Free «Validation of Students' Language and Cultural Backgrounds» Essay

Validation of Students' Language and Cultural Backgrounds

Schooling is filled with many differences and inequalities, which result in the ‘achievement gap’. It splits up between children from African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities versus American Whites majority, based on belonging to different classes of society, race, and language dialects. This difference is measured by standardized tests and shows a common trend that White middle-class children are outperforming significantly any other minorities from lower class (“Education Debt” 3). The exception exists for children of Asian origin who immigrated to the US in order to achieve greater results than it would be possible in their home-countries (“Education Debt” 8). It has been explained by a variety of factors, such as historical, economic, sociopolitical, moral, linguistic, and cultural ones. The theories exist, but the problems do not disappear. Attributing a problem to some factor does not mean addressing a problem and including learned lesson to teachers’ practices. Validation of a diversity of existing cultural and language backgrounds is an important issue for overcoming such academic differences between society classes. As it was noted by contradistinction between ‘achievement gap’ versus ‘education debt’, respect, affirmation, honor, and/or inclusion of language and cultural backgrounds is a two-sided issue in many dimensions. This paper discusses how students’ cultural backgrounds and language can be validated in the educational process.

Ways of Validation

Validating of learners with academic or behavioral problems should be done through teacher’s correct determination of the roots of one’s misbehavior or underachievement rather than assigning it to the problem with context that there is nothing that can be done about it. For instance, the research showed that most of African Americans are regarded as culturally deprived children whereas in reality they have wider language exposure than those of White majority (Labov 2). Other unsolvable barriers arise when one is explaining learners’ struggles due to self-esteem problems, or using culture as a way of saying that person stands out of the norm based on White examples of American culture. Ladson-Billings suggests that a solution is to enrich teachers’ knowledge about other cultures by spending time in their learners’ environments, develop a view of the normal and regular patterns, and perceive situations in a global context (“Poverty of Culture” 108-109).

Author provides an insightful point on the teachers’ prejudices towards colored children in a way that they used to perceive any stand-out behavior or academic low performance as a result of race (“Poverty of Culture” 104). The striking moment is that, even though, sometimes such issues might be explained by culture, it is not correct to make such judgments for every case. For instance, if children speak loud it may be caused by their being children as in such age they might do so (“Poverty of Culture” 106). Admittedly, those explanations not only use the term culture in an inappropriate way but reflect an approach as just to point out underperformance and close the case. The validation of cultural and language backgrounds implies accepting the perspective that culture can and should be used as a way to enrich teaching practices as there is no ‘one size fits all’ way to teach Whites, African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities.

Society, Culture, and the Self

One way to understand the roots of underperformance and misbehavior is to analyze culture and the self. Markus and Shinobu's main argument is centered on individuals with independent and interdependent selves who, in their turn, are assigned to American/Western and African-American/Asian/Latino cultures accordingly (225). Basically, it tells that the physiological process of the first group is driven by inner qualities, and the latter group is determined to fit the society and adapt to interpersonal relations (Markus and Shinobu 226). It explains ‘critical incidents’ when teachers used to attribute low performance tolow self-esteem (Ladson-Billings 106). It is essential to underline that a key word is ‘self’. This program is treated as learners’ issue whereas it is implied by the society.

American culture is characterized by the high extent of individualization, which means that success or failure is assigned to inner qualities and becomes own responsibility. Students, who perform worse than Whites, are supposed to have a low self-esteem. Even though article that analyzes self-esteem of independent and interdependent selves supports the notion that those of interdependent self are used to underestimate themselves, the opposite group of individuals admitted in overestimation of the selfhood (Markus and Shinobu 244). Moreover, such underestimation is a result of a modest behavior that is aimed to maintain the social structure in a balanced and harmonized way. On the other hand, overestimation is aimed to distinguish oneself from the others, and treat social groups just as a way to affirm own individuality (Markus and Shinobu 226). Thus, it can be concluded that those with low self-esteem intentionally behave in such way to preserve the wholeness and order within a social group.

From the other perspective, Au provides insightful results on the academic performance of Native American children. They were evaluated by their academic performance once they were asked to recite where they were situated as a single individual in relation to others, and another evaluation was done when they were placed as a part of a group in a public discussion (Au 92). As a result, they were less participative when the main attention was given to the individual context rather than to the group.

The 2004 year article of Ladson-Billings forces educators to take a view from minorities standpoint, and further in 2006 year, another article provides in-depth analysis of the environment of those and forces to view the problem from two sides: ‘achievement gap’ to ‘education debt’ (“Education Debt” 3). Expanding further this trend to look on both sides of the problem and giving the society-produced low self-esteem, there is a need not to push the achievement of lagging students, but to retain the leading students, inculcate a modest behavior, and encourage the group achievement versus self-actualization.

Language in a Context

The author points out several the most impactful issues that affect language abilities of the lower-class children in comparison with the language skills of middle-class children of the same age. The first distinction is made on the perception of the sentences as a whole or constructed from meaningful parts (Bereiter and Engelmann 35). The second difference is that children may have enough vocabulary and grammar knowledge, but the reason comes from the purposeful use of it (Bereiter and Engelmann 39). Children, which are called culturally deprived, are faced with family conditions, where mothers have to work a lot and, as a result, they receive a little communication. Additionally, in many cases, those mothers are often tired with many things to do and they limit communication to simple imperatives (Bereiter and Engelmann 32). Fathers of such children are also often out of home, or home can be filled with many people, which forces children to spend more time outdoors. Overall, the limited exposure to proper communication with adults tends to result in the use of language mostly for socialization purposes where children express themselves with shorter phrases and sometimes without the usage of language at all. In addition, culturally deprived children are different from middle-class children not by intellectual abilities or language knowledge, but the context in which they use language knowledge excludes learning purposes and expressing own opinions.

The presented evidence makes a strong point for the way of validating such children. In most cases, they would be treated by teachers as having emotional or social difficulties whereas they are not just used to the kind of language used at school setting.

The following evidence is based on the adjustment of teaching to the way the children deall with the language. The performance results significantly improved once the teaching practices were modified to meet students’ language and cultural needs (Au 112). The author determined use the term a ‘context’ in order to describe the setting and approaches to which children feel being more familiar with (Au 91). When a child would be exposed to the inserted examples of theories and concepts based on its social setting, cultural background, and language dialect, then he/she will be more engaged and participative in such learning activity. The practices with Hawaiian children are one of evidence that supports the notion of learners’ better performance where their cultural ways of dealing with language and communication are incorporated with learning processes.

The importance of context is admitted to have an even more severe impact in the Labov’s article. The difference is striking between the results of a test provided by the White interviewer in a classroom and the interviewer of the same race in a form of a party. The first example showed one-word answers while the other one produced few sentences at a time of reply (Labov 4, 10). Labov argues that Black children possess even higher vocabulary and grammar structures set than those of middle-class White children (Labov 2). The reason for them not to use it is an unfamiliar context which calls upon defensive behavior and strong desire to end any kind of such interaction (Labov 4). It underlines to which context African Americans are more responsive. Therefore, such evidence makes a strong point in the notion that current schooling practices not only do not address the cultural differences in many instances, but also produce resistance to it.

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English Dialects

In addition to the cultural backgrounds, different minorities and social classes have developed their variations of English. The evaluation of learners’ performance is done by the standardized tests which are composed in a Standard English. However, language backgrounds vary across social groups. For instance, African American developed their own Black English Vernacular (BEV) which has its own grammar rules and vocabulary. It can be grasped from a 5-minute video by Bragg (2007), which illustrates how different African-American is from Standard English. Moreover, whereas the example of presented speech is done by adults, for those of standard speakers it may look like the child problem of treating a sentence as a giant word, which can produce teachers’ biases. BEV dialect possesses phonological differences in addition to distinct grammar rules and vocabulary. Therefore, it is not only African American children are placed in an unfamiliar context, which evokes hostile behavior, but also they are placed in an environment where their vast grasped knowledge of English is not correct with regard to the standard norms. Same assumptions are applicable to the treatment of learners who use other dialects such as Latinos, Native Americans, and other minorities.


Evidence with Native Americans, African Americans, and Islanders connects to the physiological differences of independent and interdependent selves. In a situation where such children are placed in a Western-friendly physiological environment, they are likely to respond with poor performance or resistance to schooling at all. In addition, teaching practices are filled with prejudices and use a term ‘culture’ as a justification of undesired behavior and performance. It makes Whites marked as ‘standard’ and ‘normal’ whereas others are prescribed to be different in a way that from such people it was expected to perform this way and that could not be changed by a teacher. As a solution, validation of cultural and language backgrounds should be achieved. It should start from the teachers’ preparation where there is a need to acquire understanding of contexts of minority groups. They need to be tough to respond to different cultural and language needs. Next stage is to structure acquired knowledge in a way to develop norms specifically for those groups and design learning activities in a way to address their language contexts.

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