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"the need to aquire a degree of cultural competence"....what?

lcastrejon's picture

While reading Noguera's Part III Introduction the following passage stood out to me,

"To help schools figure out how best to meet the learning needs of their students, a grownig number of researchers have focused upon the need for educators to acquire a degree of cultural competence when teaching poor black and Latino children in inner city. For many, this consists largely of the need for educators to know and value the cultural heritage of their students. Yet, while such information may provide teachers with important background information, it rarely provides the insights they will need to actually be successful in the classroom" (pg. 143).

The first thought that came to mind when reading this was "cultural competence" and what exactly does it mean to "acquire a degree" in that area. The idea that one should have a degree in understanding someone's heritage bothers me because I do not believe that someone can ever consider themselves to be an expert on another person's way of life especially when one person's experience is different from someone else's even though they identify as the same race/ethnicity. For instance, a latino student born in the U.S. may have a completely different experience and outlook towards the world in comparison to a latino student who was born outside of the U.S. yet immigrated to the country at some point in his life.

I understand the intention that these researchers were trying to make however, I believe that the make up today's generation consists children of several different backgrounds other than black and latino. If we were to push for all educators to become familiar with the cultural heritage of their students then that would include other cultures to look into in addition to the expected black and latino cultures (of course depending on where one is teaching). At this point it sounds like educators have to do more before considering taking on a teaching position in inner cities in addition to knowing that the learning process will continue even as they proceed to teach in their classrooms. If that is so, then could we say that given all this extra work educators may have to commit to that their salaries should be increased?

Another factor to consider is language. Nowadays there are more students entering the school system with English being their second language. If we were to promote educators to acquire a degree of cultural competence then shouldn't we say that taking on or continuing their learning on a certain language be encouraged too? In my opinion communication between the teacher and their students is crucial to identifying the students needs and if one is to accomodate the learning of all its students then shouldn't that include the students who may not have mastered the English language as well? In other words, how can one accomodate the needs of ESL (English as a Second Language) students if the educator is unable to communicate with them?

The intent to have educators learn more about their students and their backgrounds in order to effectively provide them with a quality education is great, however I can't help but feel like the situation has gotten a lot more complicated over time to be able to achieve that. Also, I believe that even if an educator familiarizes themselves with the heritages that correspond to their students it is dangerous to assume that every student who identifies as a particular race/ethnicity encounters the same experiences and have the same beliefs.


sara.gladwin's picture

I think the really interesting thing about Noguera's word choice "competence" is that it does not actually suggest mastery or expertice. Rather, competancy suggests that someone is more along the lines of adequate- they fill a mininum requirement, but are not necessarily exceptionally skilled. I like this because I think it speaks to your valid concern about the suggestion that anyone could acquire mastery over  another person's way of life, which is highly problematic. Though I may not have the same exact understanding as Noguera of what it might look like for an educator to be "culturally competent", I have a sense of what I think it should look like. At a mininum, I think part of cultural competency should be an understanding that you will never fully understand the life and experiences of another person, and a desire to learn more about individual students despite never being able to fully understand.