Philosophical Issues and Ideas


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Dr. William Allan Kritsonis earned his BA in 1969 from Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Washington. In 1971, he earned his M.Ed. from Seattle Pacific University. In 1976, he earned his PhD from the University of Iowa. In 1981, he was a Visiting Scholar at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, and in 1987 was a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California.
In June 2008, Dr. Kritsonis received the Doctor of Humane Letters, School of Graduate Studies from Southern Christian University. The ceremony was held at the Hilton Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana

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Philosophical Issues and Ideas

  1. 1. Philosophical/Social/Political Issues in Education Multicultural Analysis Emphasis William Allan Kritsonis, PhD Examine the effects that culture may have on the learning process and Educational Leadership. Definition of Culture Culture is a way of seeing, perceiving, and believing. In 1871, Tylor illustrated the type of definition that listed the individual components of culture: “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, moral, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (Noel, 2000,p.3). Functions of Culture Culture is a historically developed and developing way for a group of people to deal with the natural and social world. It develops out of a specific history of a specific group, who lives within a set of social and political factors. Culture included practices within families, communities, and societies that have been developed within this sociohistorical context. The functions of culture can be seen in terms of why cultures are developed. Maslow (1943), especially, has structured the discussion of the needs of people that are met by culture. These are needs that must be met in order for the person to
  2. 2. develop completely as a person, and these needs can be seen here as those that are developed within a culture as a way to meet those needs. 1. At the basic level, culture provides a means by which the most basic human survival needs can be met. This is the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: the physiological needs and safety needs of the person. Culture plays a crucial role in life by creating ways to meet these needs, ways that have developed within a specific social and historically developing context. 2. Culture also plays an important role in giving us a sense of belonging. Maslow lists these needs as love and belonging needs and esteem needs. Being part of a culture helps us realize that there are others who will share our beliefs, views, and perspectives. By sharing a sense of identity with others, the sense of self can be turned into a sense of we. 3. Additionally, culture sets for us what would be regarded as important in becoming the best person we can be. At the top or upper level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the need for self- actualization. A culture that has been shaped by its members will provide for us our sense of what is important in society, or what we can aim for in our lives to make us feel complete.
  3. 3. Culture defines what we do and what we value in situations. We develop a sense for what is acceptable and unacceptable, appropriate and inappropriate, in different situations. Culture has many functions in our lives. It is created by groups of people in response to the world around them. It helps us survive, feel a sense of belonging, and pattern our behaviors and beliefs so that we can locate our roles and expectations within society (Noel, 2000 p.5). Cautions About Culture Although an important role of culture is providing a sense of belonging for its members, there is a danger of creating an “us” and “them.” Young (1990) describes this concern: Identification as a member of such a community often occurs as oppositional differentiation from other groups, who are feared or at best devalued. Persons identify only with some other persons, feel in community only with those, and fear the difference others confront them with because they identify with a difference culture, history, and point of the world (p.311). Another caution about culture is one that is often overlooked. As described earlier, culture provides ways for our basic needs to be met. Finally, culture is not static. A group of people does not have a culture, an unchanging and unalterable view of the world. Norms of acceptability, morality, beauty, and so on change. Since perspective is
  4. 4. formed on the basic of culture and social aspects of life results in variations and alterations of the perceptual filter through which we view life (Noel, 2000, p. 6). Components of Culture The way people understand their world is shaped by their culture’s history, traditions and ways of thinking. Each culture provides its own particular styles of communication, patterns of interaction, and ways of knowing. Communication Style Communications, at its basic level, is the sending and receiving of messages. But within the system of communication, there are many subtle variations in how different cultures actually, communications, differences in what is expected and accepted by different cultures. Studies have found that several clearly distinguishable communication patterns are shaped by culture. In one style of communication patterns that participation in reading, for instance involved engaging in reading and discussing ideas. A second communication pattern involves listening rather than reading, with encouragement to imitate, repeat, and recall information. A third pattern includes much more of a taking the lead in verbal communication. And finally, cultural style of reflecting as prior to speaking. All these
  5. 5. communication patterns may be exemplified by students in single classroom or school. Thus the idea that there is a single preferred communication pattern in the school denies the culturally influenced pattern of many students (Noel, 2000 p. 10). Intellectual Style Intellectual style refers to “typical or preferred modes of perceiving and assimilating information” (Educational Research Services, 1991, p. 14). Two of the key indicators of intellectual style are knowledge most valued within a culture and way that learning takes place most prominently for the individual. A key distinction here is between written and oral cultures. The phrase “seeing is believing” illustrates one type of intellectual style, in which people believe and trust information more or only if it is in written form. This style leads to and develops form a more legalistic culture. In other cultures, however, societies are continued through an oral tradition. When agreements are made, these are done through the “giving of one’s word” or through a handshake. This oral intellectual style lends itself to using intuition and feelings in decision making. The person in this culture will be interested in knowing the global implications of a topic, including cognitive, physical, and emotional aspects involved (Noel, 2000, p.13).
  6. 6. Intellectual style refers to a community’s style of thinking and decision making that is based more clearly on the written word or oral tradition. Some communities are based more clearly on the written style or on the oral style, but many may endorse and use both ways of thinking. Connected to these intellectual styles, different cultures vary on how decisions are made, with some emphasizing logical and analytic thinking, and others operating more closely on the use of intuition and feelings (Noel, 2000, p. 13). Styles That Are Privilege in Schools When reflecting upon these different components of culture, it becomes clear that some styles are more often accepted and expected within schools. Students who display these styles are often treated with high esteem in the school. One way to describe this practice is to say that certain styles are “privileged” within the schools. On the other hand, consider how those students who do not have these styles as part of their culture will struggle within the school environment. In thinking about how schools are structured, it can be seen that some cultures and communities have similar styles to the schools’, whereas others have styles that function in ways different from the schools’. The outcome of these culturally influences styles is a different set of patterns of
  7. 7. participation in schools by students who have developed these different communication styles, organizational styles, and intellectual styles (Noel, 2000, p. 15). Characterizations of Culture A number of researchers have interpreted the actions of different cultures by providing characterizations of cultures, pointing out communication, organizational, and intellectual styles. Some distinguish cultures based on race, others distinguish them based on culture alone, and others distinguish between rural and urban cultures. Although we may think that the way we act is “normal,” clearly a wide variety of cultural differences result in a variety of ways of acting. Edward T. Hall has provided a different type of characterization of cultures. The characterization is environment, social surrounding, and the organizational networks with their setting. High context cultures tend to organize themselves in a group orientation, whereas low context cultures place the organizational focus on individual achievements. The high context cultures are characterized as reasoning and decision making through intuition and feeling, whereas low context cultures are described as using analytic and word oriented reasoning (Noel, 2000, p. 17).
  8. 8. People who live in rural and in urban places live a very different geographic, economics, and social contexts. Any analysis of rural and urban cultural characteristics must include a historical and sociological examination of the lived experiences of groups and individuals. The rural culture emphasis is on family or group oriented work and traditions that are necessary for the continued survival of the community. Because the children are participating in work that has been handed down through many generations, “their sense of place within the historical continuity of their people was also reinforced (Noel, 2000, p. 18). In urban settings, there are new and diverse types of jobs and occupations. Identity is based on responsibility for the group to continue. In this type of culture, learning cannot proceed through observing and imitating adults who work in the job that the child will certainly have. Instead, “education in the future-oriented, achievement-oriented era… tended to instill a systematic, convergent, goal-directed, future-directed style of thought, with a problem-solving emphasis (Noel, 2000, p. 18). One additional way to identify the differences in rural and urban cultural characteristics is through the German concepts of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft. Defined by Tonnies, a culture based on gemeinschft is one that is personal and sharing oriented. The gemeinschaft type of culture is most
  9. 9. often identified as rural. A gesellschaft culture is one that is based on deliberately chosen association is most often identified as existing in urban societies. Social Foundations of Education Throughout the history of American education, one of the main functions of education has been the socialization of students into the dominant culture. Although schools have the important purpose of teaching “reading, writing, and arithmetic,” they also serve the role of reproducing and perpetuating the established social, cultural, political, and economic structures and norms of society. In reflecting on the different components and characterization of cultures, it should be clear that there are certain patterns of thinking, believing, and valuing that our schools encourage in students, and that other patterns are discouraged within schools. The main idea of discontinuities between home and school cultures is that many children, the culture of their home and their community is very different from the culture of the school system. Children are socialized to believe, think, and act in specific ways by their families and their communities. Their styles of communicating, organizing, and thinking at home are considered natural and are encourage and accepted. However, for many children, these same behaviors are
  10. 10. improper and unacceptable at school. Sometimes the school’s culture contradicts the home culture. Often the languages of children are disregarded and devalued. The result may be such harmful effects as misinterpretations of students’ actions, inconsistencies in expectations and treatment of students, and possible failure in the school (Noel, 2000, p. 21). Conclusion Culture is defined as a way of perceiving the world. Our perspectives on life are shaped by our experiences within our particular society and communities. Even though it is important for our understanding of our identities to understand the culture that helped shape them, it is equally important to recognize that a culture is not perfect and it is not static. Thus a balance in understanding our own cultural perspective and the value of other cultural perspectives is important in our world (Noel, 2000, p 6). There is always a concern with assuming that a culture can be characterized by a few characteristics. The danger is that stereotypes about entire groups of people will be formed. It is important to recognize that the dominant culture’s way of being, which is also stressed within the school, is but one of the myriads of cultures and perspectives represented in the United States and in the world. In reality cultures have developed ways of life that
  11. 11. may share some characteristics with other cultures but may also have a number of specific ways of living (Noel, 2000, pp. 19-20). Each cultural way of life has developed within a culturally influenced set of histories, traditions, and patterns that help shape the identities of people today (Noel, 2000, p. 20). School is the setting in which children will spend countless days and hours of their lives; schools have a key role in shaping children. In effect, schools are the key sources of the development of each next generation of society. As such, school- the teachers, administrators, curriculum, physical structure-tend to socialize students into the dominant view of society that largely determines the structure of society. The schools help reproduce the dominant society by socializing students into the value, beliefs. There are several perspectives on why cultural socialization is practiced within the school and on who benefits from these practices. One way to look at it is that when students gain the knowledge, values, and beliefs of the dominant culture, then as they become adults, society will function more smoothly. A major role for schools, including the teachers who work in them, is to recognize their parts in the cultural socialization of students, to understand the effects on student’s identities, and to determine the steps to take to
  12. 12. provide an educational and social experience for students that does not do harm to students socially constructed identities (Noel, 2000, pp. 25-26). Internet links: Cross-Cultural Cognitive Psychology - General - Ohio State University School of Music Cross-Cultural Cognitive Pscyhology - General Altarriba, Jeanette, editor. 1993. Cognition and culture: A cross-cultural approach to cognitive psychology. xiii, 405 pp. Advances in psychology, 103. Amsterdam UW Press - : The Cultural Dialectics of Knowledge and Desire - South Asia / Religion / Anthropology / Philosophy The Cultural Dialectics of Knowledge and Desire Charles W. Nuckolls With a Foreword by Stephen A. Tyler "Strikingly original and engaging."—V. Narayana Rao, University of Wisconsin–Mad Research Knowledge and Policy Issues in Cultural Diversity and Education - Systemic Reform: Perspectives on Personalizing Education-- Sept. 1994 Research Knowledge and Policy Issues in Cultural Diversity and Education Roland G. Tharp The increasing diversity of cultural and ethnic groups in American schools has led to a pa Influence of Evaluators' Prior Academic Knowledge - Discusses the effects of the preconceptions of educators of bilingual Hispanic children on language learning. Cross-Cultural "Specialized Knowledge" - For professionals and students in the cross-cultural field and for people in all walks of life who wish to better understand this field. Cross-Cultural Science Education: - Cross-Cultural Science Education: A Cognitive Explanation of a Cultural Phenomenon Published in Journal of
  13. 13. Research in Science Teaching, Vol. 36, pp. 269-287. Glen S. Aikenhead College of Education University of Saskatchewan 28 Campus Drive Saskato Key terms: Culture – the way of seeing, perceiving, and believing Intellectual style – typical or preferred modes of perceiving and assimilating information Geminschaft – a culture that is personal and sharing oriented. This culture is most often rural. Gesellschft – a culture that is based on deliberately chosen association rather than natural birth into a community. This culture is most often urban.