Cultural Responsiveness: Thriving in White America

March 12, 2017

Cultural Responsiveness DreamkeepersCultural responsiveness is the ability to learn from and relate respectfully with people of your own culture as well as those from other cultures. It is a framework that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning.

According to Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, cultural responsiveness encompasses eight principles:

  1. Communication of High Expectations
  2. Active Teaching Methods
  3. Practitioner as Facilitator
  4. Inclusion of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students
  5. Cultural Sensitivity
  6. Reshaping the Curriculum or Delivery of Services
  7. Student-Controlled Discourse
  8. Small Group Instruction

New York University’s Metropolitan Center for Urban Education says that these 8 principles should lead to “stronger connections between educators & students.”

I struggle with the concept. I find myself asking “for what?” And, “to what end?” What would be the purpose of having stronger connections between educators & students? Why is that important…ultimately?

I mean, when I think about it at the surface it sounds like “making education culturally relevant” could mean dumbing material down or communicating material in a way that digestible by the minds of other (i.e. lesser) non-European cultures. It’s as if education needs to be culturally responsive so that non-White cultures can understand it and have a better chance at surviving “in this White Man’s World” (queue Tupac).

And yea…there’s a valid point to that, right?

We Blacks in America need to be educated in such a way that we know how to interact in this White Man’s world. We need education that helps us to understand and appreciate our Stolen Legacy. And yea: this White Man’s world should care enough to incorporate non-Whites in a way that appreciates “the other.” Rather than treating others as part of a degenerate or lesser culture, White America should see the other as a valued contributor who is a needed part of our pursuit toward becoming a “More Perfect Union.”

So, the goal of cultural responsiveness should not be…cannot be a one-directional overture from the Educational System. I began searching out an empowering aspect of cultural responsiveness.

For it to be valuable as a concept, it had to have application for the people…not just the system. Cultural responsiveness has to be a tactic/technique useful to marginalized people, not just useful for a system trying to serve those that have been marginalized by the system.

Martial Arts has helped.

You see, in studying the Arts you come to understand and appreciate energy transfer and redirection. The peace and beauty of Martial Arts enhances ones ability to remain calm enough to see  the attacks that come at you and identify how to redirect those attacks. The power of the Arts is found in the precision and speed of response.

So, what if in the hands of the marginalized cultural responsiveness is an approach by which people are keenly observant and understanding of the majority culture? And what if marginalized people learned to respond in ways that enable them to protect their seat at the table and advance their stake in the things determined at that table? I like that perspective…what you think?

Dr. Don Trahan brought all of this to my attention in the conversation we had in this episode of Blacks with Power. He’s the Director of Diversity, Inclusion & Community Engagement at Thomas Jefferson University. And he suggest that cultural responsiveness will help us move beyond surface level actions that don’t amount to much of anything.

What do you think of he approach to diversity and empowerment?

Check out this week’s episode and let me know what you think.

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What are Your Thoughts?