How do we racially and culturally socialize our children or students? I would like to begin with a scenario followed by a question or prompt. The scenario should be familiar to many readers regardless of your role in a young child’s life; parent, caretaker, educator.
Scenario: It is lunch time and a wonderful array of food is spread across the table. The smells are enticing and the young person who the food is intended for really needs to sit and eat before she melts down from lack of food. The trouble is she is engrossed in play, has told you she isn’t hungry, and has already ignored your first attempt to get her to the table.
Writing Prompt: Consider for a moment how you might try again to bring the child to the table to eat. Write down your own response before you continue reading.
Now read the options below.
How you get the child to sit at the table and begin eating may be influenced by racial and cultural socialization patterns from your own upbringing as well as the patterns you are explicitly or implicitly using to socialize the child. Monocultural families (where the child and parent(s) are of the same race and culture and perhaps even live around and among others of the same race-cultural background) often socialize their children by the practices around them. I encourage you to reread the options and this time, consider your reactions to the approach(es) you would not use. Have you heard these approaches used in schools or in your other communities? Is one approach too punitive, or too passive?
It is sometimes difficult to know your own cultural patterns until they are challenged by others. I can vividly recall the time I was reprimanded by the White, Jewish parents I worked for while in college. I wanted their son to brush his teeth so he could eat and then we could play. I used a bribing strategy my Latina parents used for all six of their children, including me. I told the three year old that I couldn’t play with him until he brushed his teeth and got dressed. It worked for me because the child did what I wanted him to do. It was clearly not ok with the parents who were listening in on the intercom. The parents told me he didn’t have to brush his teeth or get dressed if he didn’t want to. That was the first time I was confronted with an unfamiliar child rearing practice, the idea that the child had a say on what the day was like. The fact that the parents were listening in on my via the intercom was something I processed years later, but that too was a style I was unfamiliar with. In my collectivist home, family, and neighborhood, you would never second guess what the person in charge was doing with or said to the child.
During my years as an early childhood educator in a progressive school I experienced many more unfamiliar child rearing practices. I picked up on subtle differences in racial and cultural patterns used by parents and caretakers at drop off and during pick up. Through readings I learned that these racial and cultural patterns are as ingrained in them as my own cultural patterns were for me (Whelan Aziza, 2006). In addition to the diverse ecosystem existing in my room, there was also the school. As an institution, schools carry with them their own philosophies of education and considerations for good teaching practices. While I believed in the school’s progressive approach, I was conflicted when the practices I learned to use through coursework and at faculty meetings didn’t work for some of my culturally and racially diverse students. The more familiar I became with anti-bias and culturally relevant practices (Derman-Sparks & Olsen Edwards, 2010), the easier it was to consider ways to teach the three year old students in my class through a racial and cultural construct.
Schools are fodder for the racial and cultural socialization that takes place between and among students and adults. Educators have access to a wealth of resources to nurture healthy racial-cultural identity (see resources below). Perhaps readers are familiar with the Teaching Tolerance Anti-bias Framework. Their four domains do more than teach about social justice causes or encourage students to engage in activism. What is most appealing about their framework is that it includes identity as an essential part of anti-bias work. Pre-K to 12th grade educators are offered goals for identity development that positively affirms the social identities to which students belong. In addition to recognizing and affirming students’ racial-ethnic identity, educators should consider ways that cultural patterns develop field independent and field dependent learners.
Cultures vary in the ways in which they interact with children and this informs how students interact with each other, with adults at school (are they raised to see adults as peers, caretakers, authority figures, or a combination of several roles), and with the processes used to acquire and analyze new information. Whelan Ariza (2006) discusses the differences in learning strategies and approaches used by students to solve problems, interact with others, and function in classroom settings. European Americans tend to be field-independent learners who like individual recognition, are comfortable approaching tasks without the need to consult with others, and are self-reliant. Students of color (African American, Arab American, Latino/a, Native American, and many Asian American students) tend to be field-dependent learners. For these students, their work with others is to achieve a collective or common goal and they are greatly influenced by the teacher. Other differences in learning styles include silence versus vocal and physical movement while engaging in tasks; working on a project independently versus sharing work and answers; how the student understands and uses time; amd comfort asking questions in class. In addition to providing an overview of cultural diversity in the classroom, Whelan Ariza (2006) discusses some of the cultural traditions taught from parent to child from Native American, Asian American, Muslims, Followers of Islam, Haitians, and Latinx communities.
Re-consider the approaches used to get the child at the table to eat her lunch through a racially-culturally relevant perspective.
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Dr. Sandra Chapman
Latina, Lesbian, Educator, Mommy of two. Committed to enriching her life with a diverse village of people who will share their stories.