Culture is defined as a group of people whose members speak the same dialect and share common activities, values, and interests. Culture is different from but somewhat related to the concept of race. Racial characteristics are more biological in nature and relate more to social interactions and the lifestyle of a particular group of people. In general racial groups are usually very proud of their cultural identity and ethnic heritage. Ethnic heritage or pride influences how well our students assimilate and get along together in classrooms.
Effects of Different Cultural Constraints:
Whether people want to admit it or not cultural and racial differences do exist. To be more specific cultural differences among classes of people within the same racial group exists. Hatred and bigotry still exist despite legal constraints and growing public outcry. The fight to achieve racial equality is the same, the area and the number of people involved has just grown larger.
Simply stated culture is one of the common threads that holds a race together (K.B. Hilliard, 1992). Expressions of racial and cultural identity are not only necessary but are also healthy for cultural and racial minorities in our society. With that in mind educators should design educational experiences based upon an understanding and respect for cultural and racial differences. This process must involve the total school community (teachers, staff, administrators, and parents) in order to be successful. This process will include research, planning, training, and a totally new nontraditional approach to education. It is these values upon which education must build on and move forward to try and resolve this bitter conflict. This process will take more than the educational system to complete; it will also require our entire society to come together, something that to this day has not happened. A problem of this magnitude is something that as individuals we cannot control but as groups we must gain control. Another interesting aspect of American culture is the way in which people are ascribed status in our society. People in America are not judged by their class, money, or education but are ascribed status determined by race, color, religion, and national origin. For some members of minority groups, status is not measured by their level of education, or monetary possessions but rather by the color of their skin or their nation of origin.
Culture is present everywhere and in everything in any given society. It has a direct effect on how the students behave because of the many different values that are taught at home, in the community, and in our schools. Culture is also a part of the assimilation process that each individual goes through. Lastly, it (culture) very strongly affects the type of curriculum that is taught in most public schools. America's educational system has forcedÂ all who attend to find new ways of existing and coexisting cooperatively. In spite of the various tribal, racial, ethnic, religious, and national divisions in our society, it is up to educators to address all of these issues in their classroom on a daily basis. AmericaÂ the melting pot is visualized as a giant vat into which all varieties of people are poured into as they arrive, all intended to come out the other end as the same. However, some of the ethnic values of individuals are un-melt able. Others tend to bend but seldom do they break. In general this vision is sometimes very un-realist to many Americans. An American is the result of the mixing and blending of different cultures within our society. This includes the survival of their own biological and cultural heritage along with the amount of time and elements that have gone into the melting process.Â
Curriculum: Process and Content:
Curriculum, in its conventional usage, refers to the "scope and sequence" of the subject-matter conveyed in a school. Curriculum development, therefore, generally focuses on the selection and organization of specific knowledge and skills to fit particular developmental needs of the student and the unique operational structure of the school. Curriculum development usually does not explicitly address the social context in which learning takes place, nor does it consider the underlying cultural processes by which the content is acquired and utilized. These considerations are usually implicit to the cultural framework from which the curriculum is derived, with the school considered a "given" in that framework.
As the previous discussion has indicated, however, content, context and process are all intertwined, so that any one dimension can be affected by cultural variables and thus affect the outcome of the educational process. In the context of this discussion, curriculum development will, therefore, encompass all discernible dimensions that enter into the determination and implementation of the directed learning experiences by the school. From this perspective, the scope and sequence of the curriculum will be extended to include the interaction between content, process and context, and thus go beyond the usual culture-bound determinations that are associated with an emphasis on content alone. The approach developed here will proceed from an assumption of the unique social and cultural conditions of the child as a "given," rather than the universality of a particular body of knowledge or a particular mode of learning. We will begin the discussion on the latter assumptions, however, with a look at the subject-oriented approach currently reflected in school curriculum, and then move toward a more cross-culturally applicable alternative.
Finally, parents are an important aspect of the school community. They represent a link to the past for our students. Parents (or elders) have traditionally been the keepers and passers of culture within a society. Often, parents can be used as a valuable resource to aid in the instructional process. Many times parents can provide educators with much needed information and insight into the various customs and rituals that a particular ethnic group observes.
Educators can no longer afford to neglect this valuable resource.
It is extremely important that educators stay abreast of theÂ numerous court decisions that occur almost daily that effect education. Within the last ten years there has been a variety of rulings regarding the rights of students, teachers, and parents, along with new legislation that effects the students involved in bilingual and special education programs.
Successful teaching in the nineties must take into account many different issues. Educators who are knowledgeable in their field and are sensitive to the needs of their students and community will continue to achieve a great amount of success in the ever changing world of education.
One of the most difficult, yet most important tasks in the design of any educational program is to make explicit the goals toward which the program is directed. When the task is complicated by such extensive and pervasive educational functions as those of potential interest to the school, and by the often conflicting and divergent expectations regarding schools in a minority setting, it often appears insurmountable. It is necessary, nevertheless, to attempt such a task, and we shall do so by first examining some of the goals of education in general, and then looking at the two most commonly espoused goals for minority education-"cultural assimilation" and "cultural pluralism". An alternative goal of "cultural eclecticism" will then be offered as the basis for the ensuing discussion.
Some of the least direct and least explicit functions of the school become apparent when it is viewed in the context of cultural minority education. The traditional intellectual and social functions indicated above are then confounded by the additional and seemingly invidious factors associated with cultural differences, such as conflicting values, varied learning styles, diverse behavior patterns, non-conforming social allegiances, and alternative perceptions of reality. These factors, when thrust into the amalgam of traditional school policies and practices, reveal the extent to which the school serves a concomitant function of inducing acculturative influences in the domains of values, attitudes, beliefs and social behavior. In an effort to more directly accommodate these additional cultural factors, schools involved with minority education have been called upon to adopt some variant of the goals of cultural assimilation or cultural pluralism.
Though it is rarely made explicit, and is often unintended, one of the most distinguishing features of schools in cultural minority settings is their overwhelming press toward assimilation into mainstream cultural patterns. Whether intentional or not, the basic thrust of schooling is toward the breaking down of particularistic orientations and developing in their place, a universalistic orientation. Even where accommodations are made to include ethnic studies or bilingual education in the curriculum content, the structure, method, and processes through which the content is organized and transmitted are usually reflective of mainstream patterns and exert a dominant influence on the student (cf., Bayne, 1969). Schools are agents of the dominant society and as such, they reflect the underlying cultural patterns of that society. As long as they reflect the structure and social organization of the dominant society, they can be expected to perpetuate its values, attitudes, and behavior patterns within an implicit framework of assimilation.
What then, does a school goal of assimilation have to offer the cultural minority, and what are some of its limitations? On the surface, a cultural assimilation orientation would seem to offer the minority student an opportunity to gain access to the skills and resources necessary to participate in the larger society on equal terms with others. This expectation often goes unfulfilled, however, because of the school's inability to adequately respond to the differences in learning styles associated with differences in thought, communication and social interaction on the part of the minority student. Consequently, the requisite skills are not learned, status differentials are reinforced, and access to societal resources is further impeded, thus thwarting the minority students' aspirations. The school cannot contribute effectively to the assimilation process without careful attention to the unique cultural conditions out of which the minority student emerges.
If assimilation is desired and is to be achieved in full by a cultural minority, it must be supported by social, political and economic forces beyond those available through the school. Though the school may serve a useful, and even necessary function in the assimilation process, it cannot accomplish the task alone (cf., St. Lawrence and Singleton, 1976). If cultural assimilation is not desired, alternative goals must be adequately articulated so as to be able to assess the extent to which schools may or may not be able to contribute to their attainment. One such alternative goal that has received widespread attention is that of cultural pluralism.
Whereas assimilation stresses the ways of the dominant society, cultural pluralism is intended to stress the ways of the minority society. Cultural pluralism is advocated as an educational goal by those who seek a pluralistic, multi-cultural society in which each ethnic, racial or religious group contributes to the larger society within the context of its own unique cultural traditions (cf., Banks, 1976). The school's task, therefore, is to recognize the minority culture and to assist the student to function more effectively within that culture. Heavy emphasis is placed on ethnic studies and minority language programs, but, as pointed out earlier, these are usually offered within the traditional structural framework of the school and have only tangential effect in terms of minority development goals. The primary beneficial effects are in the symbolic implications of the formal recognition of the minority group's existence by the school, and in the access to broader societal resources and experience by the minority group members who are employed to carry them out. Such access can result in positive influences of minority groups on the functioning of the school.
As presently espoused, however, with an emphasis on cultural autonomy and homogeneity, cultural pluralism falls short of being a realistic goal toward which the schools may direct their efforts. In addition to participating in various was in the cultural traditions of their own society, most (if not all), minority group members also participate in varying degrees in the cultural traditions of the larger society. To maintain true cultural pluralism, a structural separation of cultural groups must exist (Gordon, 1964), and this is not the case in American society, with the school being but one example of structural interaction. Different cultural groups interact with each other in various ways for various purposes, resulting in diffuse acculturative influences and constant adaptation, within the context of a national social order. Under such conditions, the goals of education must necessarily extend beyond minority group boundaries, if the student is to be prepared for the larger social reality s/he will face as an adult.
Even if cultural pluralism were to be viewed as a realistic goal (and it may be, under certain conditions of oppression), we would still have the problem of using an institutional artifact of one society (i.e., the school) to promote the cultural traditions of another. To change the subject-matter (content) without a concomitant change in the structure, method and processes through which that content is conveyed, may in the end, only strengthen rather than weaken the influences of the larger society. To achieve educational independence does not necessarily lead to cultural independence, if the educational experiences remain within the structural framework of the dominant culture.
It would appear then, that neither extreme of complete cultural assimilation or separation is appropriate or adequate as an educational goal, nor are either realistically attainable through the traditional framework of the school. We must, therefore, seek an alternative goal that rests on the middle ground between assimilation and pluralism, and then devise a means by which such a goal might be achieved.
Since there are features of both the assimilationist and pluralist perspectives which seem desirable in developing educational programs for minorities, we will devise an eclectic approach, which allows for minority selection and adaptation of those features which they deem most desirable, and attempts to overcome the previously stated limitations. The goal of this approach will be referred to, therefore, as "cultural eclecticism." This is not to imply that the school is to present a hodgepodge of cultural practices from which students choose at whim, but rather that the school will assist the student in understanding the nature of the diverse experiences which are a natural part of his/her existence, and thus contribute to the development of an integrated cultural perspective suitable to the student's needs and circumstances.
In developing an eclectic approach, we are assuming that each minority group has unique characteristics that distinguish it from other groups, and that all groups share characteristics common to the larger society. We are also assuming that variations exist within and between groups, in orientation toward minority vs. dominant cultural characteristics. Some individuals and some groups wish to stress the minority culture, while others are oriented toward the dominant culture, with still others desiring the "best of both worlds." Our concern then is with the development of an educational approach that respects this vast diversity, while introducing everyone to theÂ ange of options available, so that they themselves are able to exercise some degree of choice in their individual or group life style and goals. Such an approach must recognize the multifaceted and dynamic nature of a large, complex, open, continually evolving society, and must allow for the varied cultural expressions of ethnic, religious and political beliefs and practices within the broader framework of that society. It is through such variation and diversity that the vitality of the society at large is maintained, and our understanding of the range of human potential and capabilities is deepened. We are building, therefore, on the notion of "multiculturalism as the normal human experience" (Goodenough, 1976) and are attempting to make evident and accommodate to a condition that already exists, but is largely ignored.
Thus, we present a goal of "cultural eclecticism" for minority education, in which features of both the assimilationist and pluralist ideologies are incorporated with the emphasis on an evolutionary form of cultural diversity to be attained through the informed choices and actions of individuals well grounded in the dynamics of human and cultural interaction processes. Eclecticism implies an open-ended process (rather than a dead-ended condition) whereby individuals or groups can adapt and define the functions of the school in response to their changing needs, assuming that they understand those functions and are in a position to influence school programs sufficiently to make them fully compatible with their needs. How then, might the school be made flexible enough, in structure and method, as well as content, to accommodate such potentially diverse demands?
To respond to that question, we will build upon the perspectives outlined above, seeking ways to restructure the social organization of the school so as to foster a closer linkage between socialization and formal education processes. To accomplish this, we will work toward an experiential, community-based approach to learning, in which what is learned derives its meaning from the context in which it is learned. We will begin with an examination of instructional content, since the structure and method we develop should be built upon and consistent with what it is we are trying to teach. The content should, in turn, reflect the full range of processual and situational features necessary to achieve the goal of cultural eclecticism. With such a goal in mind, we will turn now to the development of a curriculum framework for minority education.
Culture is a normal yet important aspect of life within a community. Attitudes, values, and beliefs are shaped and influenced by many external forces. Throughout many generations these ideas are fined tuned to fit the esthetic philosophy of a community.
Numerous parades, festivals, and other social events are planned and held annually within a community. People young and old come to know these events and look forward to their occurrence each year (like seasons).
If all these statements are true, then why is it so difficult to effectively involve culture in the planning of a school curriculum?
Educators must consider the ethnic background of the students who attend the school in which they teach. Educators should consider these factors in planning activities (social or otherwise) for students, for school assemblies, and other school functions.
If the community is composed of a mosaic of cultures, then a multicultural approach to education should be adopted.
Teachers must also be sensitive to the needs of the community.
When issues involving elements of culture occur within a community, teachers must be at the forefront of these activities to provide leadership and compassion for their students.