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electricpaladin ([personal profile] electricpaladin) wrote2012-02-17 03:04 pm

Cultural Sensitivity: Sometimes I Think This is Bullshit

In my line of work, it's considered a virtue to be sensitive to the culture(s) of the kids we work with. We are supposed to educateourselvesinwhat's appropriate and inappropriate in the cultural contexts of our kids and then do our best to meet their expectations. In a lot ofways, thisisan entirely good idea. It helps us get past the "culture of poverty" myths, connect to our students, and dodge a lot of the social,racial,andeconomic issues that could potentially divide and destroy classroom culture.

Even though I know this is basically a good idea, I sometimes wonder if it's bullshit.

Before I go any further, I feel like I should add a disclaimer. By that, I mean that the opinions expressed in this post are not necessarilyendorsed by the writer. In other words: I don't really know what I think about this issue, much less how I feel about this issue. I'm unloadingmyemotionsand expressing my feelings, and if you take this post as anything but me thinking out loud for your entertainment andedification,you're a jerk.

So, with black kids - and, in many cases, kids who belong to other cultures but have undergone a lot of their socialization around black kids -you aren't supposed to single them out by name. It's apparently disrespectful. I don't really understand how, but I don't have to. It's aculturalthing. It's true for the kids. Whatever.

The thing is, you can imagine that as a classroom teacher this isn't easy to deal with. How the hell else am I supposed to deal with kids ifIcan't single them out? It's important for me to note here that I'm not talking about insulting or humiliating kids - yes, yes, at least not bymyentirely subjective standards - I'm talking about saying something as simple as taking a break from whatever bit of instruction I'm doing tosay"hey, Manuel, please stop talking and listen to me" or "Christine, spit out your gum please."

I want to note that it's not like I'm taking any heat from anyone in authority to do this differently. My administrators seem pretty content to let merun my classroom my way, and they're pretty happy with how I relate to the kids. I've noticed a lot of conflict in my classroom, and I'm trying tofigure out how to improve my classroom culture. My classroom culture, not my kids' culture. That's their business. My mentor's advice was toconsider this "calling out" phenomenon and see what I can do to change how I relate to my kids.

The first thing is that I'm very confused about how the heck to communicate with my kids if I'm not going to single them out anymore. What am Isupposed to do, say "remember that gum isn't allowed" while looking meaningfully at one of my students while she chews? Is anyone but meaware that this will totally fail to produce any kind of response?

I know what the solution is, of course. My school has a number of excellent teachers who are born and bred in Oakland's black community. Ican - and will - go and watch them and see how they deal with it. Perhaps I'll discover that it's simpler than I think.

What's really frustrating is that the entire project seems a little ridiculous. My classroom isn't just full of black kids. There are black kids from Oakland, black kids from elsewhere, latino kids, kids born in America, and latino kids born abroad, Mongolian kids and Chinese kids and Vietnamese kids, and even one lonely white kid (actually, I think the white kid moved, but I still see last year's white kid in the halls sometimes). I know that more of my kids are black than anything else, but by bowing to their cultural preferences and ignoring everyone else's, aren't I perpetuating the same inequalities I hate, just for different reasons?

And for that matter, why the heck don't we expect black kids to develop cultural competencies like (nearly) everyone else in America (except the white people) has to? I know that the black and Jewish experiences in America are very different - for one thing, we got to be white eventually, and I'm not sure America can handle making black people white - but nobody ever gave a shit about my culture when I was growing up. I've had to learn to appreciate the Jesus myth in literature. I've had negative interactions with teachers based on my argumentative and belligerent ways. I've had to explain my weird Jewish holidays over and over again. Is this a white liberal guilt ("we must limit the ways our awful white culture impacts these poor innocent black kids!") thing? A low expectations ("we can't expect these fucked up, poor, urban black kids to adapt to other cultures") thing? Or is it some other thing?


The thing is, I understand that none of that really matters. It doesn't matter where this thing comes from or how I related to it in my childhood. What matters is that I want to teach these kids science, and the more harmoniously I can do it, the more science they will learn. If I have to figure out how to discipline kids without talking to them individually - or whatever it turns out I have to do - then I'll do it. But I still have a lot of questions, and I think I'm going to have to get used to not having answers.