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My Culture - Living and Teaching

 

I have a culture. Most of the time I am so engrossed in it, that I do not realize it is even there. Who I am is a mixture of so many things. I have sub-cultures within my life where I play different roles and do different things. Some of them include family, school, church, and society. While at times they are distinct, they also overlap just enough to make me a unique combination. Not even my religion, which is the central part of my life, gives me my culture. Although we use the same Bible and worship the same God, if I go to church in Poland, Africa, China, Los Angeles, Phoenix, or Mesa, there will be very distinct differences in how people act and see things based on their surrounding, environment and previous experiences.

 

In American society as a whole, I come right at the end of Generation X and grew up during the "Me" decade -- the 1980s. The nation was recovering from Vietnam and though the Cold War was still going on I never directly felt the effects as in years before. My schools never had bomb drills and to me the space program had no connection to Star Wars, that was just a movie. My culture has been strongly influenced by entertainment. Every Thursday night brought the Cosby Show into my living room. I also watched Growing Pains, Family Ties and others in which a middle class family could solve any problem and live happily ever after in half an hour. These shows echoed my family values with a nuclear family that worked together to solve the problems they came across. Saturday mornings I would be up at 6:00am with my younger brother watching cartoons. The advertisements were geared specifically for the early elementary children that watched and they would tell their parents they "needed" the item that was advertised.

 

One of the best examples of this technique was Christmas 1980. There was not a store in the country that could keep Cabbage Patch Kids on the shelf. Parents would resort to juvenile behavior to buy the coveted doll that no young girl could enjoy Christmas without. My parents searched every toy store with all the other parents afraid of ending up empty handed. I saw the box under the tree. On Christmas Eve (when we celebrate and open our presents) I went right for it, only to be devastated to find a "Lettuce Patch Kid". An impostor. My parents couldn't tell the difference and thought one would be as good as another. They just didn't understand. It was only a matter of weeks before every store had their shelves full. The Christmas rush was Mattel's supply and demand annual project. Then my Lettuce Patch Kid was able to have a sister. Cabbage Patch Kids, and baby dolls in general, play an important part in passing on culture in America. At the time I had my dolts, my mom had my baby brother. Dolts are indirect learning of how to play the role of wife and mother. By modeling my mom's behavior it taught me what was expected. Even though I would not be in that role for years to come, it starts at a young age becoming acculturated to what is surrounding you. I had a stay at home mom through my childhood and it instilled in me that this is something I want to be able to do for my family. Some women choose to have a career along with their family and there is a tendency to took down on women who only want to raise a family. They argue that it is a mate dominated decision, but this is a decision faced by many women because the national culture regarding gender roles is changing.

 

In my family school is highly regarded. Education began years before kindergarten when my parents would read with me, work on letter and number recognition, and basic yet vital motor and social skills. My parents, specifically my mom, have always been strongly involved in the school system. Their direct communication with teachers has kept them aware of specific problems and needs, as well as accomplishments. School becomes the merit system for the student. When I am working hard I am a "good child" and that has motivated me to strive for high academics. Each year we had our first day of school ritual. My mom would start us out with breakfast, usually pancakes or waffles.

 

This was probably the only morning she never had to fight us to get out of bed (neither my brother nor I are morning people). As my brother and I always had new school clothes my parents took pictures of us before we left. After school the tradition was that mom would have fresh baked cookies or Rice Krispy treats for us so we could sit with her as we bubbled over with excitement, news, and information of our day.

 

This importance was mirrored in my school system. Most of the families in my school held professional, white collar jobs. Few were at the top echelon, but many were in upper management, aerospace engineering, and law professions. My school had tracking starting in second grade and I was able to benefit from it until I graduated. It was through accelerated tracking that I was able to be challenged and challenge myself. It is because of this professional preparation that I was able to enter college with sixteen hours of credit through Advanced Placement (AP) testing and have been able to maintain a 4.0 grade point average through three years at Arizona State University. My school prided itself on high test scores, especially AP and as a result of that emphasis I was adequately prepared for the test. As was discussed in the article "Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work" by jean Anyon my school would probably fit under the "Affluent Professional School" designation (72). I can dramatically see my own experiences in the description of the classroom, all the way to my memories of doing the same SRA booklets. In most of the current educational research and some "real life" classrooms I see a trend to teach in the way of the "Executive Elite School". It is very similar to constructivist classrooms where students find their own solutions to problems instead of the transmission model in which information is given to the students. Wink discusses in Critical Pedagogy the methods and concerns teachers must be aware of in order to make a paradigm shift like this. But the challenge with this concept, pointed out by Anyon, even if readily accepted is that many of the "Elite" methods will require additional resources that are scarce at many working class or even professional schools.

 

Culture is passed through the school establishment, but it is also transferred through peers. This causes culture to change for each generation becoming a new mix of multiple influences. The schools I have attended have portrayed many of the JudeoChristian ethics through rules and conduct. This echoes the culture of my home, with the exception that they have removed what I was taught was the basis of those ethics, the God of Judaism and Christianity. Children were respected both at school and at home, allowed to have what I feel was a good balance between play and work. It was between many of my peers at school and myself that I felt a clash of cultures.

 

In most respects from the observations of an outsider, I was extremely similar to the peers at my neighborhood public school, except for one thing. My religion. Their religion is very organized. Families go to the church in their neighborhood, similar to school boundaries. This made it obvious that I had a different religion. I was never entirely an outcast, but I was also never fully accepted. I soon learned that I would be on the fringes of the popular crowd because I wasn't a part of mid-week and weekend activities with everyone else. One poignant memory I have is in sixth grade I liked a boy in my class and I heard he was going to "ask me out" until he found out that I wasn't a part of his church. These types of experiences happened all through high school. They did serve a purpose in making me who I am. I had to analyze how and why my basic beliefs about religion were different from theirs and if it was important enough to sacrifice my social standing in the community. It is interesting because I still live in the same community, but rarely come in contact with former classmates. But when I do and it is a one on one experience, most people are extremely kind and curious about what my life is like, and I wonder if they ever realize what they did in school. It has also caused me to be aware of peer and children who may be in a similar situation and do my best to befriend them so no one has to feel alone in a group. My sixth grade teacher was like that and encouraged me as she watched the social structure and goings on of her class.

 

Much of my experience relates to the article "The Relations Between School and Social Structure" by James S. Coleman. The school was more of an extension of the tamily, as I said earlier, reinforcing similar values if not always with the same background and reasoning (the Judeo-Christian values without teaching about the Bible). What my life was lacking to complete the school as an extension of the family was intergenerational closure. My mother especially worked closely with the school and administration, but my family was not included in closure of parents and children of families being a single community together. Families who were a part of "the church" benefited from the constant community they were a part of. The cost I had was exclusion from the group. As Coleman says:

 

The ideology of the common public school in the United States has been based on the premise that a school serving a residentially defined community provides a much more demographic and socially integrating form of intergenerational closure -- bringing together children of different religions, different social classes, and different ethnic groups and thereby bringing their families closer togyether -- than does a school serving an intentional community, whether ethnic, religious, or social- elitist (191).

 

The community I lived in was historically established by the people of this church. Because of this, geographically dividing school boundaries did not cause a diverse community. The families like mine were randomly inserted into this homogeneous society for various reasons, mine being my dad's job.

 

Holidays are an intricate part of a person's culture. They define what is important enough to celebrate, to what degree, and what the appropriate mode of celebration is. Schools pass on much of the information about holidays that children receive. In the schools we had four parties each year, Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and the end of the year. But even beyond the parties, ideas of season and celebrations abound in the elementary school classroom. Schools also deiced what holidays merit a vacation day. By the middle of October teachers bring out orange, brown, and black construction paper for Halloween activities. They start asking students what their costumes will be. Children are often very observant. They can read reactions of teachers and other adults whether their ideas fit into what is an appropriate action. The parties are complete with Witch's Brew and pumpkin cookies. Schools also use this time to reflect on another aspect of United States history. For most of our history the United States was chiefly an agricultural society. So, along with Halloween the fall harvest is celebrated. This is interesting because very few children still live on a working farm. In fact, many have never seen a farm because they are being raised in the cities and suburbs. But still, bulletin boards and activities of September through November celebrate the harvest. Christmas in the public schools is represented by Santa Claus, presents, trees, and snowmen. The last example being interesting to me because I lived in a place where the temperature was 60 degrees on Christmas Day. Another example of culture and norms being passed through the school even if it is not directly a part of those student's lives.

 

Some scholars are bringing into question the way we celebrate our holidays. They, such as Chuck Larsen et al. make the argument that the history we celebrate along with our holidays is often inaccurate and more closely aligned with myth rather than reality. I do admire that he offers a solution in the form of sample lessons instead of just discussing the problem. It is the society as a whole that carries on a tradition, but it is interesting to watch a small group ot people in a subculture try to change what we "know" and teach -- and they are doing it through the schools. Larsen does make a point to state a deep truth about holidays. It is the theme of the event that brings a holiday into a culture more than the actual history events. He says in the introduction to the lesson plans, "But the THEME of Thanksgiving has truth and integrity far above and beyond what we and our forebearers have made of it. Thanksgiving is a bigger concept than just the story of the founding of the Plymouth Plantation."

 

Culture of a society can change over time as illustrated by Laurel R. Wallum in "The Changing Door Ceremony." The current trend in public schools is to remove all reference to religion from holidays. This is a big a quick change from what the culture included only one generation ago. It is impacting the Christian based holidays, Christmas and Easter. Not long ago "Silent Night" would be common in classroom Christmas celebrations, but now teachers and administrators cringe at the thought of repercussions of anything they may use. It used to be that Spring Break would be the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, but now many schools don't even have Good Friday off, a very sacred day to many Christians. In the homes that still hold these views, like mine, the responsibility is falling on the parents to pass on these beliefs and traditions.

 

Some families have to counteract and downplay the meanings that are attached to holidays in school to emphasize the meaning that it has religiously for the family. In my family Santa was never the central figure of Christmas, it was Jesus' birth. We didn't ignore the tradition of Santa Claus, but it held little more meaning than a name on a the front of the packages that weren' t there before we went to Church. And when you are five years-old it makes little difference where the toys came from, what matters is what you received. The same trend happened again at Easter. We still colored eggs and had an Easter egg hunt and a basket of chocolate by our bed when we awoke, but we went to church for the crucial meaning Easter has for our family.

 

Children have a unique culture from adults, but one that still mirrors the overall feelings and concerns. Children are encouraged to have a vivid imagination as one moment they are the king of a cardboard castle, and the next moment they are battling aliens from the planet Zaxyon from their cardboard space Fighter. Most adults lose this talent to trade for productivity and pay billions of dollars annually those who have retained that quality to entertain them. It is part of the culture that I live in to be current on recent movies and music. It has a unique ability to bond strangers together in conversation. What used to be "talking about the weather" is now talking about the latest Spielburg or Tom Hanks movie. People in entertainment are highly revered. We watch the Oscars to see who is the best and worst dressed, or drive across town or across country to place our hands in the cement hand prints of these people on the wall of a restaurant or the sidewalk of California.

 

Culture is made up of over a million little parts. Many of us share the little parts by being a resident of Earth, the United States, Arizona, Phoenix, or your neighborhood. But there are so many facets that no two people have exactly the same culture. This makes it an interesting world to live in and an interesting world to teach. As teachers we need to be aware and constantly reassess what and how we are teaching our students. They spend the majority of their waking hours in a classroom. What we teach and how we handle this generation to come will facilitate the ever changing face of America.

 

 

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