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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Culturally Responsive Education: Cultural Education Through Expeditionary Learning

Diane Demee-Benoit

Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia
I began my formal schooling in the United States, and I almost didn't "graduate" from kindergarten.

Here's the deal. At the end of my kindergarten year, my mother was called in for a parent-teacher meeting because the school thought I might have a learning disability or a hearing problem. My teacher said I couldn't pass the alphabet test, which is required if you want to graduate from kindergarten.

After some hearing and cognitive tests, and still much confusion about what was wrong, the problem was finally identified! The real problem turned out to be a difference in how British and Americans pronounce the letter "z." I felt my mother knew more than my teacher, so I was going to pronounce "z" my mother's way no matter how many times the teacher tried to correct my pronunciation to her way. Now, this is a rather poor example of cultural misunderstandings, but I do still remember the alphabet debacle from my kindergarten days as being quite stressful.

Forty years later, I don't think most teachers have been prepared any better for dealing with diversity. It's not only the English-language issue; it's also that the differences in sociocultural norms that need to be addressed. Students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are too often erroneously placed in special education classes or deemed "lower achievers" because they learn differently.

The good news is that people are trying to correct the problem. For example, the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRESt), funded by the U.S. Department of Education, grew from collaboration among researchers who were studying trends in special education over time. From that research, they noticed that many more children of color are in special ed and wondered whether this stemmed from problems within the educational system. Guess what?

From the GLEF archives, you'll want to check out these resources about diversity:

This article on learning styles is also helpful.

If you have curriculum, lesson plans, or great Web sites on culturally appropriate education to share, post them. If you have had an experience about diversity that moved you, share what you've learned!