Dr. W.A. Kritsonis - International Refereed Publication(s)
NATIONAL FORUM OF MULTICULTURAL ISSUES JOURNALVOLUME 4, NUMBER 2, 20071National Recommendations for Improving CulturalDiversity: Model of a Culturally Active ClassroomSettingKimberly McLeod, EdDCollege of EducationTexas Southern UniversityTyrone Tanner, EdDThe Whitlowe R. Green College of EducationPrairie View A & M UniversityWilliam Allan Kritsonis, PhDThe Whitlowe R. Green College of EducationPrairie View A & M UniversityABSTRACTThe purpose of this article is to describe how culturally active classrooms cancontribute to the academic success of both the educator, and the learner. Theauthors discuss teacher perceptions of culture based on responses collected at an in-service diversity training session. The authors introduce the concept of “culturallyactive” classrooms and how practitioners take into account the cultural perceptionsof the educator, the cultural perceptions or misconceptions of students towards theirown racial identity and the racial identity of others. These concepts help in buildingculturally active classrooms utilizing the components of a students psychological,intellectual, physical, environmental and social (PIPES) landscape.IntroductionA group of teachers from across the country were asked during a diversitytraining to anonymously identify common stereotypes they were taught or grew upthinking. They revealed the following:“Blacks are lazy”; “Mexican’s don’t work very hard”; “Black peopledon’t speak properly”; “All Blacks steal or are thieves”; “Whites go tocollege and blacks go to jail or learn a trade”; “Black are on public aid
NATIONAL FORUM OF MULTICULTURAL ISSUES JOURNAL_____________________________________________________________________________________2and are too lazy to work”; “Blacks are genetically better athletes,dancers and they all love rap”; “Asian students are intelligent anddriven”; “White people are prejudiced”; “White people feel that theyare entitled”; “I was taught in school that Black people have their ownschools because they don’t want to go to school with whites”; “AllHispanics are lazy and do not care about education”; “All Blackpeople will hurt you given the chance”; “Asians are smarter in mathand science and their parents expect them to get A’s”; “All Native-Americans are alcoholics”; “Hispanics are dangerous, cut you withknives, don’t believe in birth control and are lazy”.Did they truly believe these stereotypes? Were these non-verbalized stereotypescommunicated to the diverse student population? Were these hidden stereotypicalthoughts, not so hidden in daily practice? At the end of the diversity training, as theyreflected on their experiences, a few statements made were:“I used to think that I could not academically reach the black student,but now I know I can”; “I used to think that the black student wasincapable of learning at the level of white students, but now I knowthey are students like everyone else”; “I used to think that white peoplewere genetically smarter than I was, but now I know I am just ascapable as they are”; “I realize now, that I still have some work to doin eliminating the beliefs that I have towards other races.”Purpose of the ArticleThe purpose of this article is to describe how culturally active classrooms cancontribute to the academic success of both the educator, and the learner.Silent Pain and DisbeliefAs the stereotypes were read back to them, many laughed as they thought howridiculous these thoughts are, but the laughter soon turned to silence, when they realizedthat these were their own thoughts and they were very pejorative. Is this how teacherstruly feel about other races, what about those other races they are teaching? The silence,as they stated in their reflections was a silent pain and disbelief, a silent astonishment.
KIMBERLY MCLEOD, TYRONE TANNER, WILLIAM ALLAN KRITSONIS_____________________________________________________________________________________3Asian, African-American, Hispanic and Native-AmericansThe participants in this workshop who were Asian, African-American, Hispanicor Native-American bore on their face what could only be described as a proud pain.They were proud of their racial identity, but incensed by the stereotypes shared by theircolleagues or themselves. One African-American teacher stated causally before theworkshop began, “I have about twenty-two students in my classroom, most are African-American. There are about eleven that are worth teaching and want to learn, the othereleven, I could just throw away.”Challenges of Teaching in Culturally Diverse ClassroomsThe challenge of teaching in culturally diverse classrooms is accepting the beliefthat all children have potential for academic and life success and that all teachers have thepotential to reach all children when they eliminate the obstacles that interfere with theirability to disseminate pedagogy and the learners’ ability to receive it. The obstacles thatinterfere with teaching and learning often reinforce negative stereotypes, as well asnegative cultural and racial misconceptions. It is important for both the teacher and thestudent to come to the realization that it is not the teacher who is inept or the student whois incapable, rather it is the acceptance of negative cultural misconceptions that interfereswith the capacity of the educator and the student to embrace the potential and possibilityin the learning environment. Classrooms become toxic to both the learner and the teacherwhen stereotypical statements and racial identity misconceptions become affirmations ofone’s belief system. Teachers can influence and shape the culture of their environmentwhen they begin to examine their own belief systems. Research has demonstrated thatknowledge and prior skill attainment are poor predictors of future performance becausethe beliefs people hold about their performance have more power than acquired learning(Pajares, 1996).The Pygmalion Effect – The Self-Fulfilling ProphecyThe Pygmalion effect or idea of self-fulfilling prophecy is the idea that theexpectation of an event or occurrence is instrumental in it coming to pass (Murphy et al,1999). The Pygmalion effect divides the socio-emotional state and the academicperformance of a student in two very distinct ways. First, the thought pattern and beliefsystem the teacher embraces regarding student potential can be transferred to the studentthrough nonverbal actions as well as verbal communications. Second, if the student doesnot match the perception the teacher has adopted, the teacher may mentally force that
NATIONAL FORUM OF MULTICULTURAL ISSUES JOURNAL_____________________________________________________________________________________4student into the perception through any idiosyncratic behavior. In either case, the thoughtpatterns overpower the teacher’s perception of student potential and academic success.Even more, the student may begin to accept the teacher’s perception of their potential astheir reality. The acceptance of student possibility and potential for uncompromisingsuccess can be the catalyst in contributing to student achievement; however, if thethought process of the teacher is negative, or supported by stereotypical thinking orcultural misconceptions, then it can be catastrophic in that student’s academic and lifepursuit.Stereotypical ThinkingStereotypical thinking, perceptions and biases will reveal themselves in variousconditions and environments and will have an influence on interpersonal relationshipsand class climate. It may have a positive effect or a negative effect, but stereotypicalthinking will influence classroom climate and student performance. Because the role ofthe teacher shapes the culture and climate in the classroom, professional development forteachers aimed at understanding and influencing the psychological, intellectual, physical,environmental and social (PIPES) characteristics of the teacher and the student willcontribute to creating a healthy cultural climate in the classroom. When teachers arechallenged to create culturally appropriate classrooms, they are in essence creatingclassrooms where students share common beliefs and practices that are unbiased and freefrom any perceived cultural restrictions, including race. Culturally active classrooms takeinto account the individual differences of the entire unit so that differences are used towork on behalf of the student and contribute to, rather than hinder academic performance.The focus is on creating a classroom in which the collective talents of the groupdetermine the success, as opposed to a student’s racial background as the primary factor.The teacher is actively creating an environment that is responsive to both the teacher’sand the students’ psychological, intellectual, physical, environmental and social (PIPES)needs.Examining the Basic Psychological Mindset of TeachersAddressing PIPES, as it relates to the professionally developing teachers to growbeyond any stereotypical thoughts, ideations and philosophies, first involves teachersexamining their psychological perspectives. In examining the basic psychologicalmindset of the teachers, minority and non-minority, they must be able to have an honestself dialogue with themselves, and address any preconceived beliefs about racial identityand student achievement. Teachers must be able to examine how they may haveinadvertently reinforced negative stereotypes. Many teachers resist the painful process
KIMBERLY MCLEOD, TYRONE TANNER, WILLIAM ALLAN KRITSONIS_____________________________________________________________________________________5of confronting their own prejudices, and this may be attributed to different levels ofreadiness or differences in personal and intellectual development (Jordan, 1995).Racial Beliefs Impacts the Culture of the ClassroomIntentional or not, racial beliefs held by the teacher impacts the culture of aclassroom (McLeod, 2006). Teachers become susceptible to believing that they areunable to reach students because of a lack of control of their environment, in spite ofreceiving learning experiences in multicultural education or professional development.Gomez (1994), reports that multicultural education is viewed as being only about “theothers” and does not include “the self.” As a result, when teachers participate in diversitytrainings, they may believe that the content is more relevant to someone else rather thanapplying the learning to themselves as individuals.Diversity TrainingAfter the diversity training highlighted earlier in the article, teachers gave writtenfeedback. They shared that this specific training allowed them address diversity withoutfeeling like the “bad white people.” They also shared that tough conversations occurredand tough issues were addressed without signaling anyone out, or making anyone feelguilty about how they perceived issues of diversity. Others stated they were allowed toexpress their genuine feelings without embarrassment or ridicule. Many times, teachersview multicultural training as, in the words of one teacher, “someone coming in to talk tous about black people and how we are doing them harm.” As a result, many diversityrelated professional development opportunities do not experience success because thetopic alone has put teachers on the defense.Creating Culturally Active ClassroomsRestructuring and rebuilding a classroom begins with shifting the paradigm ofteachers to address their own biases and then shape the culture of the classroom to benefitall learners. When teachers take a cultural activist approach to understanding diversestudents, by conducting a self examination and elimination of biases that negativelyinfluence student performance and potential, at that point, they can begin to createculturally active classrooms that are not negatively influenced by race.
NATIONAL FORUM OF MULTICULTURAL ISSUES JOURNAL_____________________________________________________________________________________6To restructure, educators must first look deeply at the goal that we set for ourchildren and the beliefs that we have about them (Hilliard, 1991). Concomitantly, asthere are sensational gaps in achievement scores among African-American and Hispanicchildren compared to their white counterparts, there are also cultural gaps that exist thatencumber educators from retaining a holistic understanding of the diverse needs in theclassroom that are a result of cultural ignorance and cultural dissonance (McLeod &Tanner 2007).Model of a Culturally Active ClassroomClassrooms that are “culturally active,” as opposed to “culturally responsive,”have taken into account the cultural biases of the educator, the cultural misconceptions ofstudents towards their own racial identity and the racial identity of others. It alsoaddresses how components of one’s psychological, intellectual, physical, environmentaland social (PIPES) attributes can contribute to the academic success of the educator andthe learner. Also, teachers who practice a cultural active philosophy understand that theclassroom environment is fluid, as oppose to static and that teachers’ and students’ needsmay change, develop and require the teacher to actively re-engage the learner(s) andclassroom environment in order to experience academic success.Culturally active classrooms are classrooms in which the teacher has organizedthe learning environment so that both the teacher and the student experience success. Inorder for this to happen the teacher must accept and view the student as an equalstakeholder in the dissemination, receiving, processing, understanding and application ofinstructional pedagogy. Acknowledging the importance of the role and responsibility ofthe teacher and the student, the teacher facilitates the learning process and culturalenvironment by involving the student in every process. Teacher’s can begin to understandthe needs of student’s and their personal needs by applying a PIPES paradigm. Inaddition, it is the responsibility of the teacher to facilitate the establishing of classroomagreements and not rules. Rules are one sided and involve one party in enforcement,additionally, the student may not have been a part of the rule decision making process.However, agreements are created by both the teacher and the students. They are basicunderstandings on terms that are necessary for the teacher to experience success, and forthe learner to experience success. In essence, the needs of the teacher are shared andprocessed, and the needs the student’s feel must be in place in order for learning to occurand be applied. The teacher is not only attempting to be responsive to student learningneeds, but the teacher is also modeling this process by demonstrating how students canbe responsive to teacher needs. The teacher is humanizing the environment ordemonstrating that everyone has needs including the teacher and the teacher is exhibitingan appreciation of student needs.As students experience the culture of the classroom and the intricacies of lifeoutside of the classroom growth and development are destined to occur. As studentsbegin to develop whether it works for or against them, the culturally active educator,
KIMBERLY MCLEOD, TYRONE TANNER, WILLIAM ALLAN KRITSONIS_____________________________________________________________________________________7realizes the need to re-assess the needs of the students with a PIPES frame of reference.A teacher who embraces the philosophy of a culturally active classroom understands thatthere is no point of arrival; rather it is a continuous work in progress. Establishinglearning environments that are culturally active require the teacher to address theirthoughts and belief systems on an ongoing basis, and the thought and belief systems ofthe students. When unhealthy thought patterns emerge, it is the culturally active teacherwho takes steps in eradicating those ideologies and replacing them with though patternsthat nourish the learner and support the cultural environment in the classroom, supportingthe agreements. The culturally active classroom is fluid in nature and not static.Creating culturally active classrooms is above identifying people or circumstancesresponsible for academic and student fallacies; rather it is an examination of factors thatshould be eliminated that impede the teaching and learning process and an acceptance,and accountability of the role of the teacher in developing personal and studentaccomplishments. The terms race and culture many times are blurred and blendedtogether. Although they are both socially and historically constituted, they are different insome very significant ways (Lynn, 2006). Creating culturally active classrooms isinclusive of but not exclusive of racial appreciation. By definition from the AmericanHeritage Dictionary, culture is defined as the totality of socially transmitted behaviorpatterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought(2000). Culture is independent of race, but many times is associated with race. Whenteachers are challenged to culturally create active classrooms, they are in essence creatingclassrooms where students share common beliefs and practices (McLeod, 2006).Culturally active classrooms involve creating learner-centered environments that developpractices, beliefs, patterns and customs that propel all students’ to academic successequitably (McLeod, 2006). Culturally responsive classrooms take into account theindividual differences of the entire unit so that differences are used to work on behalf ofthe student and contribute to, rather than hinder academic performance (McLeod, 2006).The focus is on creating a classroom in which the collective talents of the groupdetermine the success, as opposed to a student’s racial background as the primary factor.In essence, the teacher is creating an environment that is responsive to the student’ssocio-cognitive needs, with PIPES as a reference point.Schools can be successful, teachers can be successful and students can besuccessful when all stakeholders are able to identify individual obstacles that impede thelearning process and have the courage to eradicate them. This means that the teacherconstantly reflects on thought processes that many entrap student and teacher success,while working with students to free them from destructive thoughts, beliefs andmisconceptions regarding themselves or beliefs they have of others. The process does nothave an arrival point. Teachers can contribute to healthy lifestyle and academic patternsby examining PIPES in the classroom and approaching the classroom environment as acultural activist.
NATIONAL FORUM OF MULTICULTURAL ISSUES JOURNAL_____________________________________________________________________________________8Concluding RemarksIn conclusion, cultural activeness is more than a matter of principle; it is a matterof practice with an aim towards classroom perfection. Regardless of environment,background and experience, teachers are capable and students do have potential toachieve academic and life success as long as they facilitate learning environments do notaccept excuses for academic fallacies, but instead produce results in the presence ofperilous cultural environments.Table 1: Model of a Culturally Active ClassroomFluid vs.StaticClassroomAcceptanceEstablishAgreementsBuildingAcademicSuccessthroughPIPESAddressCultural Mis-conceptionsof learnersEducatorAddress &EliminateStereotype& BiasCulturallyActiveClassrooms
KIMBERLY MCLEOD, TYRONE TANNER, WILLIAM ALLAN KRITSONIS_____________________________________________________________________________________9ReferencesCulture. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, FourthEdition. Retrieved October 06, 2007, from Dictionary.com website:http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cultureGomez, M.L. (1994). Teacher education reform and prospective teachers perspectives onteaching "other peoples" children. Teaching and Teacher Education, 10 (3), 129-138. From Horton, J., & Scott, D. (2004). White students. MulticulturalEducation. 11(4), 12-17.Hilliard, A. (1991). Do we have the will to educate all children? Educational Leadership,49, 31-36.Jordan, M.L. (1995). Reflections on the challenges, possibilities and perplexities ofpreparing preservice teachers for culturally diverse classrooms. Journal ofTeacher Education, 46 (5), 369-374.Lynn, M. (2006). Race, culture, and the education of African-Americans. EducationalTheory, 56, 107-119.McLeod, K (2006).Schoolhouse rows, shiny red apples & a basket full of apple cores: Aliterary review of teacher perceptions and classroom realities in educating AfricanAmerican youth in American public school. Journal of the Alliance of BlackSchool Educators. 5, 32-39.Murphy, D, Campbell, C, & Garavan, T (1999). The Pygmalion effect reconsidered: itsimplications for education, training and workplace learning. Journal of EuropeanIndustrial Training, 23, 238-251.Pajares, F. (1996). Self-efficacy beliefs in academic settings. Review of EducationalResearch, 66, 543-578.Formatted by Dr. Mary Alice Kritsonis, National Research and Manuscript PreparationEditor, NATIONAL FORUM JOURNALS, Houston, Texaswww.nationalforum.com