performance lies in the difference in life experiences between groups. Children of different cultural backgrounds do not encourage the same beliefs and values as other children therefore; they don’t pay attention to the same skills. Most schools ignore the difference between children, their experiences, and their beliefs. These schools are not utilizing their full ability. It is mostly white, middle class teachers teaching way different from the values and learning styles of their students. Citizens commonly overlook the Childs education in its most developing years.

By the time children reach the age of five, they have learned a great deal. They have reached maturity by mastering their own language, having relationships with friends and family, and how they understand to react to familiar situations (Kagan, 1991). Poor and minority children might meet the typical educational requirements for their home and other surroundings, but when placed in school, it’s a lot harder for these children to adapt to the school atmosphere. When the children enter school, the teachers assume these qualifications have already been met. That is a huge problem. Certain children from different cultural backgrounds might not be as well equipped with this information. This is where the community fits in. The children need to be ready for all aspects of school. School readiness can be increased by higher quality preschool education and day care. Children should come to school ready to learn. If they fit into their families and communities, then we know that they are good learners. We only need to worry about the small minority of children who have handicapping conditions or who live in extremely hazardous environments and therefore, have not learned what their community teaches.

When a child’s previous knowledge and skills do not prepare him for a new setting, like school, it is extremely hard. A child may be developed in their home environment, but yet unable to adapt easily to a school environment or succeed at the academic tasks valued by teachers (Kagan, 1991). Children become what they live. Cultural patterns of interaction guide the growing child, but they also become the root for their definitions of themselves. When adults and children do not share common experiences or hold common beliefs about the meaning of experience, they are quick to misunderstand cultural interchanges (Bowman, 1989). Some teachers do not appreciate the real similarities and differences between their understanding of the world and that of children and families who come from different backgrounds. That is why we need to further educate the teachers of America. Most teachers in the United States come from a rural background and don’t understand the learning habits of minority students. We need to hire teachers with experience in cultural studies.

Standardized testing of young children demonstrates the danger of using white, middle-class children as the gauge for judging other children. It is not coincidence that poor and minority children are common in certain types of special education and at-risk programs. Standardized tests do not separate culture from development. The child may know something else that is equal in knowledge, but if he or she does not know what’s on the test, we assume that there is something wrong.

Racism also contributes to conflicts between schools, poor and minority children and families. For example, when schools represent an Anglo centric and middle-class viewpoint, students and their families often feel devalued. This experience is common to many Spanish speaking children. Instead of building children's confidence and self-esteem, school compromises their learning ability by rejecting their language and culture. Even more serious, by degrading the culture of poor and minority children, teachers encourage a threatening cultural choice: identify with family and friends and stay out of the school, or embrace school and face social isolation. The result is that many young children go for family and friends and end up without an education. Teachers are victims of their own past experience. Teachers, like all of us, make generalizations about other people, ideas, and events on the basis of their past experience and knowledge. Considerable research documents that teachers have difficulty incorporating new visions of reality that conflict with their own personal beliefs and experience (Ball, 1989). When met with disagreement, teachers stick to their own "meaning making" theories, forcing students to not get the correct education. This often makes students mad and frustrated with their teachers and administrators, sometimes leading to negative impacts on the student’s future education.

Some minorities just simply won’t give any effort towards the schooling system. Mostly African Americans, Hispanic, and Native Americans are the minorities that this applies to. These groups are more likely to avoid learning skills associated with the white middle class, since their efforts will not pay off with the same opportunities that the other students will obtain (Ogbu, 1992). Consequently, they develop a poor education. The preschool and primary years are critical ones if children are to be successful in school, and we must carefully review the treatment of children during these years. School readiness can be increased by higher quality preschool education and day care (Kagan, 1991). One way of making a difference would be to change how schools interact with other community organizations. Relationships with social services, parks, libraries, day care centers, and homes are very important when it comes to the minorities’ education. Any school that is not making a relationship with these organizations cannot seriously claim to be focusing on educational success for all. Another remedy to the situation is to listen to the voices of the minorities. It is very important that minority communities feel a better sense of ownership on school standards if they are to help in preparing their children (Kagan, 1991). Involvement by parents and community members from these minority groups is crucial for making a change. A last and final suggestion would be to further educate teachers and schools for a better understanding of the minority students. Teachers and the schools really need to get involved in all the different communities and community organizations. This would give the minorities a much better chance to succeed in the classroom and pursue their future education. The kind of change we want to have accomplished is not easy. It will require a lot of skill and effort from all of us if it is to happen. Unless we speak out about the relationship between culture, development, and education, we cannot hope to provide the kind of schooling needed to carry us safely into the future.

References[edit | edit source]

  • Alexander, K., & Entwisle, D. (1998). Achievement in the first two years of school: Patterns and processes. monographs of the society for research in child development, 53(2), 1-157.
  • Ball, D. (1989). Breaking with experience in learning to teach mathematics. (Issue Paper 88). East Lansing, MI: National Center for Research on Teaching.
  • Bowman, B. (1993). Culturally sensitive inquiry. In J. Garbarino & F. Stott (Eds.), What children can tell us. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Kagan, S.L. (1991). United we stand: collaborations for child care and early education. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Ogbu, J. (1992). Understanding cultural diversity and learning. educational researcher, 21(8), 5-14.

The Cultural Diversity of our Society and the Implications for Education
Cultural Differences in Schools
Public vs. Private Schools