Culture is a pattern of knowledge, belief and behavior that is passed down through within families. Culture is not just based on a person’s ethnicity, but is a compilation of things such as religion, ethnicity, language, and other things. A person’s culture can be outwardly displayed in a variety of ways. Some of the ways that we are most likely to see cultural differences in school are personal space, family, non-verbal cues, topics of conversation, and how problem behavior is perceived.
Cultural competence is defined as the integration of knowledge about people into specific standards, beliefs, practices, and policies, and attitudes (Mark King, Anthony Sims, David Osher cecp.air.org). There are many different levels of cultural competence:
1. Cultural Destructiveness-- When attitudes, policies, and practices are destructive to cultures and to individuals within these cultures. Assumption that one’s culture is superior and individuals seek to eradicate other cultures because of their perceived sub-human condition.
2. Cultural Incapacity-- When agencies do not intentionally seek to be culturally destructive, but rather have no capacity to help people from other cultures. Belief in the superiority of the dominant group is present
3. Cultural Blindness-- Well intended philosophy that “Americans do not have their own culture” however, this belief can often camouflage the reality of ethnocentrism. This system suffers from a deficit of information
4. Cultural Pre-competence implies movement towards reaching out to other cultures. The pre-competent agency realizes its weaknesses in working with people of other cultures and attempts to improve that relationship with a specific population.
5. Cultural Competence-- Acceptance of and respect for differences, continuing self assessment regarding culture, careful attention to the dynamics of differences, and continuous expansion of cultural knowledge and resources.
6. Cultural Proficiency-- Characterized by holding culture in high esteem. These agencies actively seek to hire a diverse workforce.
It is important that schools and individual staff members self-assess where they are on the cultural competency scale. If a school or individual is able to see where their strengths and weaknesses are, they will be able to improve their cultural competence. Children are most likely to be successful in school if their parents and other family members are involved in their education and school life.
A culturally competent educator is respectful of the cultural values of their students. They are also aware of how their own culture and beliefs can affect how they plan and teacher their students. A teacher needs to be able to teach from a “multicultural” perspective and have a general knowledge of all their students cultures. It is typical for students from a culturally diverse family to have struggles in school, due primarily to a lack of understanding of their culture and the way they are taught at school.
There are several things that a teacher can use to become a culturally competent educator. This list is gathered from www.opb.org/education/minisites/culturalcompetencer/teachers.html :
1. Participate in diversity training opportunities
2. Use materials from a variety of cultures in lessons
3. Provide students with the opportunity to see the similarities and differences among cultures
4. Learn as much as possible about your students culture
5. Attempt to communicate with families in their native language, or on a method that is typical for their culture
6. Don’t stereotype your students
7. Revise teaching materials that students have access to in order to remove bias
8. Use visual aids when necessary and appropriate
9. Be aware that limited English proficiency doesn’t mean that a student isn’t intelligent