Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Working with Communities to Explore and Personalize Culturally Relevant Pedagogies: "Push, Double Images, and Raced Talk"

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Working with Communities to Explore and Personalize Culturally Relevant Pedagogies: "Push, Double Images, and Raced Talk"

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND

Teachers in the United States are predominately White, female, and middle class, from suburban or rural areas (Zeichner et al., 1998) and have lived, for the most part, monocultural lives (Garcia & Pugh, 1992; Sleeter, 1997). In addition, for many middle-class White people, relationships with people of color often occur within a context where there are few people of color in number and, thus, White people may experience no discernible alternative cultural presence. Such experiences confirm prominent social ideologies that erase cultural, political, and class differences in favor of similarities, allowing many Whites to believe that everyone is the same (Roman, 1997) or, in reality, "they are just like me." These experiences make it challenging for White teachers to consider what it means to create education that is relevant for children who are not White and/or middle class. On the other hand, though many prospective teachers of color may have experienced diverse cultural contexts, most have been educated within public school systems where they experienced a Eurocentric approach to education and have been provided with few opportunities to consider culturally relevant practices or a multicultural curriculum.

CULTURALLY RELEVANT APPROACHES AND TEACHING AFRICAN AMERICAN CHILDREN

Although schools have an extensive history of failing to connect with the sociopolitical and cultural worlds of students of color and of poor students, exemplary teachers of these children weave together curriculum from the content of their children's lives. These teachers utilize pedagogies that are congruent with their children's culture and class-based patterns of living on the way to helping them become biculturally, or biclass competent (Foster, 1997; Heath, 1983; Irvine, 1989, 1992; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Noordhoff & Kleinfeld, 1993). Evolving bodies of literature profile the work of exemplary teachers for African American children (e.g., Ladson-Billings, 1994) and identify different political or cultural principles involved in developing culturally relevant teaching and curriculum (Gay, 2000; Hale, 2001; G. R Smith, 1998; Villegas & Lucas, 2002). This scholarship, however, is not always readily applied to the development of personal teaching pedagogies and may be often misinterpreted. For example, even though scholars in this area highlight the principals behind the teaching, culturally relevant teaching may often be misunderstood as the need to replicate the styles and behaviors of exemplary teachers of color or may be reduced to creating activities on what often amounts to stereotypical, trivialized, or overgeneralized beliefs on culture. In addition, though caring relationships with students often surface as critical to culturally supportive teaching (Beauboeuf-Lafontant, 2002; Dixson, 2003; Gay, 2000; Howard, 2001), the characteristics of these relationships may differ markedly from caring as defined by many prospective teachers. Finally, there is evidence that even experienced teachers who have participated in professional development programs focused on culturally relevant information may find it difficult to use this knowledge in constructing more supportive experiences (Foster & Peele, 1999).

Overall, in education it is still far easier to talk about cultural differences than to act on that understanding. As a White teacher educator I have watched prospective and practicing teachers struggle to understand what this might mean. Often, what I find to be exciting in the scholarship in this area remains, for many, too abstract and theoretical to make concrete and real. "What characteristics of African American culture make it distinct from European American culture?" they ask. And "How can race, racism, and skin color become appropriate targets of conversation for children?" Elements of African American culture and language as identified by Black scholars (Boykin, 1982; Delpit, 2002; Hale-Benson, 1986; Hilliard, 1992; McAdoo, 2002; Nobles, 1979, 1987; Smitherman, 1977) are unverifiable by most White teachers who have led monocultural lives and have little or no experience within an African American cultural milieu. …

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