Hearts and Minds: Self-Esteem and the Schooling of Girls

By Jane Kenway; Sue Willis | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

Cultural Differences and Self-esteem: Alternative Curriculum Approaches

Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis


The Problem

Some of the literature on self-esteem gives the impression that the problem boils down to a minority of students being treated prejudicially by a school system and curriculum dominated by a single cultural viewpoint. So, students of non-English-speaking background are discriminated against by a curriculum which is 'Anglo' in its cultural emphasis. Students of working-class background find the middle-class, academic culture of mainstream curriculum alien. Girls face a persistent culture of sexism which forces them into particular 'aptitudes' and subject choices. It follows from this that curriculum, as a compensatory and empowering counter-move to this cultural dominance, needs to re-value those cultures of ethnicity, class and gender which are excluded by their difference, their non-'normality' as defined in terms of the dominant Anglo, middle-class male culture.

This counter-move is based on a very proper reading of power relations in the curriculum. Not only this, it is based on simple pedagogical common sense: that students learn what they want to learn and that what they want to learn is very much defined by what is relevant to their own particular cultural context. The traditional academic curriculum was simply a mechanism for defining certain students as failures. It appeared to be equitable because it was comprehensive. But, in a subtle and pernicious way, it condemned particular social groups to exclusion by virtue of its discriminatory cultural presupposition that the Anglo, male culture of competitive academic success is universally superior.

This analysis, however, is not the end of our problems, but the beginning. For a start, any implication that cultural differences are a problem for minorities or marginal groups is far from true. Those culturally excluded-students of non-English-speaking background (NESB),

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