Monday, June 24, 2019

Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Chapter Two Reflections

Preservation of one's own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures. 
- Cesar Chavez

As I read the opening quote of chapter two, one I copied at the top of the page, I was reminded of a wish I had as a child. I always wished I could morph myself into people of other cultures and live amongst them to learn about their lives. I remember having this wish early on as we drove past high apartment building towers in New York City. I wanted to know first-hand what it was like to live in one of those towers. I found myself imagining that. Later as I learned about people all over the world, I found myself wishing that I could experience being a Native American person living on a reservation, a Muslim mother in a Turkish town, an Aborigine in Australia, a farm girl on a midwestern farm, and more. While I have a deep sense of pride and love for my own roots as the descendent of Irish and Polish immigrants who grew up in a warm, working class neighborhood as part of a big family in an industrial Northeast city in the United States, I also have keenly felt the limitations of my experience, an experience that is only one kind of experience in a world of multiple cultures, ways of living, and experiences. That's one reason why I'm drawn to social media, reading, research, and travel--I like to learn about our differences and commonalities as a people, and as an educator it is my aim to respect, learn from, and grow with the many diverse students and families I work with each and every year. That's why I was originally drawn to the #crttb Twitter slow chat, a chat focused on the shared reading, reflections, and share related to the book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain by Zaretta Hammond. 

To prepare for reading chapter two, I first read an article about how to mitigate and eliminate white supremacist attitudes/actions at school. It was an article sent to me by a colleague I respect for her courage and deep study related to the struggle with racism in schools. Then I looked at this week's focus questions:

The solutions for closing the achievement-gap (opportunity gap) lie in tapping into children's cultures. To do this, educators have to build background knowledge and awareness related to culture.
Hammond points out that culture is the way that every brain makes sense of the world. The brain uses cultural information to turn everyday happenings into meaningful events.

It was very interesting and helpful to read about the differences between surface culture, shallow culture, and deep culture, and to understand that our core mental models created by our cultures stay with us--these mental models are the schema with which we interpret the world.

Since I've been studying about cultural proficiency and culturally responsive teaching, I have found myself often self-coaching related to the schema I have. For example, I might think to myself, my initial reaction to the situation is __________, but I know this is based on ___________, and the truth of the matter is _________________ so I will act _______________________________________. This helps me to coach myself away from a reaction based on my deep culture/schema to a reaction based on new knowledge, understanding, and equity.

To teach a culturally diverse group of students well, we have to focus on the roots of culture: worldview, core beliefs, and group values. Hammond helps us to think about the roots of culture through a discussion on cultural archetypes. First, she discusses the the common cultural archetype connected with collectivism vs. individualism. She also focused on oral vs. written traditions. Hammond further discusses implicit bias (the kind of bias and stereotypes that are hard wired in us from our cultural roots) and structural racialization that focuses on the interplay of social and institutional practices that may negatively impact particular groups in our organizations, communities, and nation. As I think of structural racialization, I wonder about the structures in place where I work that distance students from successful independent learning, higher order thinking, and overall success in the school community. As I think of this and read Hammond's words, I immediately think about the potential that exists if we bridge the geography divide, ensure that all students are working with qualified staff, and provide other supports that give every child the opportunity to succeed. It's interesting to me that Hammond sees the achievement gap as a gap between dependent learners and independent learners. I want to read more about this.

Hammond demonstrates the difference between poverty and sociopolitcal context as she describes the myth of poverty and the reality of sociopolitical context. She describes poverty as the condition or symptom of structural inequities built into our social and economic systems. I remember learning about this a long time ago, and what made it the most clear to me was the idea of the "old-boy network" - a network of advantage that some are connected to and some are not, and to not be connected to this system of economic advantage often holds people back from opportunity.  To see poverty as culture promotes deficit thinking and demonstrates a lack of true understanding of what poverty is, why it exists, and the impact of institutionalized racism, structural racialization, skin color privilege, or language discrimination. We have to understand how we create intellectual apartheid in schools in order to build intellective capacity (intellective capacity is the increased power the brain creates to process complex information more effectively). To do this, as Hammond guides in chapter one, teachers have to be well-versed in brain science and cultural understanding.