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Post #2: Culture

eshim's picture

McDermott and Varenne define culture as a term “that is generally taken to gloss the well-bound containers of coherence that mark off different kinds of people living in their various ways, each kind separated from the others by a particular version of coherence, a particular way of making sense and meaning,” (325). Reading McDermott and Varenne’s article on culture, and focusing on the wording of how they defined culture in the beginning--by emphasizing on "separating" people and identifying differences in one another-- I am curious as to how their perspectives would apply in the setting of my field placement at a school with students who have learning differences, as they call it.

Though I have not yet started my field work, the story of the one-eyed man in a country of the blind seems very applicable in this education setting. The school fosters educational growth for students who have been diagnosed with math or language-based learning differences and in that setting, I am the one-eyed man Nunez; not in a sense that I am or should feel superior to these students, but that I am placed in a setting that is built to foster their specific educational needs that would be comparably different from the educational setting I grew up in. However, I wonder how McDermott and Varenne would describe the culture that these students grow up in? Their school's mission statement has highlighted the fact that their special education is a learning difference and not a disability. They are separated from other students say, in an average-sized school classroom, yet why should their separation be seen in a negative light when there are plenty of students that have separated themselves and attend an "elite" educational institution? As McDermott and Varenne wrote, “Life in culture…reminds us, is polyphonous and multivocalic; it is made of voices of many, each one brought to life and made significant by the others, only sometimes by being the same, more often by being different…” (326). These students are growing within a culture made of their differences, yet I struggle to decipher when our acknowledging their culture crosses over to stereotyping them? From my current point of view, I wonder whether the differences these students have are even seen as components of a culture that McDermott and Varenne describes.

The article sees these differences highlighted by my field placement school as disabilities in order to show the weaknesses of culture. They write that “disabilities are approached best as a cultural fabrication,” (327), which is a statement that has its pros and cons. My field placement school’s choice to acknowledge what society calls as a ‘disability’ as a difference differs from McDermott and Varenne’s labeling of these students. However, where I think both the school and the author’s beliefs overlap is that they both believe the “blame-the victim” approach is negative and rather encourages us to ask, “what is wrong outside the child in the world we give them?” (McDermott et al., 330). The school I will be working in is built on that question; on how to improve a student’s education environment so they can succeed. The school’s calling these educational needs as mere differences rather than a disability shows that rather than seeing these students at culturally different, as McDermott and Varenne criticized the American education’s views of them, I believe they see them defining their own culture.

It is clear that I still struggle to approach this topic without hesitating on whether I am enforcing stereotypes of disrespecting a student’s learning difference. However, I find McDermott and Varenne’s theory about culture and how to approach it in the face of so-called disabilities a very important discussion that challenges us to question what the “norm” really is and whether culture disables people. I believe that before McDermott and Varenne crticizes culture by claiming that it is disabling, we should ask how language can be disabling first. Placing labels on individuals as disabled can encourage a culture to exclude others. I hope through my experiences at my field placement, I see how the school’s mission has proven parts of McDermott and Varenne’s arguments wrong about culture disabling people by showing how they’ve fostered an environment that has somewhat redefined their own culture and also gain insight from how that students identify themselves within their own idea of culture.