Language Loss

In their introduction to Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights, McCarty and her team of guest co-editors presented a series of questions related to Indigenous education that they believed to be best explored by scholars.  The core questions were the meaning of self-determination, the placement of Indigenous epistemologies inside and outside the classroom, how human rights are implicated in these questions and their responses, and what the field of anthropology’s contribution to Indigenous peoples might be in the present and future, given the field’s damaging role in the past.  The editors acknowledged difficulty in defining some of these key terms and were careful to include the definitions they used.

I found this introduction to be insightful and educational.  For instance, I did not realize that Indigenous peoples speak such a large percentage of the world’s languages.  Based on the numbers cited by the editors, Indigenous peoples speak between 66 and 83 percent of the world’s languages despite only comprising 4 percent of the world’s population.  That’s amazing! The editors wrote that language is important because it contains local knowledge and ways of knowing.  Unfortunately, the editors also presented evidence that many of these languages are endangered because they are only spoken by older generations.  Unless patterns change, these languages will be lost when the elders who speak them pass.

The topic of language loss is personally relevant to me because I am a Latino who does not speak Spanish.  My Spanish-speaking parents made the choice to refrain from teaching me English because they wanted me to assimilate to the mainstream English-speaking culture.  My father said he didn’t want me to be teased for speaking English improperly as he had been when he was a child.  He also wanted me to do well in school, where classes were taught in English.

I wound up picking up basic Spanish by taking classes in high school and as an undergraduate in college, however, I am far from proficient.  As a result, I feel disconnected from my ethnic culture, and I feel shame that I don’t speak Spanish.  Not being able to communicate in Spanish makes me feel like I’m a “bad” Latino.  I’m especially annoyed when I am around people speaking in Spanish and I can’t understand them or when I’m listening to a salsa song and don’t know what it means.  The worst is when someone asks me if I speak Spanish (usually a fellow Latino or Latina who would like to converse with me in that language) and I have to tell that person that I don’t.  It’s like being exposed and having to confess my faults.

This makes me wonder: how do Indigenous youth feel about their inability to speak the language of their parents and grandparents?  Do they feel shame, as I do?  Are they angry about the cultural, economic, and political forces that are causing their Indigenous languages to be lost?  Has their language loss affected their cultural identity or pride?  If so, in what ways and to what extent?  Are these youth making or have they made any attempts to reclaim or save their language?  Or, are they indifferent?  What is the basis for their feelings?  Given how highly diverse Indigenous peoples are, I would suspect the answers vary.  I think it would be interesting to know percentages of each attitude toward language loss and perhaps see comparisons of attitudes toward language loss based on language.


McCarty, T.L. (2005). Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), 1-7.


Peer impact and anxiety in the classroom

Coming from a small town, there was always an interesting dynamic in our school classrooms. Most of my classrooms were small, maybe 20-25 people total, which made for both an intimate learning experience but also one that could be challenging if you not only were a high performer but also suffered from social anxiety. Most people would think an intimate classroom would be a great opportunity for students but for me I felt it was more of a challenge for a different reason. I did well in school, being for the most part a solid “A” student. On the social side, I was far more on the geek end of the spectrum than the popular end. Standing out in a classroom as someone who understood their Shakespeare or excelled in biology could make life difficult outside the classroom. It was for that reason that I often held back in the classroom – why stand out in the crowd when it resulted in being made fun of? By drawing as little attention to myself as possible, I felt I could slide through school with ease. I could do my homework and excel that way and avoid the social stigma of being a “dork”.

Pivovarova (2014) in a recent article discussed the impact of peers on learning and environment, whether mixing levels of achievement in the classroom had negative/positive impacts on those individuals (p. 2). Besides the fact that Pivovarova (2014) looked at 6th graders from Ontario, Canada where I’m from, her findings were interesting in the ways in which peers influenced each other for good or bad, for example, in how a student who was a low achiever may perform better surrounded by high performers and how a high performer was somewhat of an “independent learner” (p. 19) in the classroom. This idea of “low” or “high” performers to me took on a different meaning. Why was someone performing lower than another student? I was performing at a high level despite my terror of what that performance would result in outside the classroom but what else could be going on within the other students lives.

Reading this article and with influence from recent discussions in my Doctoral classes, I began to wonder what other issues could be creating low versus high performance. Maybe these “low” performers had challenges not linked to the classroom that were impacting their lives in a way that made it hard to focus on school (family dynamics, money, health). Would putting them in a classroom with a “high” performer really help? What if there was a learning challenge (A.D.D., language barrier) that created issues and that student wasn’t receiving the support they needed. What if just the label of being a “low” performer created a perception that they couldn’t achieve success and created a ceiling that prevented development? My school was also a predominantly white school in a predominantly white farming community in Canada. For those few students of color, I began to wonder what challenges they may have faced in a white institution in a predominantly white town – were they getting fair treatment and access to the same resources or were they being marginalized within the school?

Looking back it makes me wonder about all the challenges and what “low” and “high” performance could really mean when it’s not such a cut and dry term. I realized that none of these ideas had crossed my mind as a child as I was too preoccupied in my own world. As I move forward in my educational journey, I find myself begin to question beyond just the surface issues of a situation to understand what other layers may exist that are far more pressing than was apparent. I hope that the courses continue to influence me towards a better understanding of all the dynamics a situation may hold, whether it be similar to this article in a classroom setting or within my own research pursuits and I hope that this understanding provides the fairness needed to represent all the individuals that may be impacted by that research.


Pivovarova, M (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.

Generational Language Gaps

In the article The Editor’s Introduction of Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology and Human Rights McCarthy (2005) opens the hearts and minds of readers by asking three questions that focus on indigenous epistemologies, anthropology and human rights. Although all three questions the editor opened up the article with are engaging, the one that resonated with me was the first question, “What does self-determination mean for the world’s 300 million Indigenous peoples?” (McCarthy, 2005). The editors collaborated with other scholars to dig deeper into these questions throughout the article.

The editors assert, “Indigenous languages (like minority languages) are increasingly threatened by the forces of globalization-culture, economic, and political forces that work to standardize and homogenize, even as the stratify and marginalize (McCarthy, 2005, p. 2). I felt a deep connection to this part of the article. Both my parents grew up speaking only Spanish in their homes and in their communities. However, when they started elementary school Spanish was not an accepted form of communication. My mom tells the story of how she ran home during recess on the first day of school because they told her, “No Spanish, English only.” She was frightened and knew her language and culture was not embraced in her new school community.

The editors remind us how many languages are spoken only by paternal and grandparental generations. This is true of my family. After my parents experienced difficulties in school due to being second language learners, they chose not to teach my brother and I Spanish. The language stopped in my generation because they saw it as a deficit. The article illustrates how language identifies people, “who we are, where we came from, and where we are going; our family, territory and culture” (McCarthy, 2005, p. 2). Because the language stopped in my generation, I felt a disconnect with my grandparents and parents in relation to who we are, where we came from and where we are going because we did not speak the same language. As a child, I remember sitting with cousins at family gatherings listening to the adults speak in Spanish and tell stories of their childhood, which brought laughter and tears. I remember one time asking for them to tell me the story in English and they did. However, I didn’t find it funny, they said that it wasn’t the same in English because they couldn’t find the right “English words” to appropriately and fully share the story. McCarthy (2005) explains that shifting toward English represents shifting away from Indigenous (p. 3).

In the article, McCarthy (2005) describes four different attempts to incorporate linguistic and cultural content into elementary and high schools. One scholar discusses the importance of both curricular and structural changes in education. Scholar, Mary Hermes, advocates for “cultural incorporation through immersion teaching in the Native language to both strengthen endangered languages and propel the culture-based curriculum movement far beyond superficially adding fragmented pieces of cultural knowledge onto the existing structure” (McCarthy, 2005, p.3). I believe researching the impact of self-determination is worthwhile and positively contributes to the field of education.


McCarthy, T. L. (2005). Indigenous epistemologies and education–self-determination, anthropology, and human rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, (36)1, 1-7.


There’s no crying in research

Several years ago, while working as the assistant director of the Disability Resource Center (DRC), I met with a student regarding a particular accessibility issue. This student was a male, African American, senior, who was a returning veteran, and had a hidden disability (psychiatric disability). The student had expressed some frustration regarding access to one of his classes, and that he was having challenges with one of his instructors. As I listened to his story, I felt it appropriate to try and remain as objective as possible, in order to best advise this student, and eventually the instructor. My goal was to be as neutral in the process as possible. However, as we discussed the particulars of his concerns, I sensed a real disconnect between myself and the student. Sensing that this disconnect was related to my being detached emotionally, I shifted to a more personal approach.

In an attempt to make the conversation more meaningful, I related a story that involved my brother. This story was similar to his own, as my brother, too, had a disability. I expressed the frustration that my brother had felt and experienced during a particular time in his educational pursuits, and the anger that resulted with our family. In doing so, I introduced an emotional and human element to this student’s experience, and could sense, almost immediately, a drastic shift in his trust of me as a participant in that experience.

As researchers, we are taught to be objective when doing observations. In doing so, we lessen the likelihood that our own experiences, feeling, opinions, and cultural identities bias the results of the study. In this week’s reading, author Renato Rosaldo (1993), argues that complete, detached objectivity distorts the true context of the work we are doing, and does not accurately reflect the places and people that we are observing.

In framing the argument, the author notes, “arguably, human feelings and human failings provide as much insight for social analysis as subjecting oneself to the “manly” ordeals of self-discipline that constitute science as a vocation. Why narrow one’s vision to a God’s-eye view from on high? Why not use a wider spectrum of less heroic, but equally insightful, analytical positions” (Rosaldo, 1993, p.173)?

The author gave an example of ethnographer, Jean Briggs, who embedded herself in an Eskimo village as a way to study the people. In her book “Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family”, author Jean Briggs (1970), describes the experiences and the challenges of her own emotional journey. In her book, Briggs introspectively explores her own identity and emotional struggles, which impacted her ability to connect with the people in a meaningful way.

Rosaldo describes her experience by saying, “in conducting her field work, she did not try and elevate herself to the dignified heights of science as a vocation. Instead she used her own feelings, particularly depression, frustration, rage and humiliation,” (Rosaldo, 1993, p. 176). The author goes on further to say that “although the choice was originally her own, Briggs found herself overwhelmed by an alien world. In response to emotional and physical deprivation, she sought consolation through food, and even went so far as to hoard eight sesame seeds in tin foil. The ethnographer was held prisoner, not by the Eskimos but by her determination to succeed in doing fieldwork under demanding conditions” (Rosaldo, 1993, p.177).

While I may never experience the harsh conditions that Jean Briggs experienced among the Eskimo tribe, there is great wisdom in acknowledging the emotional introspection of that journey, and the impact it had on her ability to effectively connect with the very people she was observing. As I look ahead to my own action research, particularly in ensuring access, excellence, and impact through mentoring, I want to be mindful of that balance of my own emotions and attachment to the student participants, and frame my life experience in that process in a way that creates trust among those that I will be working with. Only through doing so, will I be able to truly represent an accurate reflection of the impact of my research.

Rosaldo, R. (1993). Culture & Truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Briggs, J. (1970). Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Objectivity and the White Racial Frame Subdued?


(From author's personal files)

(From author’s personal files)

I was suspicious of an article from Anthropology Education Quarterly, Indigenous Epistemologies and Education—Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights (McCarty, 2005) because of the role of anthropologists in cultural appropriation, genocide, reinforcing romantic notions of and problematizing Indigenous peoples and a host of other negative outcomes for non-Whites. The editor, however, confesses to the discipline’s role in this brutal history and expresses the need for centering Indigenous epistemologies (ways of knowing). It sounds good. The theme of the editorial piece is a call for systemic change to center Indigenous voices. Given the power of white logic, the white racial frame, centuries of relegating all things non-White to the margins, is it possible for researchers using dominant culture tools and logic to achieve such a movement? This is what it would have to be, a movement. I’ll return to this question later.

Several articles about action research by authors such as Jean Lave, Teresa McCarty, and Renato Rosaldo expose us once more to thinking about our standpoint, intersections, and identities as researchers in relation to our practice. In Culture and Truth, Rosaldo (1993) forces us to examine the ridiculousness of using objective descriptions to explain deeply human interaction and events in cultures that are not our own. When researchers do this they are subscribing to social norms of a science established to be distanced, unemotional, and dominant, in many ways, stereotypically masculine and oppressive. Rosaldo describes how this is harmful in ethnography. “Such accounts visualize people’s actions from the outside and fail to provide the participants’ reflections in their own experiences. They normalize by presenting generalized recipes for ritual action…. (Rosaldo, 1993, p. 58). Interestingly, this gaze or white racial frame as coined by sociologist Joe Feagin has been the dominant framing that has allowed systemic racism to flourish for over 400 years.

A brief historical note: Carolus Linneas, a biologist and the person credited with the organization system for the plant and animal world, together with Blumenbach, a physician, naturalist and anthropologist, believed that people could be categorized into racial groups—much like plants and animals. Linneaus created the categories, and Blumenbach, believing race to be about phenotype and temperament, went so far as to assign meaning to each group, essentially, a racial hierarchy.

Groups of Humankind Temperament
Africanus Black skin; phlegmatic (sluggish), slow, relaxed, negligent
Americanus Red Skin; choleric (quick-tempered), straightforward, eager, combative
Asiaticus Yellow skin: melancholic, inflexible, severe, avaricious
Europeanus White skin and muscular body; sanguine (warm), swift, clever, inventive
(As illustrated in Scott, 2012)

These racial hierarchies are the roots of the social norms we have been socialized into today—the norms that we are challenged to reconsider, resist and replace. In doing this work, Jean Lave in Changing Practice (2012), challenges the silence surrounding researchers’ political stance and the lack of research rooted in time and place. While recognizing that his discipline of Cultural Ethnography is developing theory with the person at the forefront “…for engagement in a political struggle for a different, more inclusive, just and habitable world (Lave, 2012, p. 156) he also recognizes the absence of critical reflection, an awareness of our own political and cultural locations, and the constraints of our own research. Lave talks at length about the contributions of political and social scientist, Antonio Gramsci and his contribution to critical thought. Gramsci was taken with Frederick Taylor’s (the man who developed scientific management and who devised ways to get the most work out of workers in the industrial era) comment that a trained gorilla would make a better worker than a human being because of an inability to think. Gramsci, writing in the early 20th century, believed that the “aim of American society is to develop a mechanical and automatic behavior …where workers carry out repetitive movements without the use of imagination, …creativity, thus forget their craft, … culture… and origins” (as stated by Guiseppe Fiori in the documentary, New York and the mystery of Naples). I think Gramsci was on to something. With the help of 18th century racialization, the colonization of the Americas and establishment of white supremacy, many people adhere to social norms based on the dominant culture, the white culture, without question.

What this means is difficulty for many Whites and those who have embraced the white racial frame to think critically about their own identities, political struggles, value systems, location in relation to others, and essentially the relationship between culture and power. Whiteness is invisible and omnipotent such that when non-Whites engage in truth telling, our experiences are relegated to anecdotes, distortions or are merely subordinated to other more powerful voices (Lave, 1993). Two examples from the literature and one from a recent experience illustrate this.

In Culture and Truth, while Rosaldo makes the case for examining our culture and the interplay between culture and power, he states in his argument that “in many cases the oppressed fail to talk straight [my emphasis]. Precisely because of their oppression, subordinate people often avoid unambiguous literal speech. They take up more oblique modes of address laced with double meanings, metaphor, irony and humor” (p. 190). Whether he meant it to read that way or not, there is a value judgment in that statement, not in favor of subalterns. In Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Pivovarova (2014), in her research on the impact of tracking on students states, “but is it true that only good peers matter” (p.2)[emphasis added]? And later, “it turns out that independent of own ability, all students benefit when surrounded by good peers” (p. 3)[emphasis added]. It stands to reason that if there are good peers, there are bad peers. Who are they? One need not answer because centuries of socialization have created images of the bad peers: low-income, non-White, immigrant, low achieving, etc. Lastly, in a recent project with colleagues we had decided to ask our peers to reflect on living in a white supremacist world. Once determined, there was concern about the question being too uncomfortable for Whites and adding to an already tense topic. The question was changed to one that allowed “an out” for people to distance themselves from racial inequality and white supremacy much like the objectifying voice Rosaldo explains. The comfort of Whites was primary over the learning that could have taken place and the trust in our peers to take the step to educate the educator (Lave, 2012).

Returning to my question above, is it possible for researchers using dominant culture tools and logic to achieve a movement of systemic change? McCarty (2005) who calls for the centering of Indigenous epistemologies asks, “what does self-determination mean for the world’s 300 million Indigenous peoples” (p. 1).  When the question is rephrased as, “what does Indigenous self-determination mean for the world?” I will feel well on the way to that systemic change. For now, the question is still additive. I’ll leave the question for the reader to ponder whilst exploring and challenging the constraints of her or his own research practice. I will say, resisting and challenging the white racial frame is exhausting. In the words of rapper, Talib Kweli, some days I do enough “just to get by.”


Barrata, G. (Director). (1994). New York and the mystery of Naples: A journey through Gramsci’s world [Documentary]. Italy: Le Rose e i Quaderni.

Feagin, J. (2013). The white racial frame: Centuries of racial framing and counter-framing (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Lave, J. (2012). Changing practice. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 19(2), 156-171.

McCarty, T. L. (2005). Indigenous epistemologies and education—Self-determination, anthropology, and human rights. Anthropology Education Quarterly, 36(1), 1-7.

Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should we track or should we mix them? Unpublished manuscript.

Rosaldo, R. (1993). Culture and truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Scott, M. (2012). Think race & ethnicity. New York, NY: Pearson.


Languages Need to Live

Reading Indigenous Epistemologies and Education—Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights (McCarthy, 2005) struck a very personal cord with me.  The article explains that the groups of people who are identified as being Indigenous live on nineteen percent of the world’s land but populate only four percent of the world.  In contrast to their small demographic population, they speak 4000-5000 of the 6000 languages worldwide.  Of the 210 languages in the area that is now the Unites States and Canada, only sixteen percent are currently being learned by children through their families and communities as they grow up.  If languages are not being learned by children, they will eventually cease to exist.  Not only does the language itself die, but along with it goes other cultural connections.


The concern addressed in the article is the loss of many of those languages and what the school systems can do to try and help change that situation.  This article is an introduction to four examples of K-12 schools that try and incorporate Indigenous languages and cultures into their systems in the hopes of saving them.  When providing the example about inclusion of Native Hawaiian into Hawaiian elementary schools, it discussed the importance of doing more than just teach the language—inclusion of the culture must accompany it.  That same lesson was learned for the schools that tried to implement the learning of Ojibwe as an “add-on” course.


One successful example of a language reintroduction has been the language immersion program done in New Zealand with the Maori language.  In addition to learning the language, the program has also helped to support a rise in self-determination to a limited extent.  Another positive example is a program connected to a large university (Michigan State University) that has had encouraging effects in revitalizing the Ojibwe language by creating a plan that worked to do more than just implement language learning.


My interest in this week’s article stems from my personal experience with a dying language: Yiddish.  I realize that the culture connected to it as a whole, Judaism, is still very much thriving.  That said, I am also very aware that when a language dies there are components and nuances that cannot be recovered.  I have also personally witnessed a small portion of that language die.  As a child, Yiddish was something that my grandmother spoke to my great-grandfather sporadically.  It was also, and still is, the handful of words that some Jewish people, including myself, use to communicate with each other when English words just “aren’t quite right.”  They are also words that have become part of the larger American Jewish culture which still remains intact.


What changed dramatically for me regarding my attitude towards Yiddish was when I met my husband.  Yiddish was his first language.  For his parents, who were born in Europe in the years preceding World War II and moved here (and met here) after the war, Yiddish was their primary language.  It was the way that Jewish people communicated with each other in Europe.  Regardless of what country someone lived in or what other language they spoke, Jews could communicate with each other through Yiddish.  After his parents immigrated to the United States, met and married, Yiddish remained the language of their home.  Although his parents learned English fluently, when they had children they still spoke Yiddish.  When I met my in-laws, I became immersed in Yiddish.  Although they were happy to speak English around me, I was eager to listen them speak their primary tongue.  I had hoped to pick up as much as I could.  Now, one generation later, my in-laws have both passed away, my husband has nobody to speak the language to, and my children only know the handful of “cultural” words that I know.  Yiddish wasn’t spoken in our home.  In my little part of the world, in one quick generation, I witnessed the language and the parts of the culture that accompany it go from complete to gone.


For Indigenous cultures, the ramifications of lost languages is far more significant than the loss of Yiddish.  The rest of my culture is still intact and Hebrew has now become a daily spoken language where it didn’t used to be.  Although the culture that goes with Yiddish is different, the remainder of the community and many other parts of it are still intact.  That is not the case for all of the Indigenous communities.  The impact of the loss of those languages has had a voluminous loss of access to many things.  For example, many of their stories were often oral so without the language, an even larger part of their culture died.  Work needs to be done to bring as much of those languages back but in ways that manages to help support and encourage the cultures to become stronger and reach independence and excellence and not ways that, inadvertently, impose the same type of oppression on them that has been in place for the past several centuries.   Ethnographers are in the perfect position to monitor the various programs as Indigenous languages are being revived to ensure that they are helping empower the communities they are setting out to support.  They are in the perfect position to be truly be able to assess the inner dynamics of the groups (Paris & Winn, 2014).  With that support, hopefully the languages that are currently alive, and those that are attempting to be reintroduced will be able to thrive from this point on.






McCarthy, T. L. (2005). Indigenous epistemologies and education–self-determination, anthropology, and human rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, (36)1, 1-7.


Paris, D. & Winn, M. T. (2014).  Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities. Los Angles: Sage.


Subjectivity in Social Analysis

Traditional elements of social analysis, particularly ethnography in research include a high level of detachment from the people or group that is being observed. Removal from the context being observed is thought to give the researcher an objective view to record the “truth” of what is being observed. Rosaldo (1993) argues that pure objectivity cannot be achieved and should not be sought after. He made reference to the Horace Miner’s “Body Ritual of the Nacirema,” as a poignant example of the dangers of stark objectivity (pp. 51). He claims that this approach disguises what is really going on and misses the most important elements for observation and analysis (Rosaldo, 1993). What are the most important elements for observation and analysis then? One important element is self recognition of your own culture and experiences. Or in other words, what makes you know what you know. According to Rosaldo (1993), what you observe as truth in ethnography has a lot to do with your backgrounds, identities, and interactions within your context. Rosaldo (1993), places importance on this recognition of self as you interact with what you are studying. Another important element is the power of the analysis and views, and reflections from the people or groups that you are observing. Who else would know more about their situations than the people that are living them? He warns that excluding the voice of the observed participants, “fails to provide the participants’ reflections in their own experiences.” (Rosaldo, 1993, pp. 51) This may lead to incorrect generalizations of cultures, events, and situations.

I can only see benefit in including a level of subjectivity in ethnographic types of research. According to Crow’s New American College ideologies (2002), “We measure ourselves by those we include, not by those we exclude”. Excluding the thoughts, and stories or research participants only stands to exclude and marginalize them. If we take into consideration how our experiences or lack of them may create biases when we are trying so hard to be objective researchers and we consider the views and reflections of those being observed, the result will be the truthful depiction of what is being studied. When we are exposing truth in research, we create opportunities to tear down walls of oppression based on ignorance or false perceptions. I am not saying that objectivity is harmful; I just see Rosaldo’s vision of social analysis as a way to give a voice to the voiceless and report truth. Our research should focus on access, accessibility, and impact. Keeping this in mind, our research should tell the stories accurately so we can clearly respect those in which we are trying to learn about in order to make an impact that will be positive in nature.


Arizona State University. (2002). A new American university: The new gold standard. Retrieved from

Rosaldo, R. (1993). Culture & Truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.




Is Culture the New Dumping Ground?

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). It’s not the culture of poverty, it’s the poverty of culture: The problem with  teacher education. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 37(2), 104-109. Retrieved from

Howard, T. C. (2010). Why race and culture matter in schools: Closing the achievemen gap in America’s classrooms. New York, N.Y: Teachers College Press

Losen, Daniel J (2011). Discipline policies, successful schools, and racial justice. Boulder, Col: National   Education Policy Center.

The journal article, It’s not the Culture of Poverty, It’s the Poverty of Culture: The Problem with Teacher Education by Ladson-Billings (2006) asserts that anthropology should be a part of the teacher preparation program. The author describes how pre-service teachers take courses on philosophy, sociology, history and psychology but anthropology is typically absent from teacher programs. Ladson-Billings (2006) argues, “The problem of culture in teaching is not merely one of exclusion. It is also one of overdetermination.” (p.104) She describes overdetermination as “culture is randomly and regularly used to explain everything.” In her research the author describes how she collected data on pre-service and new to the profession teachers on their understanding of culture.

Data collection was not a strength of this article. Although, I was entirely engaged in the data the author collected through interviews, electronic portfolios and student journals the explanation of the data analysis was not detailed enough to duplicate. Ladson-Billings (2006) reflects on “critical incidents” captured through the data collected. She conducted the interviews at the end of the pre-service teachers’ field experience. She asked the pre-service teachers to tell her about a child that was difficult to handle in class. I was saddened to learn that most pre-service teachers described the difficult student as one that was not like them in race, gender or ethnicity. The majority of teachers chose African American boys as the student that was most difficult to handle in their interview responses. This reminded me of Losen’s (2011) work on Discipline Policies, Successful Schools and Racial Justice, where he refers to a speech by Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who suggests, “students with disabilities and Black students, especially males were suspended far more often than their white counterparts.” (p. 3)

One incident that the author reflects on is a conversation she had with one of the pre-service teachers. She describes how the pre-service teacher said, “The black kids just talk so loud and don’t listen.” Ladson-Billings asked the pre-service teacher why they thought that and the teacher responded, “I don’t know; I guess it’s cultural.” (Ladson-Billings, 2006, p. 106) As I read this, I flashed back to conversations I have overheard at schools when teachers are talking about the reasons why students are not successful, why parents are not involved or why students are not making good choices and the answer I often hear is culture. Ladson-Billings asserts that “culture has become the answer to every problem.” (2006, p. 106)

Through the data collection, the researcher invited pre-service teachers to consider their own culture. The majority of her pre-service teachers are white, middle-class, monolingual Mid-Westerners. I was astonished by their responses detailed  in the article. “They describe themselves as having ‘no culture’ or being ‘just regular’ or just normal.” (Ladson-Billings, 2006, p.107) I believe in order for teachers to understand and value their students’ culture, they have to know, understand and value their own culture.  I connected their responses to what Howard (2010)  refers to as the demographic divide where the majority of the teachers she interviewed are white and the majority of the student population are African American.  Howard (2010) explains how “cross-racial teaching and learning arrangements have the potential for varying degrees of misunderstandings between students and teachers, especially where teachers lack the training and competence necessary to effectively teach students from diverse groups.” (p .43)

Organization is a strength in the article It’s not the Culture of Poverty, It’s the Poverty of Culture: The Problem with Teacher Education. Ladson-Billings is masterful in weaving in and out of data analysis and conclusions. Although this article was not organized with typical headings found in empirical research, it was written in a way that was easy to navigate. The author was also succinct in the development of her argument. I was drawn in by the examples, stories and clarity of her writing.

Another strength of this article is the conclusions the author draws. Ladson-Billings draws three major conclusions throughout the article. One of the conclusions that Ladson-Billings draws is that pre-service teachers need to interact with students outside of the school setting. She reminds us of the importance of celebrating students’ success outside of academics. The author argues that this will support pre-service teachers in becoming “careful observers of cultures” for their students and themselves. (Ladson-Billings, 2006, p. 109) Another conclusion she draws is that the pre-service teachers need to experience schooling in other parts of the world. The last conclusion she draws is that pre-service teachers need to see identify their own culture and own it.

I believe researching pre-service teachers and new to the profession teachers’ understanding of culture is a meaningful contribution to the field of education. I think it is important for teachers to understand their own culture and the students that they interact with. I also believe the author raises an issue that I have seen and heard on many school campuses and that is blaming student failure on culture.  Culture should not be “the answer” or the dumping ground for failures that happen within the educational system.

Perceptions of a 9-year-old

When I was 9-years-old, my older brother had a basketball game against a team from the Ute Indian Reservation, located in northern Utah. Up to that point in my young life, I had never before been to the Indian Reservation. As we were driving to the game, I distinctly recall thinking about what the opposing team’s players and fans would be like, and how the reservation and school would look like. I won’t lie, I imagined that they would all be dressed in traditional Native American costumes, complete with feathers, while the cheerleaders beat on drums. Clearly, my 9-year-old view of Native American culture was in need of expansion.

In the article, “Race Ethnicity and Education”, author Tara Yosso (2005), explores the idea that race and ethnicity is not simply about the color of a person’s skin, black or white, colored or not. She speaks to the value of experience as cultural wealth. Cultural wealth is gained, in part, through the experiences that people of color have gained through their communities, home life, and interactions with others, whether good or bad. Cultural capital creates a more complete view of who that person is, and how we, as educators, can best engage them in the educational process.

Historically, communities of color have been viewed from a deficits model within education. This model views students who come from communities of color as lacking resources, or that they are disadvantaged. The author notes that this is one of the most prevalent forms of racism within our school system, in that it “takes the position that minority students and families are at fault for poor academic performance because: (a) students enter school without the normative cultural knowledge and skills; and (b) parents neither value nor support their child’s education” (p.75). When viewing race and culture through this two-dimensional lens, we limit our understanding of the experiences that make people who they are, particularly their ability “to experience, respond to, and resist racism and other forms of oppression” (p.72).

In broadening our lens, the author discussed different forms of capital that adds to the overall cultural wealth of people of color. Each form of capital is based on different experiences that people of color gain in their life, and includes, aspirational, navigational, social, linguistic, familial and resistant capital. In the educational context, each form speaks to the experiences that students of color bring with them to their educational experience, and how their experiences have shaped who they are.

As an educator, I feel very strongly about looking at students holistically. While I will never be able to fully understand the experiences that people of color have had, it is through engaging them in their own experiences, and how those experiences create their own cultural wealth, that we are able to most effectively help students be successful in their educational pursuits.

I don’t recall anything about the basketball game, or even who won. However, my young 9-year-old view of Native American’s, was forever changed that evening. As we entered the gymnasium, I noticed something that I was not expecting. The players, fans, families, referees, coaches, scoreboard operators, ushers, and even the cheerleaders, acted and looked, just like we did, other than a different color of skin.

As a family, we discussed perceptions and misperceptions, assumptions and misassumptions. But it was my mother’s view that changed how I view others, particularly people of color. She taught me that it wasn’t about treating people the same, for in treating others the same, we miss the characteristics, qualities and HISTORY that make them unique.


Yosso, T.J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, (8)1, 69-91.


The Future of Arizona is in Our Hands…and Theirs

“As nonindigenous scholars seeking a dialogue with indigenous scholars, we (Denzin and Lincoln) must construct stories that are embedded in the landscapes through which we travel” (Denzin, Lincoln, & Smith, p.6).

Highlighted in “Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks” (Liou, Antrop-Gonazalez, & Cooper, 2009), is the importance of the critical relationships that exists between marginalized students (i.e., minority students) and those that support and guide them (i.e., teachers, guidance counselors, advisors, parents, religious leaders, peers, etc.). In the article, the authors correlate those relationships to the academic success of students. In order for that relationship to impact student success, “these relationships are predicated on teachers who are not only passionate about their content areas, but who are also passionate about their students and continuously strive to know their students, their families, and their communities well” (p. 542).

As noted, teachers are an important part of young people’s lives. However, not all critical relationships come from within the school system. Some of the most critical and enduring relationships are formed outside of school, through peer-to-peer groups, church groups, and family members. Through these relationships, students increase their likelihood of being successful. In one particular case, the authors noted that students often achieved success in their academics as a direct result of specific connections that they had developed to a religious organization and/or other extra-curricular activities. Students who participated in the study spoke to the benefit of participating in activities outside of the classroom “which steered them away from antischool, oppositional youth culture like gang membership and truancy” (p. 542).

According to the US Census Bureau (2012), Hispanic or Latinos comprise 30.2% of the Arizona state population, which is nearly double the percentage for the Hispanic or Latino population in the United States (US Census Bureau, 2012). As such, Arizona will continue to be challenged in meeting the needs of all students, but in particularly, in preparing students to meet the demands of the future. In order to most effectively do this, we must leverage our most valuable resource and commodity, which are the people who live in Arizona. Future preparation begins by preparing the younger generation of today. As minority populations quickly become the majority, it will be even more important in breaking down the barriers that prevent minorities from accessing higher education.

I have seen first-hand the impact that a caring teacher can have on a student’s ability to be successful. That success not only translates to the ability to progress in their educational pursuits, but also transcends education, and helps position them for success in life. Helping students build personal self-esteem, have confidence in their ability, and take pride in their culture, language and heritage, are all critical elements to success. The more we empower students by giving access to information and resources, the more we create a foundation upon which their success will be built.

As an action researcher, being aware of my own biases and limitations when conducting research, particularly as it relates to marginalized, indigenous, minority individuals and groups, will be critical to my ability to represent the story accurately.

While the quote at the beginning noted specifically the role of the authors, I would argue that we (as researchers, practitioners, and members of society) each insert ourselves in the construction of those stories embedded in our own journey.


Denzin, N.K., Lincoln, Y.S., & Smith, L.T. (2008). Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

Liou, D.D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies, 45, 534-555.

US Census Bureau (2012) Arizona Quick Facts. Retrieved June 6, 2014 from

Reflection Starts with You

Access, Excellence, and Impact

Howard (2003) highlights the need for critical teacher reflection in the article “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection.” He sets the stage by explaining the demographic divide and how “US schools will continue to become learning spaces where an increasingly homogeneous teaching population (mostly White, female and middle class) will come into contact with an increasingly heterogeneous student population (primarily students of color, from low income backgrounds.)” (Howard, 2003, p. 195) The author explains the importance of supporting teachers in gaining the knowledge and skills for teaching today’s diverse student community.

One of the ways Howard (2003) suggests acquiring the knowledge and skills for teaching our diverse learners is through critical reflection. He describes critical reflection as, “attempts to look at reflection within moral, political, and ethical contexts of teaching.” (Howard, 2003, p. 197) I can see how this type of reflection would be challenging. As teachers, we are familiar with reflecting on our actions and how it impacted student learning. However, this type of reflection requires much more than just identifying strengths and challenges within a lesson.   Howard (2003) pushes educators to “ask challenging questions that pertain to one’s construction of individuals from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.” (p. 198)

This year I had an opportunity to participate in systematic reflection with colleagues. The experience was difficult but rewarding. We used journal writing to reflect and make sense of our experiences. Each session the facilitator would pose questions and give us uninterrupted time to write and reflect. One of the greatest gifts I received in this experience was the opportunity to go back and reread what I had written in my journal at different times throughout our journey. I could see how my thinking had grown and what I needed to do to move forward in my practice. During the systematic reflection, we were invited to share out with the group, but it was not required. I believe a similar format focused on critical reflection would be beneficial for teachers. The author refers to this format as race reflective journaling by Milner (2003) and further describes it as a “process wherein teachers are able to process issues of racial differences in a more private manner through writing as opposed to sharing ideas of racial and cultural differences in a more open and public forum that might be uncomfortable and difficult for some.” (Howard, 2003, p. 199)

I believe that race reflective journaling would be uncomfortable yet eye-opening for teachers and that is what is needed. It would force teachers to engage in an inner dialogue centered on race, ethnicity, social-class and gender and expose what Howard (2003) refers to as deficit-based thinking. In the article, deficit-based thinking is described as an authentic belief that students from culturally diverse and low-income backgrounds are incapable learners. (Howard, 2003, p. 197) My parents experienced the harmful effects of deficit-based thinking. Both my parents are second language learners. I grew up listening to stories about the difficulties they experienced in school as second language learners. As a result, they chose not to teach my brother and I Spanish. The language stopped in my generation because they saw it as a deficit.

I believe that the first step toward becoming a culturally relevant educator is to start with reflection and the article “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection” offers steps to consider, possible pitfalls, and the positive impact critical teacher reflection can have on our diverse student population.


Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection. Theory Into Practice. doi:10.1207/s15430421tip4203_5