According to Tyrone Howard (2003), “the formation of a culturally relevant teaching paradigm becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, without critical reflection. The nature of critical reflection can be an arduous task because it forces the individual to ask challenging questions that pertain to one’s construction of individuals from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds” (p. 198). As an academic advisor, I am often the very first person a new student meets upon being accepted to the university. Therefore, I am constantly mindful of how my past experiences, expectations, and biases can be passed on to my students which can result in a positive or negative first impression of the university on the part of my students.
This article was particularly poignant in that it identified a problem of practice and posed a relevant solution that can implemented in a variety of educational settings. The issue is that teacher-educators lack self-reflection in determining how their biases affect their pedagogy. The article posed the question, “what does race have to do with teaching?” Teachers generally build curriculum based on theory and desired learning objectives rarely considering the cultural and ethnic background of their students. While viewing students as learners, regardless of their cultural experience, is one way of leveling the playing field between students, it omits the tendency of students to relate principles to their own experiences. To remedy this problem of practice, Howard (2003) presents the notion of cultural reflection in which teacher-educators become culturally relevant by reflecting on their own experiences and biases in order to see how their position in the learning process affects the student in a positive or negative way.
Howard (2003) proposes a solution to the question at hand by suggesting that teacher-educators engage in a self-reflective process to examine their own biases and how their pedagogy and classroom environment are impacted by those biases. I agree with Howard’s point that the process of cultural reflection poses a challenge for teacher-educators because it forces them to question their own construction and ideas of students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Facing the arduous and possibly painful process of reflection in which the educator must identify the complexities of teaching students who are from backgrounds different from their own. Howard (2003) suggests the process is often painful because it forces the educator to recognize their views on cultural differences were instilled by family members who may have impressed their prejudiced views on the educator, which innately impacts the learning process in the classroom, especially for ethnic minorities.
Cultural reflection also requires that teacher-educators take personal accountancy for their own pedagogy and teaching methods (Ladson-Billings, 1995). While the district or university may mandate certain curricula and learning objectives in the classroom, educators must take personal action to ensure the academic and social competence of their students remains intact. This notion can prove to be challenging as it calls educators to find a balance between the student’s home life and school environment, however, doing so will produce students who are successful academically, are culturally competent, and socially equitable (Ladson-Billings, 1995).
As an African American, I greatly understand the importance of culturally relevant pedagogy in the learning environment. When I was in first grade my teacher sent me home with a homework assignment. The following week we would be studying the 1950’s in class. The teacher asked us and our parents to conduct some research about the decade, and come dressed in the fashion of the day to share with our classmates. The purpose of the exercise was for us to reflect on the “good times” of the decade and pay homage to the happenings of the era. Needless to say, my mother, who was a child during the ‘50s was extremely angry with this assignment, for the era was anything but “good times” for people of color. Sadly, the assignment objectives were completely lost on me as the cultural difference between my teacher and myself (family) were at odds. While the intent was not necessarily one of malice, the learning objectives were not socially, nor culturally relevant to me. Howard’s notion of cultural reflection could have been applied to this example resulting in greater impact for the classroom environment.
Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagody: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465-491.
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