Politics, Language, and Culture: A Critical Look at Urban School Reform

By Joseph W. Check | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

Boston: Three Cultures of Reform

We are always on shaky ground when considering cultural differences. Although it is important to examine how culture may influence learning and therefore achievement in school, the danger lies in overgeneralizing its effects.

—Sonia Nieto 1

The school reform movement will not foreground issues of race in trying to change schools. Instead, the theory is, “what's good for the goose is good for the gander”—what works for white kids must work for black kids.

—Theresa Perry 2


INTRODUCTION

What is culture? In conversation, we use expressions like “drug culture” and “corporate culture, ” to describe realities of everyday life. Academically, scholars have created more than 160 definitions of culture, 3 including “the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought, ” 4 and “a shared organization of ideas that includes the intellectual, moral, and aesthetic standards prevalent in a community. . . .” 5

Why so many definitions? Cultural influences are pervasive and rapidly changing; definitions help us analyze cultural forces in action and trace their many effects. However, definitions are not enough. Cultural anthropologist Robert LeVine argues that our understanding of a culture relies chiefly on the research methods we use to learn about it, that “formal definitions do little to clarify the nature of culture; clarification is only possible through ethnography.” 6

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