Classroom and Cultural Identity

. What is a culture and how does it form/grow? What is cultural identity?

. how does cultural identity develop in monolingual speakers as compared to bilingual speakers?

. What causes cultural clashes?  solutions?

. Educational implications

Latino immigrants who live in more sheltered communities are much more likely to maintain cultural and linguistic ties to the home country than those who live in less sheltered environments (ref.).  In immigrant communities of the late 19th and early 20th century, it was this very exclusivity that kept european languages spoken into the third generation (not a common phenomenon today) ref.

I absolutely agree 100% that the best way to appreciate a culture is to share it and teach it with others.

Jenni, I’m not sure that I agree that a single family has enough power to destroy the culture of their offspring.  I see a situation of cultural maintenance (perhaps w/o metacognition of the same), push for assimilation and laissez faire.  As WWII began, my family immediately stopped speaking German and all children were told that they were now fully American.  However years later, despite years of assimilation, we still carry on certain cultural activities, traditions and expressions in my family from our German heritage.  This in a situation of little to no transnationalism or influx of new imigrants since that time.

The two major immigrant groups, Chinese and Latino, both engage in transactionalism (to a lessor or greater degree) and interaction with newer arrival from their countries of origins.  In this situation, the family would have limited control over the cultural access of their children.

What I feel may have a significant effect on culture is the child’s willingness to continue to speak the heritage language.  Many students realize early that their home language is not the prestige language.  As culture is of course transmitted to a significant degree through language, important elements of the culture may be lost if the student does not chose to speak the home language.  The same result may be found when families do not raise their children in the home language.  However when I speak with latino friends and associates whose parents did not speak to them in Spanish growing up, they all had vivid memories of important cultural experiences growing up and for the most part felt more connected to latino culture (a blanket term) than to the larger anglo culture of the US.


Yesenia, before responding I want to make sure that I fully understand the first part of your question.  Are you asking how does a student actively play a role in developing their culture, or how a student’s culture develops?  If it’s the latter, under what context in the culture being developed?  Within the context of the school?  The community? Both?  Are we to take into consideration cultural clashes that may occur between the student and the family?  If it is the former, it’s my understanding of culture that it is a consequence of living in a certain place whose residents share common values and language(s) and therefore the student would not necessarily take an active part in this development, lest the student be much older and has a meta awareness of culture and chooses to maintain her or his cultural identity.  However this is likely not the case for most of the students for which the class is directed.

The idea of preserving a culture (as diferentialted by maintanance) is grounded in the idea that bi-cultural students store cultural knowledge separately.  The reality is that bi-culturalism is a continuum that a bilingual/bicultural student must continuously negotiate.  The important question should revolve around how the school institution values the home culture while instilling community values on the student (given that language and culture are deeply intertwined).  All of the ideas presented so far in this forum I feel are very important for this aim.  However they do not address the issue of when it comes time to confront two cultural challenges (i.e. regarding courtship, etc); how will the student negotiate this cultural challenge?  Is this the role of the school to help students negotiate this?  Perhaps.  Teachers can indeed value  home culture by avoiding reference to the English language and American, etc. culture as being superior.  Also concerted efforts to use the home language in situations of power (normally reserved for English).  Use of lang of power at home  For example, the greetings that the entire class would use as mentioned before, or classroom words used consistently in a home language throughout the day.  Also to value a home culture, a teacher must make sure that the historical contributions of ALL are discussed when teaching (not just that of Anglos).

A bicultural identity will develop in students based on the communities in which they live and their home culture.  To attempt to preserve a culture in this situation is likely an impossible task, but over time the student will develop a bicultural identities and learn to negotiate it.  How much the identify with their home culture will, in part, be determine by how the school values it.

These clashes can be very ugly and I have seen them many times in person at meetings at the HS level.  The worst I say was a tradtional Vietnamese father, monolingual with a son who refused to speak his native langauge (and only spoke English to his family) and refused to show respect to school and family.  Mind you this is an extreme case but I wonder, with the emphasis on developing bilingual skills and showing respect for home cultures, are we providing specific skills in learning how to manage biculturality?

I agree with you that it’s up to the student to learn to navigatge bicultural identities.

“Teachers can assist with this personal adjustment process by letting students know that the ways of the home culture are accepted and valued while competence in American ways of behaving and speaking are promoted”.

The challenge is that some of the ways of the home country are not valued by a school, especially In terms of behavior, or, in the case of many Chinese immigrants who will often collaborate on individual projects, in academics.

Obviously to say “well that’s how you do that at home, but here…” would be inappropriate. My question Is how do we essential “replace” certain cultural behaviors that are unacceptable to a school without devaluing the student’s feelings about her or his culture.


I feel that better terms to use than to value and honor are to acknowledge and to respect: “I acknowledge that collaboration is important to you and it sounds like it’s a part of your culture, and I respect the importance that this has for you… “

And if I understand you correctly, we should provide opportunities to tap into their culture values utilizing as many ways within the curriculum to let our ELL students express themselves.

I think being open minded and positive about diversity is where it all starts – not much else is going to happen if this is not the teacher’s base.

Yesenia, I like the you use the word ‘maintain’ instead of ‘preserve’.  In a situation of a language and/or culture in contact with that of a prestige language and/or culture, preservation is not likely.  Language and culture can certainly be maintained, especially when imigration from the country of origin is steady or in a situation of frequent transnationalism.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s