This post is all text. I am working on a graphic to represent the ideas, but hopefully your comments can help me formulate it. As part of my inquiry project I am doing a literature/knowledge review on the changing concepts of culture and how it relates to education. It is part traditional review of "scholarly" journal articles and lectures by published professors, but it also includes other ways of knowing, such as conversation, casual talks, observation, and storytelling. Please comment on the ideas- to add to the knowledge!
Culture is Complex, Deep, and Dynamic
The current discourse on culture has pushed beyond the narrow definition of culture used in the past, when I did my initial teacher training in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Then, the focus was on what would now be considered superficial aspects of culture (food, music, arts) recognized through token acts of inclusion. The intentions of educators was not to trivialize culture, but we simply did not know better. Now, in 2019, the definition of culture has expanded to include ancestry, shared historical experiences, ways of making meaning, and social norms. Culture is the frame or lens we use to perceive the world around us, and thus it is in a constant state of transformation. Hammond (2015) refers to culture distinctly as the software of our brains. Where as Ladson-Billings, the author of culturally relevant pedagogy, draws from anthropology for a lengthy definition:
I have a deep sense of what is meant by the term culture. It involves every aspect of human endeavor, including thought, perceptions, feelings, and attitudes. It is not merely the visible and tangible components of a community such as artifacts, foods, and customs, although those things are indeed a part of of culture. However, it is important to emphasize the dynamic and fluid nature of culture that is much more than lists of “central tendencies” or worse, “cultural stereotypes.” From an anthropological perspective, culture encompasses worldview, thought patterns, epistemological stances, ethics, and ways of being along with the tangible and readily identifiable components of human groups (Ladson-Billings, 2017, p. 143).
In the past, the concept of culture was too limiting to be informative in a real way for education: it was limited to concrete artifacts and visible practices from a past ethnic heritage or nationality. Currently, Jameson (2007) warns against prioritizing nationality in defining culture. This narrow and simplistic view of culture leads to narrow and simplistic views of learning (Paris, 2017). Now, the concept of culture is almost too broad to be helpful in the context of education: it includes pretty much everything a people sees, hears, does, feels and thinks - in the past, present, and future - in relation to experiences created by themselves and done to them through history.
What is the helpful lesson for education in this exercise of defining culture, an exercise that I witnessed both undergraduate and postgraduate students be guided through while observing classes at Victoria University Wellington? For me, the lesson is to always remember, appreciate, and honor that culture is complex, deep, and dynamic. It is complex because it is made up of many different parts and these parts are interwoven in complicated ways. The intricate nature of these connections makes culture a complex (noun) in itself. There is a Maori cultural complex layered on a Pasifika cultural complex layered on a Pakiha cultural complex, layered on an Asian cultural complex to create the New Zealand cultural complex as a whole.
The second helpful lesson is that culture is deep. It is beyond what you can see and measure easily. Beliefs, values, ways of making meaning, feelings, implicit social norms, nuances, and more are what give culture its power. Even if I do not know them all or understand them all, I can always be aware that these deeper aspects of culture are at play in every social interaction be it at school or not.
Thirdly, culture is dynamic. Long practiced cultural patterns and norms are only a starting point. From here history happens and influences how a culture changes and adapts. This is true for dominant cultures in homelands who are adjusting to political, economic, climate, and geographic realities; peoples that have had their cultural knowledge, skills, and practices decimated by colonialism and slavery; and peoples of a diasporas who are living outside their homeland by choice as immigrants or as by necessity as refugees. A modern youth culture is an additional and valid complex to layer on top.
Culture responsive practices is not something to understand and be “done with” or get, apply, and move on. Culture is something to continually be in awe at and hold with reverence. It is like the wise, unseen forces in the room that are constantly shifting. Dominguez (2017) suggests that teachers need to engage in epistemic travel in order to go beyond “using culture as a bridge.” We need to shift our cultural understanding, capacity, and flexibility in order to meet the cultures in our classrooms on their own terms.
Categorizing Culture for the Sake of Education
In a highly linguistically and culturally diverse population or school it is unrealistic to think a teacher can hold deep and complex cultural knowledge about each individual culture represented in the classroom. Hammond (2015) suggests looking at patterns across cultures, or archetypes, instead. She focuses on two continuum: individualistic/collective and written/oral. Placing individual cultures, or pieces of individual cultures, on these continuum is problematic because it requires a narrowing and drawing of lines around a culture which can lead to further stereotyping and misunderstanding. In spite of this, the construct of the archetypes can be helpful in the educational setting.
As a librarian I am working in a physical space that was originally designed within a culture that is written and individualistic. The traditional model of the library is based on books, reading, and independent study. Thus, you are quiet in the library in order to learn. If the cultural identity of the students include oral and collective practices as a way of creating meaning and learning, how can they use this library space? How as an educator, can I include not only opportunities for collective and oral learning, which requires talking, but make these practices and ways of knowing fully accepted and integrated into the library? Can written text and oral storytelling be side by side as equally valued and present formats and sources of information? Can the product of students working together, with the the stronger openly and warmly helping the weaker, be accepted as legitimate evidence of learning for all?
In putting forward these two archetypes, Hammond (2015) is not fully capturing another important aspect of culture that researchers of indigenous pedagogies hold as central, relationality (Holmes, 2017) . It can be argued that forming relationships is part of collective cultural frameworks, but it is also much more. It is more than cooperation, sharing, humility, and a focus on the whole as she sites is prevalent in African-American and Hispanic cultures. Holmes (2017) describes relationality as, “Coming to know oneself through the contextual constellation of relationships” (p. 218). These relationships include, “human and other-than-human relatives” (p. 219) in addition to a physical place on earth and relationship of that place within the universe. This relational context is seen in the Maori mihi, which is an introduction that includes more than a person’s name but also his/her family, ancestors, tribe, and land. I have experienced similar references being made in Yupik (South Western Alaska indigenous group) introductions.
Hammond (2015) talks further of meeting students on the continuum close enough to their cultural framework so as not to trigger an emotional response of fear and defense which impedes learning. Such as a student with a collective perspective being put on the spot for individualistic performance. Or, a student’s advanced ability to learn from oral narratives and express themselves orally not being valued as a legitimate evidence of learning or information processing tool in favor of text, paper, and pencil. Holmes (2017) adds that awareness of relationality is needed to build trust and provide the context necessary for some students to make meaning out of what is presented.
Nigerian Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2007) speaks about needing more than one story to understand a place, culture, or people. This is a simple metaphor for understanding the complexity of culture. It is made up of more than one story. It includes the story of the geographical place, the history, significant events and shared experiences (such as immigration, colonization, war, natural disaster), traditional knowledge, the evolution of that traditional knowledge.
Works Cited (needs some cleaning up, but info is there)
Adichi, C. H. (2009). The danger of a single story (video file). Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.
Banks, W. (2006). Improving race relations in schools: From theory and research to practice. Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 62, No. 3, 2006, pp. 607--614.
Dominguez, M. (2017). “Se hace puentes al andar”: Decolonizing teacher education as a needed bridge to culturally sustaining and revitalizing pedagogies. In Culturally sustaining pedagogies (pp.141-156). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Hall, S. (1994). ‘Cultural identity and diaspora’ from Williams, P. and Chrisman, L. ‘Colonial discourse and post-colonial theory: A reader pp 227-237, London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Hammond, Z., & Jackson, Y. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students.
Holmes, A., & Gonzalez, N. (2015). Finding sustenance: An indigenous relational pedagogy. In Culturally sustaining pedagogies (pp.141-156). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Jameson, D. (2007). Reconceptualizing cultural identity and its role in intercultural business communication. Journal of Business Communication. Vol. 44, No. 3, July 2007, pp. 199-235.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2015). The (r)evolution will not be standardized: teacher education, hip hop pedagogy, and culturally relevant pedagogy 2.0. In Culturally sustaining pedagogies (pp.141-156). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Lee, S. & Walsh D. (2017). Socially just, cultually sustaining pedagogy for diverse immigrant youth: Possibilities, challenges, and directions. In Culturally sustaining pedagogies (pp.141-156). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Milo-Schaaf, K. and Robinson, E. (2010) ‘‘Polycultural’ capital and educational achievement among NZ-born pacific people’, MAI Review, 1.
Moore, A. M. and Barker, G. G. (2012) ‘Confused or multicultural: Third culture individuals’ cultural identity’. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 36(4), pp. 553–562. doi: 10.1016/j.ijintrel.2011.11.002.
Rimoni, F., Rimoni (no date) ‘Tama Samoa: Exploring identities in Secondary school’, New Zealand Annual Review of Education, pp. 122–221. doi: doi.org/10.26686,nzaroe.v22i0.4151.
San Pedro, T. (2017). “This stuff interests me” Re-centering indigenous paradigms in colonizing schooling spaces. In Paris, D. & Alim, H. (2017). Culturally sustaining pedagogies.
Taylor, Donald M.Kachanoff, Frank J. (no date) ‘Managing cultural diversity without a clearly defined cultural identity: The ultimate challenge’, Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 21(4), pp. 546–559. Available at: http://search.proquest.com/docview/1733934004/fulltextPDF/BC3AFA43EE2840F1PQ/7?acc ountid=14782.