Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Cultural Identity and Education: A Critical Race Perspective

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Cultural Identity and Education: A Critical Race Perspective

Article excerpt

As we begin to journey through this new 21st century, educators at every level are endeavoring to meet the challenge to be responsive to the educational needs of their students, current and future. This is especially true in relationship to the education of students of diverse backgrounds (Ladson-Billings 2001; 1999; 1994) in public educational settings. These settings are largely made up of Black and Brown students, African American and Latino/a children. Education for these students has become an important consideration in curriculum and pedagogy for colleges/universities, state boards of education, school districts, and agencies including NCATE. This is further complicated by the fact that the majority of students entering the teaching profession are White and female (Ladson-Billings, 2001).

In 2006-2007, 105,641 students earned degrees in education (National Center of Educational Statistics). Of these, 83,125 were women, 70,889 were White women, and 18,979 were White men. The leadership of education mirrors the demographics of those earning degrees and initial certification in education. In 2007-2008, 175,800 professionals earned Masters' degrees in education. There were 134,870 White/Caucasian degree recipients; 31,104 were White/Caucasian males and 103,766 were White/Caucasian females. Concurrently, 8,491 professionals received Doctoral degrees in education; 5,589 were White/Caucasian with 2,773 White/Caucasian males and 3,683 White/Caucasian female degree recipients. These numbers are staggering next to the increasing numbers of non-White students in America's public schools. These numbers also speak to the limited presence of African Americans as educators in public school settings. Just these numbers alone indicate a potential cultural gap between most educators and students.

As African-American educators working with White teacher/educators who teach diverse student populations, we know it is necessary for our colleagues to gain access to and create understandings of the cultural experiences of African American and Latino/a students. An understanding of these cultural experiences will, at minimum, provide a glimpse of their students' cultural identities while helping them to understand their own; "White Americans also have a cultural identity" (Robinson, 1999, p.88).

While it is clear that cultural identity and cultural experiences alter how individuals view their world (Berry, 2005), this discussion will focus on the ways in which these factors impact teaching praxis. Why is cultural identity and cultural experience important in the teaching practice of African American teacher/educators who will serve diverse student populations (primarily African American students) in school settings? How might the cultural identities and cultural experiences of the African American teacher/educator affect their (future) (African American) students? How might the cultural identity and cultural experience of the teacher/educator affect the students? How might knowledge of their students' cultural identity and cultural experience influence the praxis of the teacher/educator? In what ways does critical race theory (CRT)/critical race feminism (CRF) connect with issues of cultural identity and cultural experience? And why is it important to understand these connections in the context of teaching?

In this article, we will first discuss cultural identity and cultural experience. In this discussion, we will articulate our meanings for cultural identity, cultural experience(s), and cultural gap in the context of this work. Following this will be a discussion on CRT/CRF. Then we will address two questions: (1) In what ways does CRT/CRF connect with issues of cultural identity and cultural experience and (2) in what ways have such connections served the praxis of two African American educators?

Cultural Identity and Cultural Experience

Cultural experience, for the purpose of this work, is defined as events (singularly or collectively engaged) specific to a group of individuals with shared beliefs, values, traditions, customs, practices, and language. …

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