Thursday, January 28, 2010

Culturally Competent Kids May Have Greater Success in Life!

The ability to get along with others, to think globally, to understand and appreciate all people is known, in educational parlance at least, as Cultural Competence. Though the language is clunky, the ideas are wonderful. Culturally competent kids can have a positive impact on their classrooms and communities - they also get the benefit of learning about many things, and seeing the world from many perspectives. All of the above can result in better thinkers, and according to research conducted by the Search Institute in Minnesota, greater success in life.

In the course of their research, the Search Institute has identified 40 concrete, positive experiences and qualities they call “developmental assets” that appear to have a tremendous influence on young people’s lives. One of the asset categories they have identified is social competencies. This category identifies cultural competence as a developmental asset and defines a culturally competent young person as one “who has knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.”

Related to the above research, I found a great list of ways that families can build cultural competencence in an article by Laura Stanton, Extension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences, Community Development, Butler County.  I have adapted these ideas to provide suggestions that teachers and mentors can use too. Stanton says, “Parents who wish to develop a culturally competent home environment first need to examine their own attitudes and behaviors” This is certainly also true for teachers, mentors and counselors , because “it is unreasonable to expect our children to behave in ways that we do not.

20 Ways to Build Culturally Competent Kids

• Acknowledge that we live in a society with pervasive biases.

• Honor and celebrate the holidays of different ethnic and religious groups.

• Bring books, dolls, music, images, and toys that reflect diversity into your home, classroom and program space.

• When possible, travel to areas in the United States and around the world where you can immerse yourself in another culture. Keep in mind that ‘armchair travel,” by book, film, food and imagination can open new vistas almost as well as actually being there.

• Explore the cultural and ethnic heritage in your own family and community.

• Visit culturally rich art galleries and museums. Attend culturally diverse dance performances, musicals, concerts, festivals, and other events. Or, find ways to bring them into your school or program.

• Show that you value diversity in the friends you choose, the books you share, the images you surround yourself with, and in the businesses you utilize.

• Talk about stereotypes and discrimination. Encourage children to tell you if they witness prejudice or are a victim of it.

• Get involved with an organization that works in the area of social justice. This can offer many opportunities for kids to become involved in their own community.

• Learn a second or third language. Encourage all kids to share words in their native language.

• Discuss issues that you hear on the radio and see on TV or in movies.

• Be respectful. Create a family/classroom/program rule that makes it unacceptable to tease others because of their culture or ethnicity.

• Visit different religious and spiritual places of worship.

• Initiate activities and discussions that build positive self-identity and self-esteem. If we feel good about ourselves, we are less likely to make fun of others.

• Develop goals to help eliminate cultural bias and prejudice.

• Judge people by their qualities and not their looks.

• Dine at ethnic restaurants, or invite parents and community members to share their foods.

• Talk positively about people’s physical characteristics and cultural heritage.

• Provide opportunities to interact with people with different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, religions, and abilities.

• Be patient. Change takes time. Realize that transforming attitudes and behaviors can be challenging.
How do you encourage cultural competence in your classroom, in your family? Please add your ideas to this list.