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Steps: 3-Questions > 3.1-Beliefs or Values


3.1 How might your beliefs or values, or those of other educators, be contributing to the puzzling situation?

You and other educators have knowledge, beliefs, and values that you use to construct your practice and your relationships with students. Much of your knowledge, beliefs, and values are shared with others, and thus are cultural. For a clear discussion of "teaching cultures," see Anderson-Levitt (2002, pp. 5-12, 17-36, and 255-274).

Culture includes knowledge, beliefs, and values that are explicit (i.e., that we can identify and talk about) and knowledge, beliefs, and values that are tacit or "invisible" (i.e., that we can't easily identify or talk about). Cultural expectations for face-to-face interactions provide examples of both explicit and tacit culture. Thus, while you may be able to easily talk about your expectations for being thanked after giving someone a gift, it probably is much harder to explicitly discuss what it is about how someone said "thank you" that broke some unspoken expectations and thus left you feeling uncomfortable or unsatisfied. The tacit aspects of culture mean that what we take most for granted is most difficult for us to "see" or talk about. One image that is used to convey the difficulty of "seeing" what we take for granted is the aphorism that "a fish would be the last to discover water." Another image is that "seeing" culture is like 'seeing' the lens through which one is looking, which can only be done if one has a mirror of some sort" (Anderson-Levitt, 2002).

To complicate things further, we all participate in multiple cultures, and thus we all are multicultural (see The concept of "culture"). For example, your beliefs and values are drawn from and influenced by your history and identities, your professional discipline and organizations, cultures in your school and district, and the broader local, regional, national and global cultures beyond the educational system.

Moreover, cultures are not static. For example, you and other educators can change your shared knowledge, beliefs and values over time in relation to your practice and students, within the constraints of your schools, districts, and larger community settings.

In conducting your CIP study, it is important to realize that, no matter what your ethnic or racial heritage, your and other educators' cultural knowledge, beliefs and values can have an important influence on your puzzlement. It is important for you to become more consciously aware of your knowledge, beliefs, and values, and of how your own histories and identities may be influencing your beliefs and values, in order to understand how these may be contributing to your puzzlement (see also Green, 1995; Sleeter, 2001, Difference>Identity>Ideas>Teachers as Cultural Beings).

Scholars have identified many ways that educators' knowledge, beliefs, and values influence their practice. Although only several (i.e., whiteness, white privilege, and racism; and self-fulfilling prophecies) are discussed here, it is important to remember that all of your knowledge, beliefs, and values can influence your practice in many ways.

Whiteness, white privilege, and racism

Anthropologists have long argued that all humans use cultural knowledge, beliefs, and values to construct their behavior. However, as discussed above, culture is not always visible to the participants. Sometimes the invisibility is related primarily to aspects of culture that are tacit; sometimes the invisibility goes beyond tacit aspects of culture to all of culture. Drawing on data from the U.S., Mexico and the Philippines, Rosaldo (1989) argued that those with the highest social status and power in a nation state are more likely to see themselves as "cultureless" and those who are less privileged as "having culture." (For a discussion of how the term culture" can be a gloss or substitute for "race," see González, 2004). Thus, in the U.S. "White middle class culture" is often "invisible" to those who participate in that culture because it is constructed as normal. In linguistic terms, it is the "unmarked" form. "Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites [in the U.S.] are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal" (McIntosh, 1990). (See Rogoff, 2003, pp. 85-89, for a brief introduction to some features of middle-class European American cultures.)

Those who participate in the "unmarked" culture receive certain privileges. McIntosh (1990) discussed these as "an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was 'meant' to remain oblivious." Her long list of privileges that whites carry in an "invisible knapsack" includes the following:

  • "I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time."

  • "When I am told about our national heritage or about 'civilization,' I am shown that people of my color made it what it is."

  • "I can do well in challenging situations without being called a credit to my race."

  • "I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group."

  • "I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to 'the person in charge,' I will be facing a person of my race."

Research on and discussion about whiteness and white privilege has exploded in recent years. Two reviews of this work in relation to education are McCarthy (2003) and Warren (1999).

A corollary of a lack of awareness of "white privilege" is that institutionalized racism is often difficult for whites to see. McIntosh (1990) stated this clearly: "In my class and place, I did not see myself as a racist because I was taught to recognize racism only in individual acts of meanness by members of my group, never in invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance on my group from birth." In Taking it Personally (Berlak & Moyenda, 2001), Berlak, a European American college professor, and Moyenda, an African American elementary school teacher, present a provocative discussion of institutional racism through their recounting of Moyenda's presentation in Berlak's class and the ensuing student reactions. Some scholars (e.g., Ladson-Billings, 1998; Parker, Villenas, & Deyhle, 1998; Tate, 1997) have found critical race theory to be a useful framework for exposing institutional racism in "everyday" practices.

Although this discussion has focused on whiteness and white privilege, a similar argument can be made in relation to sexism, classism, and heterosexism. Those who are male, middle class, or heterosexual see themselves as "unmarked" and normal in our society and are accorded certain privileges. See, for example, the list of "straight privileges" constructed by students at Earlham College.

Self-fulfilling prophecies

Educators' beliefs and values can influence their expectations for students and treatment of them. Davidson (1996, p. 41) summarized research on this topic:

With regard to classroom interaction, studies indicate that European American teachers' relationships with youth of color differ from their relationships with culturally similar students. Teachers look for and reinforce achievement behaviors in European American students more than they do in youths of color, attribute achievement-oriented behavior among European American students to effort and motivation, and attribute like behaviors to factors that youths of color cannot control, such as parental encouragement (Baron, Tom & Cooper, 1985; Cooper & Tom, 1984; Good, 1981; Spindler & Spindler, 1982). Race also mediates perceptions of attractiveness, a factor that has been found to influence teachers' assignments of grades, along with their judgments of students' intelligence and academic potential (Ritts, Patterson & Tubbs, 1992). Finally, counselors' interactions with and subsequent treatment of students are structured by their perceptions of social class, race, and ethnicity (Erickson & Shultz, 1982).

In Davidson's (1996, pp. 40-44) study, high school students from a wide range of cultural backgrounds in California reported that they experienced negative expectations and differential treatment by their teachers, and that their academic engagement was influenced by their teachers' expectations and treatment of them. Spindler's (1997) study of how cultural expectations contributed to a misunderstanding of "Beth Anne," a European American fifth-grader, indicates that these processes are potentially relevant for all students.

The concept of educators' expectations of students as self-fulfilling prophecies is widely known in education. Although reviews of research on this concept (e.g., Brophy, 1983; Jussim, 1986, 1989) indicate that the relationships between educators' expectations and students' achievement is more complex than originally suggested by the notion of self-fulfilling prophecy, educators' behaviors, which are often though not always related to their expectations, can influence students' experiences and achievement (Goldenberg, 1992).

In addition, because educators are powerful figures in students' school experiences, their expectations and behavior can influence students' own perceptions of themselves and related behavior (Davidson, 1996). For example, a girl who is told by an educator that she does not have the ability to go to college may accept that assessment as accurate and may decide not to try to attend college because she views herself as "not college material."

Success Stories & CIP Studies Related to Educational Practitioners' Beliefs or Value

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Gather information on this question:  4.1


Steps: 3-Questions > 3.1-Beliefs or Values
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