Cultural Diversity And Education Research Paper

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Humans are a unique species in that they can accumulate experiences in the form of culture, a special medium of life that consists of a set of interrelated and shared artifacts that their offspring can access and incorporate. Human development is thus achieved by incorporating these artifacts into the mind. The human species, more than any other, acquires behavioral characteristics through learning. Moreover, humans organize learning opportunities for their young to socialize or enculturate them in particular ways. Education has emerged from this species-specific tendency (Serpell and Hatano 1997). Hence there should be close, mutually supporting relationships between diverse cultures, differently organized ways of educating children, and correspondingly differentiated courses and products of individual development.

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However, two standardizing factors have made the relationships among culture, human development, and education much more complex. First, contemporary cultures, and especially their educational aspects, share a large number of features that are needed to meet the demands of mass production–consumption economies and the values reflecting them. To survive in the present competitive world, most cultures are eager to promote in their children the learning of science and technology, and thus to enhance literacy, numeracy, and a beginning of an understanding of science. As a result, education in the form of institutionalized, basic public schooling has become almost universal across cultures. This form of schooling is, for example, conducted by teachers, who are regarded as specialists and are in charge of choosing their course contents and methods of teaching. The teachers usually rely on didactic methods that require students to manipulate symbols instead of handling real objects in meaningful contexts (Serpell and Hatano 1997).

Second, although the human mind develops by being socialized or enculturated, it has some universal features as a product of the species’ evolutionary history. It is now accepted generally that human development is constrained by a set of innate tendencies and preferences, and as a result, there is one human mind, although there are many mentalities. This implies that even diverse cultures may produce a highly similar pattern of individual development. In this research paper we will discuss these complicated relation-ships between culture, human development, and education, taking a few domains of growth as examples.

1. Socialization And Education In Infancy And Early Childhood

It has been universally documented by empirical research that affective relationships between young children and socialization agents enhance the children’s susceptibility and tendency to comply with these agents which include parents, siblings, peers, and teachers. A nurturing person to whom a child has attached can induce the child’s response to her or his signals, proposals, or demands and convey social influences. In fact, infants earnestly try to acquire information from an attached figure through social referencing when they interpret a situation as being unusual or urgent. Moreover, mothers of securely attached toddlers use less power-assertive and more affective strategies when they interact with their children than do mothers of insecure children. In turn, securely attached toddlers are more compliant with their mothers than are their insecure counterparts.

Although the affect-facilitation principle can be applied to the socialization of children in every culture, the content of socialization must vary between cultures. That is, there are cultural preferences in the goals of child development and also in the patterns of socializing interactions between children and care-givers.

For example, Weisner et al. (1994) investigated children’s gender typing in conventional and non-conventional families, and found that the nonconventional parents encouraged their children to develop gender egalitarian values while displaying fewer gender-stereotyped behaviors than did their tradition-al counterparts. Miller et al. (1997) analyzed narratives directed to a target toddler by family members who were European Americans or Taiwanese. They found that the Taiwanese family members mentioned the past transgressions of the child, treating the transgressions as a didactic resource for conveying the moral standard, while American subjects referred to the past transgressions less frequently and with less seriousness, or they recalled children’s past failures as entertainment for the family. Greenfield and her colleagues (e.g., Greenfield 1999) investigated cross-generational changes in the cultural transmission of weaving in a community in Mexico. Their observations indicated that the ecological transition of the society from an agricultural subsistence economy to commercial entrepreneurship over two decades had changed both the goals (the standard of high quality weaving) and the ways of teaching (imitation vs. creation) in this community.

Moreover, educational institutions for young children, nursery schools and kindergartens, have been constructed on every continent under the influence of Western philosophers of education, such as Pestalozzi, Montessori, and Piaget. Through participation in these educational institutions, children obtain knowledge and develop social skills. Some of the goals, tools, and processes of early childhood education are universal across cultures, but others vary owing to historical traditions, customs, and the everyday practices of the peoples of each culture. Through those experiences, children become appropriate successors for each society. For example, Western researchers who observe Japanese preschools are often impressed by the schools’ emphasis on cooperation and group-living skills. These researchers speculate that participation in such cultural practices will help Japanese children to develop friendships and an interdependent sense of self, which make them able successors of the so-called interdependent culture (e.g., Tobin 1992).

2. Literacy, Schooling, And Human Development

Formal education in the contemporary world is often construed as a cumulative progression with two broad phases (Serpell and Hatano 1997): (a) the fundamental acquisition of basic literacy skills that are subsequently deployed by the individual, and (b) the acquisition of cultural knowledge and of a higher level of under-standing. Thus, much of the initial phase of schooling focuses on the teaching and learning of basic reading and writing. This is because literacy is often construed as a passport to full participation in ‘the modern world.’

However, whether the acquisition of literacy skills, both within the community and at the individual level, plays a critical role in human development is still debatable. Although a number of leading scholars in the field assert that literacy establishes a relationship between a word and its referent that is more general and more abstract than in oral communication, such views (called ‘the great divide theories’) have been criticized because they imply that nonliterate cultures or individuals are primitive or immature. Moreover, it has been demonstrated that the acquisition of literacy skills per se, separated from schooling and used in restricted situations, does not produce general cognitive effects. It seems reasonable to assume that morality has its own virtues (Olson and Torrance 1991).

It is reasonable, however, to claim that literacy induces some specific cognitive changes, depending upon what people do with it (Olson 1994). In techno-logically advanced societies many practices, including administration, religion, and science, require their participants to use the written language, so the acquisition of literacy often enables people to enter one of these practices. This will inevitably enhance the development of the body of knowledge and cognitive skills that are used in the target practice. As information technology develops further, new forms of literacy (e.g., what is called computer literacy) are now being sought.

Another interesting issue related to the acquisition of literacy in terms of the triangular relationships between culture, human development, and education is how different writing systems are learned differently, and how each culture supports such learning (Harris and Hatano 1999). Writing systems vary widely, even in the contemporary world. For example, as is well known, English is an orthographically irregular language, that is, there is an inconsistent (and, in some cases, arbitrary) relationship between letters and sounds. In contrast, in other languages such as Spanish and Italian, there is a highly regular relationship between sounds and letters. When learning an orthographically regular language, children become fluent readers once they master all the relationships between spelling and sound. It is possible for them to spell any word that they hear and to pronounce any word that they see written down.

There are, in addition, some writing systems in which letters or characters do not represent phonemes but a larger unit. That unit is either a morpheme or a syllable. The best known example of a writing system in which a single character represents a morpheme (basic unit of meaning) is Chinese. To read a logo-graphic orthography such as Chinese, children do not have to segment a spoken word into phonemes to discover the script–sound correspondence. Thus, learning to read the first 100 or so words in these systems is easier than in any alphabetical writing system. However, becoming a competent reader in such a writing system is a very time-consuming process with a large memory load, since it contains a very large number of different characters that cannot easily be broken down into smaller subcomponents as in the case of alphabetically written words. The second type of nonalphabetic writing system is a syllabic system in which each syllable in the language is represented by one character. It is easy for young children to learn to read in the syllabic system of writing because syllables are more readily accessible to awareness than pho-nemes. Syllabaries in which each character represents a syllable or mora (subsyllabic rhythmic unit) are extensively used in Japan.

For different writing systems, different sets of preconditions are required on the part of the learner. For example, whereas a less sophisticated phonological segmentation strategy is needed for learning Chinese characters than that for alphabets, the ability to discriminate visually complex figures is more critical. Accordingly, different play and study activities for enhancing the development of the relevant pre-conditions are provided by the cultures. For example, the ability to segment a word into an onset and a rhyme is facilitated by nursery rhymes in English-speaking countries. Similarly, to make up for the difficulty of learning a large number of Chinese characters, the ability to read and write them earns the learner some special respect in the cultures in which these characters are used.

3. Cross-National Differences In Mathematics Teaching And Learning

Humans seem to possess some protoquantitative schemata, by which they can count, add and subtract. These schemata serve as the basis for buying and selling, as observed in street mathematics (Nunes et al. 1993). The educational practice of mathematics teaching and learning might be expected to be essentially the same all over the world, wherever schooling is instituted. However, a number of studies have yielded striking differences in mathematical achievements between American and East Asian children. For example, in the first study by Stevenson’s group, Chinese and Japanese first-graders clearly outperformed American first-graders. At the fifth-grade level, the difference in performance between the American and the Asian children was even greater—even the highest average score for an American fifth-grade classroom was below the lowest average score of an Asian fifth-grade classroom (Stevenson and Stigler 1992).

There are also remarkable differences in a number of features, both quantitative and qualitative, of the mathematics teaching and learning practices in China, Japan, and the USA. Asian children spend a larger number of hours on mathematics, and are led by teachers more often than their American counterparts. Whereas American teachers have a tendency to ask as many questions as possible, Asian teachers often spend an entire class discussing one or two problems. Also, whereas American teachers often give immediate feedback to students’ answers, Chinese and Japanese teachers are likely to ask students to explain their answers and then call upon other students to evaluate their correctness.

These observed differences in the teachers’ behavior may be attributed to their different folk-pedagogies as regards the best way for students to learn mathematics (Hatano and Inagaki 1998). They may constitute part of more general cultural beliefs about learning and teaching. Stigler and Hiebert (1999) suggest that, based on a video study of eighth-grade mathematics teaching in Germany, Japan, and the USA, which was part of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, American teachers believe that the more exercises given, the more smoothly learning will proceed, whereas Japanese teachers believe that students learn best by struggling to solve a problem and also hearing about the pros and cons of different methods.

To summarize, although apparently highly similar public schooling is institutionalized almost everywhere in the world, the process of actual learning and teaching in mathematics differs even among techno-logically advanced countries, owing to their different cultural backgrounds. Such differences tend to pro-duce widely different levels of mathematical achievements.

4. Intervention For Citizenship

For the creation and continuation of society, every society needs competent members. However, the kinds of knowledge that are required and the extent to which they have to be established depend on various cultural backgrounds, including history, politics, economics, and religion.

In technologically advanced countries, this need has been conceptualized as acquiring citizenship and has provoked relevant research and education. Social scientists and educators are examining whether people, including young children, can develop social aware-ness through understanding the history, politics, and economics of the society, and also urgent problems such as human rights and environmental issues. It is expected that, as members of society, citizens should recognize these problems as well as be familiar with their entire social system. In addition, they should understand how everyday practices in which they participate relate to other people and other social systems, and know that they are more or less responsible for social events that happen anywhere on earth.

However, it has been documented that it is not easy for ordinary people to acquire accurate societal know-ledge. For instance, in his monumental book, Furth (1980) showed that even adolescents, who had supposedly acquired formal operations in cognitive development, could not spontaneously reach the stage of fully understanding social institutions or mechanisms. Moreover, studies on people’s understanding of the banking business, as representative of the kind of economic knowledge needed to grasp the present capitalistic world, indicated that adolescents and young adults from middle-class, salaried families in Glasgow, Leiden, and Tokyo possessed only limited knowledge. They developed naive theories about the banking business by borrowing rules from everyday personal interactions that were basically governed by ethical and humanistic considerations (Takahashi and Hatano 1999).

However, it has also been documented that children who are involved in economic activities and live in a highly commercialized area have an enhanced economic understanding. For example, Jahoda (1981) found that children in Harare, Zimbabwe who were working as sellers understood profit-making mechanisms of shops more precociously than did their less-experienced counterparts in Scotland and New Zealand. In addition, it has been observed that people of different social classes develop their own social representations as to social events and systems. For instance, adolescents from middle-class families tend to offer more individualistic explanations for poverty than do their working-class counterparts. Thus, we can assume that formal and informal interventions will advance and elaborate some kinds of societal understandings. In fact, Youniss and Yates (1997) studied how a school-based social activity, i.e., com-munity service experiences at a soup kitchen for the homeless, provoked reflection on poverty, racism, and various social problems among high-school students from a major city in North America. In this case, in a year-long project on social justice, students were both taught in a classroom and required to work four times at a soup kitchen. In Germany, there are many kinds of educational programs for students to learn human rights after Auschwitz. In one project, high-school students cleaned a Jewish cemetery to learn the fate of the Jewish people in Nazi Germany (Rathenow and Weber 1998).

In addition, awareness of inequality and unfairness among the weak in society, i.e., females, children, elderly persons, and handicapped people, has gradually transformed conventional views and beliefs regarding the nature of human beings and human development. For example, Gilligan (1982 1993) pointed out that social sciences have long neglected the fact that females have been socialized and educated to have different voices from males. Although there are no decisive biological differences between the sexes that can rationalize different socialization and education, many studies have indicated that from the birth on, children in almost all cultures are differently socialized and educated through both visible and invisible biased programs of gender typing. Some progressive researchers in Japan have shown by analyzing the content of school textbooks that there are male-dominant biases in both the texts and illustrations.

Furthermore, there are a variety of other opportunities to enhance our societal understanding. For instance, empirical data about the weaker members of society advance people’s understanding of human rights. In fact, certain findings have shown that people over 70 years old are, despite the negative image of old age, cognitively and socially competent. This result surely promotes fresh perspectives of successful aging. In addition, narratives about the so-called handicapped may challenge the conventional idea of normality. A book written by a Japanese student who has congenital tetra-amelia, but enjoys an active and satisfying college life, has deeply moved people. Over 5 million copies have been sold. It is reasonable to expect that passing laws and insisting on international treaties that protect women and children will advance people’s understanding of the meaning of human rights.

5. Conclusion

Socialization and education are ubiquitous to the extent that people convey knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes. They seem to be based on human species-specific properties. Although we are often impressed by cultural diversity, that is, cultural differences in developmental goals and methods, patterns of human development are also surprisingly similar across cultures. In the era of globalization, these universal aspects of human development should be taken seriously in education as well as in politics and the economy.

Since the end of the Cold War, people have been allowed to identify themselves with ethnic and other local groups within the nation-state and/or with even larger groups extending beyond national borders. To participate and function fully in this complex, hierarchically organized global community, people have to respect other cultures while preserving their own culture. How we can cultivate a sense of global citizenship among children should be a universal task of education.


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