The Cultural Proficiency Continuum for History-Social Science: A Framework to Address Equity Gaps for a Democratic Society

By Herczog, Michelle M. | Social Studies Review, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview
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The Cultural Proficiency Continuum for History-Social Science: A Framework to Address Equity Gaps for a Democratic Society


Herczog, Michelle M., Social Studies Review


If we truly believe that equity and opportunity are the cornerstones of American democracy we must ask ourselves, to what extent can we make these ideals a reality? How do we ensure that the voices of all groups are understood, valued and included when public policies are created, enacted, and enforced? The social, economic, cultural and political barriers are extant but one thing is clear - 1) education has the strongest potential for helping students overcome those barriers and for closing educational and social gaps between demographic groups in our society; and 2) education, first and foremost, offers a unique opportunity for all students to acquire the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be literate, productive, and responsible citizens. To do so, educators of all disciplines must first examine what we teach, how we teach, and for whom we advocate and ensure the Constitutional right of a free public education.

In the preceding article, Stephanie M. Graham and Randall B. Lindsey present a compelling case for the need to address equity gaps that exist in History-Social Science. They prompt us to examine the access, learning, opportunity and achievement gaps that persist disproportionately for African American, Latino, American Indian students, and students of poverty. Emphasis on Reading and Math has caused a narrowing of the curriculum in schools largely populated by students in these groups. When students are denied access to high quality History-Social Science education, they are denied their right to a well-rounded education and the right to become educated, engaged, responsible problem solvers in a democratic society.

Graham and Lindsey' s work in developing a Cultural Proficiency Framework also draws attention to the "Knowledge and Historical Accuracy Gap" that exists when history is presented as a "story well told" for some and a story of distortions, omissions, and inaccuracies for others (2008). Creating and delivering curriculum and pedagogy that is culturally responsive for African American, Latino, Asian American, and Native American students includes information about the histories, cultures, contributions, experiences, perspectives, and issues of ethnically diverse groups. In doing so, we can "empower ethnically diverse students through academic success, cultural affiliation, and personal efficacy" (Gay, 2000).

Perhaps the most disturbing consequence of the gaps regarding History-Social Science noted by Stephanie Graham, Randall Lindsey (2008), Meira Levinson (2007), and research conducted by Joseph Kahne (2007) is the Civic Achievement Gap, which describes disparities in levels of civic engagement in regards to race, culture, educational attainment, and income. When we deny students' opportunities to learn about and practice democracy, we are limiting their capacity to access and embrace civic engagement as adults, thus limiting their potential to influence public policies that effect the lives of all Americans.

Who is Responsible for Closing Gaps?

If we believe that low test scores are a symptom of the achievement gap and not the cause, (Gay, 2007; Lindsey, Graham, Westphal, & Jew, 2008) then it is the responsibility of every educator to face facts and address the conditions that lead to the symptoms of under achievement on standardized tests. Not to address these brutal facts is to ignore the fundamental issues of educational equity and access that derail the manifestation of a democratic society envisioned in the United States Constitution. The philosophy of American democracy, We the People, is based on the fundamental belief that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Should all children living within our borders have access to free, public education? And what is to be our response when a "free, public education" results in disparate outcomes for diverse groups of Americans?

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