Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Challenges to Conceptualizing and Actualizing Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: How Viable Is the Theory in Classroom Practice?

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Challenges to Conceptualizing and Actualizing Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: How Viable Is the Theory in Classroom Practice?

Article excerpt

Since the 1990s, culturally relevant pedagogy has been taught extensively in teacher education programs and promoted by scholars and practitioners as an effective pedagogical tool to work with students of diverse backgrounds. Many studies to date, however, have discussed the difficulties that preservice and inservice teachers have in implementing multicultural education or culturally relevant teaching in their classroom pedagogy (Cochran-Smith, 2004; Gay, 1995; Gay & Howard, 2000; Sleeter, Torres, & Laughlin, 2004). Because there is a need to work with teachers on understanding how to put the theory into practice, this study was a grassroots attempt to collaborate with a group of educators who were committed to social justice to discuss, apply, and assess the theory of culturally relevant pedagogy in their practice.

Culturally Relevant Pedagogy

In her study of eight successful teachers of African American students, Ladson-Billings (1994) attributed their effectiveness to what she called culturally relevant pedagogy. She conceptualized the term as a "pedagogy that [empowered] students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes" (pp. 17-18). In 1995, she published two articles that laid the groundwork for culturally relevant pedagogy. She determined that the theory rested on three criteria: academic success, cultural competence, and critical or sociopolitical consciousness (Ladson-Billings, 1995a). She further emphasized those criteria by defining culturally relevant pedagogy as a "theoretical model that not only addresses student achievement but also helps students to accept and affirm their cultural identity while developing critical perspectives that challenge inequities that schools (and other institutions) perpetuate" (Ladson-Billings, 1995b, p. 469). Because she felt that teachers used academic success, cultural competence, and sociopolitical consciousness in markedly different manners, she also outlined in the later article three theoretical underpinnings that broadly defined the teaching behaviors that would satisfy the criteria of a culturally relevant pedagogue. She categorized the underpinnings under the headings of conceptions of self and others, social relations, and conceptions of knowledge, and for the benefit of practitioners in school settings she provided concrete examples of what each would look like.

Subsequent research using culturally relevant, responsive, sensitive, and appropriate pedagogy as a theoretical framework

provided varying definitions of the term. Although several studies have remained true to the three-pronged paradigm (Barnes, 2006; Gay, 2002; Hefflin, 2002; Patchen & Cox-Petersen, 2008; Yoon, 2007), many others have utilized the theory in a manner that focused mainly on culture. For example, culturally relevant pedagogy has been defined as a means to use students' cultures and strengths to bridge school achievement (Boutte & Hill, 2006), to validate students' life experiences by utilizing their cultures and histories as teaching resources (Boyle-Baise, 2005), and to recognize students' home cultures, promote collaboration among peers, hold high standards, and connect home life with school experiences (Neuman, 1999). Siwatu (2007) even stipulated that there is general agreement among culturally responsive pedagogues insofar as how the theory is used in facilitating learning, structuring classroom management, providing multiple opportunities to demonstrate knowledge, and helping students to maintain their own culture while navigating in the mainstream culture. It is questionable, however, that such general agreement exists, considering that the list fails to account for one of the major components of culturally responsive pedagogy, which is to challenge issues of power and openly confront racial and social injustices (Gay, 2000).

Moreover, recent studies have actually elicited their own theoretical framework for culturally relevant pedagogy. …

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