Cultural Schemata-Yardstick for Measuring Others: Implications for Teachers

By Plata, Maximino | Journal of Instructional Psychology, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Cultural Schemata-Yardstick for Measuring Others: Implications for Teachers


Plata, Maximino, Journal of Instructional Psychology


Classroom teachers' cultural schemata become important factors when they use them as the standard or yardstick to instruct culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse (CLED) students. However, when teachers' yardstick is comprised of limited cross-cultural knowledge and experiences, they cannot gauge the true learning potential of CLED students. This ineptness in conjunction with "inflated power and status" results in teachers easily distorting, discounting, disparaging, and/or devaluing CLED students' language, cultural values, beliefs, motivation, aspirations, expectations, and/or intellectual abilities. Examples of how teachers' monistic cultural schemata result in negative outcomes are presented.

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When we encounter people from other societies or cultures, they catch our attention because they "look" different, they speak a language we don't understand, their actions are odd, or they believe differently than we ordinarily do. Their religious beliefs may not make sense to us at all and their cultural heritage and life experiences may differ greatly from those with which we are accustomed. Indeed, many of these cultural differences are observable, such as skin color, dress, spoken language, customs, gestures, greeting rituals, child rearing practices, emotional expressions, food, eating habits, and lifestyles to name a few. Some of these differences are less obvious but may be more "cultural shocking" than those that we see or hear. For example, there are dramatic differences between cultural groups' beliefs about personal space, or what they believe to be appropriate or inappropriate patterns of touching. Attitudes, values, beliefs that drive courtship patterns and patterns of interaction also reveal great differences between cultural groups. Our reaction to these culturally different phenomena is natural because their characteristics do not match information stored in our cognitive schemata.

According to anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists, all individuals develop patterns of feeling, thinking, believing, speaking, and doing things through the socialization processes of the cultural group of which they are a member (Gollnick & Chinn, 2009). These patterns of behavior are learned over a lifetime and are organized, categorized, and stored as COGNITIVE SCHEMATA (Shiraev & Levy, 2001). Cognitive schemata become an individual's cultural lenses through which the environment is viewed and evaluated (Matsumoto, 2000). And, because these schemata are reflections of the individual's identity, they are highly valued, protected, and defended from any threat of change.

So, when we encounter stimuli that match information stored in our cognitive schemata, we understand it and we decide to accept or reject it either consciously or subconsciously. If stimuli are misunderstood or are strikingly different than those to which we are accustomed, the stimuli are treated as threats to our schemata and these stimuli usually trigger defensive reactions. Defensive reactions function to preserve and protect our cognitive schemata and the lifestyle they represent. However, while schemata are important to support our individuality, there is a danger that these schemata become factors in suppressing other's beliefs, values, customs, and language.

Matsumoto and Juang (2008, p. 330) believe that "how we understand or construe our sense of self is intimately and fundamentally tied to how we understand the world around us and our relationships with others in that world." Therefore, our cognitive schemata direct our psychological and personality makeup, and we use these schemata as the standard or yardstick to compare our beliefs, our personal attributes, and our behaviors with those of others. These comparisons are made on abstract (covert) phenomenon (e.g., values, attitudes, aspirations, expectations, etiquette, beliefs) as well as (overt) behaviors we see, hear, touch, or smell (e. …

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