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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Culturally Responsive Teaching

It seems pretty obvious that to attract the attention of our students, we must reach them on a personal level and make the learning relevant to them and their lives. This way, they will remember it better. True. But there's a drawback to how we are encouraged to do this.

Here's the thing: There are some concepts that are universal in all cultures, however differently they may be approached or perceived by each. You don't have to explore the concept of struggle by bombarding our black kids with stories set exclusively in the days of slavery or in the murky shadows of a ghetto. Also, it's not "culturally biased", as many teachers complained, to have mention of a "fig tree" in the state graduation test, when contextual clues certainly indicate that figs are edible and a tree is, well, a tree.

The students seem to be so used to our attempts as teachers to make material relevant to them specifically that when it goes beyond the little bubbles of existence they're nestled in, they shut down.

Let's expand our young peoples' minds and THEN facilitate their connections to what they've been exposed to. THAT'S part of culturally responsive teaching. I would be sick and tired if all I was ever given to read were stories about my own culture and no one else's. Sure, it may make other people feel they're being respectful of my own culture, but that's not all I am and that's not all I'm interested in. I ADORE Greek myths, European folklore, Shakespeare, metaphysical poetry, Gothic Victorian English literature, Middle Eastern and African fables, and contemporary fiction from all over the world... Don't patronize me by limiting my education and saying I'll only be motivated by things I can directly connect to my every day life. Show me how to learn universally, and I'll be able to make the connections with or without your help, dammit!

If we limit our students to a small bubble of experience, that defines their comfort zone with very bold lines that they later struggle to cross at all and it eliminates whole worlds of opportunity from their knowledge and futures. It's okay for our black kids to read about Asian kids. It's okay for our Hispanic kids to read about white kids. Really. It's okay. I bet you, if you prick any of them, they'd bleed the same blood, and you may just teach them something new.

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