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CIP Glossary

The glossary defines several important terms used in the Web site.

Culture - The concept of culture generally refers to knowledge, attitudes, values, and related behavior patterns shared with others. It is useful to educators because research has shown that understanding and addressing cultural influences on educational processes can improve students' educational experiences.

However, some scholars have concerns with the concept of culture: that it can minimize recognition of variability within cultures and foster stereotypes; that it encourages defining individuals solely in terms of a single static cultural identity; that it emphasizes conformity to cultural norms; and that it tends to emphasize differences between "us" and "others."

Although these concerns are important, the concept of culture is still useful. The critiques do suggest, however, that you must pay attention to how you define and use the term "culture," and that you should:

  • attend to variability within cultures;
  • view culture as a continual process of creating meaning rather than as a static body of knowledge
  • be aware that individuals participate in multiple cultures and that they demonstrate aspects of their cultural identities within specific contexts;
  • look for challenges and resistance to cultural norms as well as conformity to them; and
  • not let examination of differences among people erase attention to the commonalities.

Erickson (2002) and Gutiérrez and Rogoff (2003) discussed similar approaches to the concept of culture, which take these concerns into account. To move beyond viewing commonalities among people as static and as being related to membership in a labeled group (such as gender, religious, or ethnic groups), these authors focused on persons' participation in various cultural "practices." Culture is not something one has by being born into a particular group; it is something that one develops over time as one participates (in varying degrees) in different local "communities of practice," and acquires different subsets of cultural knowledge and related behavior patterns. "The initial community of practice is the nuclear family, but then the extended family, the experiences of schooling, of peer groups, of religious congregations, of work situations, of adult avocations, of retirement situations, and of vicarious socialization through the various popular communications media (cinema, television, music, fashion in consumer goods) all provide exposure to differing cultures and subcultures" (Erickson, 2002, p. 303).

For a fuller discussion of the concept of culture see the The concept of "culture" section in the Step 3 page.

Ethnicity - The American Anthropological Association (1997) discussed ethnicity as follows: "While diverse definitions exist, ethnicity may be defined as the identification with population groups characterized by common ancestry, language and custom. Because of common origins and intermarriage, ethnic groups often share physical characteristics which also then become a part of their identification--by themselves and/or by others. However, populations with similar physical appearance may have different ethnic identities, and populations with different physical appearances may have a common ethnic identity."

As the discussion above indicate, culture and ethnicity do not refer to the same thing. Culture involves shared knowledge, attitudes, values and behavior; ethnicity involves identification with groups of people. However, "categories [such as ethnicity] have long-standing influences on the cultural practices in which people have the opportunity to participate, often yielding shared circumstances, practices, and beliefs that play important and varied roles for groups members" (Gutiérrez and Rogoff, 2003, p. 21).

Negotiations - Although cultural influences and social systems constrain individuals' actions, individuals are active participants in cultures and social systems. Thus, individuals "negotiate" the constraints of the cultural influences and social systems within which they participate, i.e., they accept, resist, challenge, or attempt to change those cultural influences and social systems.

Puzzlement - Puzzlements include student performance (i.e., behaviors or attitudes) that you do not understand. Your puzzlement can leave you feeling positive, neutral, or negative about students' performance. The new behavior, attitudes, or situations that do not match your previous ways of thinking and that prompted your puzzlement are considered "puzzling situations."

Cultural influences may not be central to all puzzlements, but they are a good place to start. By treating a puzzlement as an opportunity to explore cultural influences on a student's or students' performance in educational settings, you increase the likelihood of developing appropriate interventions.

Race - "Race" is a complex term laden with multiple meanings and emotional responses. The term has specific meanings within disciplines such as biology and physical anthropology (which studies human biology and evolution in the context of human culture and behavior). In its "everyday" usage, "race" is a socially constructed category that has been used both to oppress human groups and has served as an important source of identity for some groups.

From a biological point of view, the term "race" refers to genetically distinct, non-interbreeding populations. In this biological sense there are no human races; contemporary humans cannot be divided into scientifically valid, biologically distinct "races." (American Anthropological Association, 1998; American Association of Physical Anthropologists, 1996; Mukhopadhyay & Henze, 2003).

However, "race" is a cultural concept that has been developed as a way of thinking about, categorizing and treating human beings. It has been used to support unequal access to power and privilege, which has contributed to inequalities currently existing in societies. In their statement on "race" the American Anthropological Association (1998) stated:

Given what we know about the capacity of normal humans to achieve and function within any culture, we conclude that present-day inequalities between so-call "racial" groups are not consequences of their biological inheritance but products of historical and contemporary social, economic, educational, and political circumstances.

Because the term "race" is biologically indefensible and also associated with a history of oppression and racism, some scholars have argued that the term should be eliminated. However, other scholars and activists want to retain the term because they fear it would diminish attention to the unique African-European encounters and experiences related to slavery and because some individuals have "race" as a positive component of their identity (Mukhopadhyay & Henze, 2003; Mukhopadhyay & Moses, 1997).

The complexity of the history and usage of the term "race" sometimes makes it difficult to explicitly talk about race, although the concept often is "submerged" below the surface of discussions or implicit in them (Pollock, 2001). Mukhopadhyay and Henze (2003) and Lieberman and Kirk (2004) provided suggestions and resources for educators who want to help their students understand "race."

 


 
 
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