Epiphany - Dr. Wanda Roundtree Henderson
"Cultural Competency": A Myth Worth Displelling?
Posted October 4th 2015

Creating an early care and education atmosphere that recognizes and respects the goals and aspirations of diverse family and community groups is a crucial task for early childhood educators and administrators today. Many of today's early learning venues are simply a microcosm of the broader pluralistic society in which many of us live and in many instances, wide disparities often exist among stakeholder groups relative to their beliefs and cultural practices. Hence, from the very onset of young children's schooling trajectory, there are important racial and ethnic differences in parenting beliefs, understandings of developmental milestones, expectations for school readiness and influences on parenting (Spicer, 2010). Understanding these important differences is an important first step for early childhood professionals, which can assist them greatly in working more effectively with all parents/guardians. However, here it is important to introduce the caveat that coming to grips with the idiosyncrasies of other cultures outside of one's own is no small feat. Culture is extremely complex, loaded, if you will, and rife with a variety of elements that are both explicit (housing, language, food, artifacts, etc.) and implicit (family structure, behavioral norms, religious beliefs, values, etc.)—all of which must be carefully considered if we desire to be more efficacious in our work with young children and their families. Culture is often difficult to negotiate and/or broker. Paulo Freire once wrote: "No one goes anywhere alone, even those who arrive physically alone… We carry with us the memory of many fabrics, a self soaked in our history and our culture" (Freire, 1994, p. 31). That being said, it is essential that early childhood teachers and leaders seek to become more "culturally responsive", "culturally aware" and "culturally sensitive" when engaging with growing families that are enrolled in our preschool programs and elementary schools as opposed to striving to become more "culturally competent". The consistent use of the term "cultural competency" has become increasingly untenable to me over the past few years. The juxtaposition of the words "culture and competent" implies a certain degree of expertise and/or proficiency in understanding a particular culture. But given the various nuances and layers of culture, is it really possible for one to be "culturally competent" in a culture that one does not formally share? It's quite a challenge to effectively understand and negotiate all of the aspects that comprise one's own heritage because human interactions, at best, can be quite complicated. So, lately, I have come to view the term "cultural competence" as, perhaps, a misnomer. Therefore, I'm suggesting that, as educators, we dispel any traces of elitism, (which are often the result of claims of cultural competency) and strive harder to bridge cultures and reconcile contrasting behaviors, beliefs, value orientations and child-rearing practices that often exist between us and the children and families that we serve (Triandis 1989; Trumbull & Farr, 2005). The process of reconciling differences between individual cultural ideals (parental/familial goals for children, the value placed on education, approaches towards learning, etc.,) and that of the collective culture (the aims and purposes of early care and education and the range of strategies utilized to accomplish that end, etc.) within preschool or early grade classroom settings is very hard work but, nevertheless, an essential aim for all early childhood educators. Below is a list (not all inclusive) of ideas one might consider when working with today's growing families in both pluralistic and homogenous settings:

  • Communicate an attitude of unconditional acceptance and positive regard
  • Learn and use participants' names (including proper pronunciation)
  • Emphasize similarities more than differences
  • Encourage cultural knowledge sharing among and between children, parents/guardians and staff
  • Be aware of your own attitudes, stereotypes and expectations
  • Assign coaches/buddies for newly enrolled children/families
  • Use learning materials, props and aesthetic environmental aids that are familiar to all families and both genders
  • Use language and execute behavior that is non-biased and inclusive
  • Learn and share (appropriately) general and specific information about families –without violating families' right to confidentiality
  • Always ensure feelings of belonging

What other steps might early care and education teachers and leads take to bolster an atmosphere of cultural sensitivity and respect? How essential is an atmosphere of cultural sensitivity, acceptance and respect to young children's overall growth and development?

Reply to the above post
Reply from Zainab Khan posted on December 15th 2015
I think it is important for educators to acknowledge the various cultural backgrounds that exist in the classroom although it may be difficult to incorporate every culture it is important to acknowledge the differences in students. Students should be given the opportunity to teach classmates about their culture as well as learning more about it themselves. This allows the teacher and students to be aware of the various cultural backgrounds and to be more accepting towards others. It is truly knowledge, interaction, and exposure to diversity that kills ignorance and stereotypes.
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Reply from Patricia Johnson posted on December 13th 2015
I think teachers and leads can bolster an atmosphere of culture sensitivity and respect by having days put aside to talk about it in the class or having the students write about it so the teachers have a sense of their home life. Another way they can do this is to have parent teacher conference so they can understand their students a little more and by being a little more open minded. it is very essential to have an atmosphere of cultural sensitivity, acceptance and respect to young children's overall growth and development because it determines how they will view the world and everyone.
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Reply from Tina Hy posted on December 13th 2015
I think educators could provide examples and bring in individuals that represent different cultures to physically see and engage with guest speakers. I think having someone to physically see and talk to who identifies with different cultures is very interesting and it gives the students a different environment to socialize in by bringing others into the classroom.
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Reply from Bethlehem Tewolde posted on December 12th 2015
Early childhood educators and administrators need to be aware of the different kind of culture and religious believes that students have, and they should be able to express their culture and believes. Educators should be culturally sensitive and should not be only focusing on making the students culturally competent. Children need to understand there are people who speak and believe differently than they do. They need the exposure of different culture and religious believe so that they will not be judgmental when they get older. Accepting other cultures and believes will give the individual a place to belong to, they will not feel like an outcast, since they are being accepted for who they are. Accepting different cultures has benefit for all children and every public school educators should practice in making everyone feel comfortable and welcome all the different culture.
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Reply from Wendy Morales posted on December 9th 2015
I think teachers should help children with recognizing differences and similarities, among all people. Having the children to learn about different cultures will help the children to see that even though they might have different traditions, they can be sharing traits. Children will see that everyone is unique and yet we can still have much in common. This will help children to accept others who might look different or do things differently than they are used to seeing. The goal of this is to stop prejudice and racism from going and educating people the essence of respect and acceptance.
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Reply from Bao Her posted on December 9th 2015
I think early educators should enrich students with different cultures in the classroom because it will enhance their knowledge about different people and teach them at an early age to be non-judgemental. Also by showing students that teachers care about their culture will influence them to be successful in school because every child deserves a chance at being the best they can be without pulling the race card.
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Reply from Ariadne Singh posted on December 8th 2015
Schools should make an effort to promote the diversity of cultures to ensure all students feel included in their educational setting. Teaching children about the differences in cultures allows kids to understand that it is okay to be different, so no one feels excluded or like a minority. Cultural awareness also educates children to respectful to individuals from other races and ethnicities.
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Reply from Ana Vega Lopez posted on December 7th 2015
All culture should be celebrated for children to experience their culture and other child’s culture. As the child experience their culture, the children will be able to gain more information on their culture beliefs, values and religious. As educators get involved, the children will culturally be influenced in be engage. The educators should respect individual cultures, so the child can also respect the culture from everyone. As the child grows up, they will encounter what they believe they should be as an adult.
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Reply from Shanelle Ray posted on December 7th 2015
Children's different cultures should be celebrated. They should be allowed to be proud of their culture both in and out of the classroom. With the holidays coming up, instead of pretending all of the different celebrations don't exist, they should all be brought into the classroom. Celebrate all the cultures of the children in the class. Set up a menorah and a Christmas tree if those are the holidays celebrated by the students. Let them be proud of where they come from.
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Reply from Miley Chang posted on December 7th 2015
It is common for kids to grow up to be culturally influenced. They learn to appreciate that different people has different culturally advantage and disadvantages. Being culturally influenced encourage kids to be more open minded in a disverse setting, like Sacramento.
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Reply from Anne Maginnity posted on December 2nd 2015
As the holidays approach I think of how some public school classrooms are taking out the incorporation of celebrating Christmas in their classrooms. This is because there are students whose families do not celebrate this holiday, whether that be for personal reasons or religious ones. I know someone specifically who works in an early childhood program who is experiencing this situation currently and this person expressed disappointment to me. As much as it is fun to celebrate Christmas traditions it is not being culturally sensitive to others. I think it is easy for some to forget that not everyone celebrates the same holidays and to always be respectful of other beliefs. By children and their families feeling respected keeps a balance in the school atmosphere as well as a mutual respect between teacher and families.
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Reply from Marina Gorbenko posted on November 23rd 2015
In a childcare program that fosters multiculturalism, children learn that people can be different and unique, yet still have much in common. Such realizations help young children learn to accept differences and aid in eliminating prejudice and racism. These realizations assist children with accepting and respecting people from all cultures and backgrounds. Another goal of a multicultural program is to encourage cooperative social skills. As children learn to accept differences and similarities among people, they can work and get along with others better. They begin to see other's viewpoints and individuality. The multicultural classroom assists children from minority cultures in developing cooperation and social skills in a setting that may be unfamiliar to them. Their self-esteem is boosted as they are recognized and accepted for their individuality. They feel good about themselves as other children recognize the worth of their traditions and customs. The early childhood program that is culturally sensitive will build the self-confidence of its children by integrating the cultures of all the children into learning experiences. As a teacher, you need to learn the traditions of each child in your classroom. What holidays do they celebrate? How do they celebrate birthdays? How are they parented? What are their favorite foods and family traditions? You should also create an attitude of acceptance and respect for other cultures. It requires an open mind that accepts and respects differences. Children model what they see, so the teacher's inclusion and acceptance of different ideas, customs, and traditions helps them learn to accept and respect.
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Reply from Kaley posted on October 30th 2015
In order to be culturally sensitive in the classroom, there is a lot to consider. Depending on where you are you might have to think of what cultures you are primarily dealing with. Some teachers now even try to learn some Spanish in order to connect with the English Language Learners in the classroom, this can also be helpful in communicating with their parents as well. To encourage cultural knowledge, you can have a day where students can pick a culture to celebrate and bring in something (food, clothing, music etc.) to represent that culture. Teaching children from a young age to respect different cultures is essential because this will lay the groundwork for their beliefs as they grow up into a young adult.
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Reply from Janine Contreras posted on October 28th 2015
I am currently in education 170 which is bilingual education so I have been learning a lot about other cultures and how to teach children whose native language is not English. It is sad to say that our society has viewed a second language in school as negative because all they want them to succeed in is English. Today there are dual immersion programs which I think is a great way to start with bilingual education and learning about other cultures rather than your own. California has no majority, everyone is a minority which is amazing because of the diversity. When teachers receive a student from a different country they should educate themselves on that culture to alter their teaching to accommodate that child and help that child gradually learn the American culture as well as keeping their native culture.
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Reply from mary duncan posted on October 23rd 2015
This is a very tough one to respond to in today\'s society. Culture and education are two subjects that must be brought together in order to help the student learn and help the instructors teach. The more information you have about a subject the better it is for all interest groups. So, teachers learn all you can about your students. This increases acceptance, make interaction fun and environment conducive for learning. Thought provoking article--thank you. Mary Ann Duncan
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Reply from Adryanna leonard posted on October 21st 2015
I believe culture is a sensitive topic for alot of people. It is hard to separate culture from education. It is also hard to involve the two together. Alot of diffrent culture has diddrent values and beliefs that all come together with cultural competency. We have to bridge together families and education and be aware of culture in learnkng enviroment and respect each other there fore things can get done accordingly. Addressingbrhis issue will eliminate alot of problems but it will not be easy to address. I beilieve this is a great article and has alot of beneficial information. I have to research the topic further and reply some more.
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Reply from Hannah Davis posted on October 18th 2015
I agree with this suggestion that eliminates the term 'cultural competency' and the including ideas on how to have more cultural awareness, and how to be more cultural sensitive instead of being competent. Another step might be to have assignment where culture is addresses or a lesson about the different cultures of the world. An atmosphere of cultural sensitivity, acceptance and respect is extremely essential to young children's overall growth and development. If a child does not feel accepted as who they are, then their development in all aspects will suffer. If a child feels attacked in some way regarding their culture, they will also suffer academically and socially. Being aware of culture and just how diverse our country is is the first step in implementing cultural responsiveness and sensitivity into academia. Teaching children of culture will have its effects on generations to come with the overall goal of being a culturally aware, responsive, and sensitive species as a whole. Stating this young in the classroom will lead to this goal.
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Reply from zoua yang posted on October 14th 2015
Other steps that might bolster an atmosphere of cultural sensitivity and respect can be partnering up the diverse class of children and learn two or three things about one of each’s different cultures. I don’t think it matters that much if there are more whites or blacks in a classrooms; all children can still be pair up and discuss about their cultures. Some ways to only know different cultures and respect it if you see and meet other children who are a different race. Therefore, no one will go to the extent of hurting another’s culture differences. Since the atmosphere of cultural sensitivity is very important in families, it is essential to be accepted because it will affect children’s growth and development. Children grows up knowing what culture they are in, therefore is their culture is disrespect, they can closed in and not appreciate their own culture. Growing up, they will develop nonexistence to their own cultures if not being accept about their culture awareness.
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