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Ashleigh McCormick

Teaching in Learning Communities I

Dr. Jodie Bornstein

9 May 2008

                               My Cultural Autobiography

       I believe that every event and every person we encounter affects who we are and

who we will become in some way. We learn something every day, and we learn from

our mistakes, accomplishments, friends, family, etc.      We will never stop learning about

ourselves and we will never stop changing whether it is emotionally or physically and

whether it is for the better or for the worst. A lot of what made me who I am today has

to do with where I grew up. It is said that the most important influence of a child next to

their parents are their peers. From my personal experience I find this to be completely

true. While parents can set rules and help their children set goals and morals to follow,

children will do almost anything to feel well liked by everyone and may even be two

different people when it comes to school and home life. Growing up in a very culturally

diverse city I found myself acting one way at school to impress my Hispanic and black

friends for the first two years of high school until I realized that I could be myself and

somebody would like me and that resulted in me having different friends from every

group/clique in 11th and 12th grade.

       I was born and raised in Vineland New Jersey and lived there until I was nineteen

years old when I moved down the road and around the corner to Pittsgrove, which is

almost the total opposite of Vineland. Growing up in Vineland I was basically a minority

in school and schools in Vineland were very different that a school such as Cherry Hill.
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Especially in middle school the popular kids were Hispanic and black and most of the

white kids acted and dressed like they were too. I thought that Camden would be

similar to Vineland Public Schools but I did not realize that there were no Caucasian

students in Sumner. The only racism I remember in middle school was the word

“cracker”. However, in high school, while there wasn’t animosity at all between races

there was still a bit of unintentional segregation. In the 9/10 building at VHS there is two

cafeterias and they have always been semi-segregated as long as I can remember and

they still are today. The North cafeteria is where the rockers, Goths, preps, and jocks

eat. It is a mostly Caucasian filled cafeteria while the East cafeteria is mostly composed

of Hispanics and blacks. Now this segregation is not at all set in stone and it isn’t like if

the preps wanted to eat in the East café they couldn’t I think it is just that it is an old

tradition that never died. From my understanding Vineland has changed drastically

since my parents and grandparents were young. I was told that the reason that there is

such a high Hispanic population is because Vineland is a big agricultural city and at one

time there were commercials broadcasted in Puerto Rico advertising job opportunities

on farms which is an interesting fact that shaped what it is today. I do not believe that I

have any deficit on views of other cultures, races, genders, religion, etc. Not only is

Vineland very culturally and racially diverse, but it is very religiously diverse as well.

Just a few churches in Vineland include the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox,

Redeemer Lutheran, Pentecostal, Methodist, Baptist, and many Spanish speaking

churches. I don’t know if gender is an issue in other areas but I know that growing up

where I did I don’t believe gender was at all an issue. There were just as many sports

available to females as there were to males, and if the sport did not have a female team
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the females were able to join the male team and were not harassed or discouraged

about doing so. Although I live in a very diverse city, the two generations before mine in

my family and families I know are not very open to things such as inter-racial dating. I

personally had friends of all races, cultures, and backgrounds and I had no problem

having boyfriends of a diverse background but my family did have a problem with that

and it actually caused a lot of problems in my family because I obviously went to a

school where there weren’t a whole lot of white boys to choose from at the least. I

believe that no culture or race is so far above another that they shouldn’t be able to date

or associate with another and I know that I personally would not restrict my kids from

dating or being friends with someone if that’s what made them happy.

       “Multicultural education is a process of comprehensive school reform and basic

education for all students. It challenges and rejects racism and other forms of

discrimination in school and society and accepts and affirms the pluralism (ethnic,

racial, linguistic, religious, economic, and gender, among others) that students, their

communities, and teachers reflect” (Nieto, 44). Growing up in Vineland I feel that I am

very open to other cultures, religions, races, etc. because I have been exposed to it my

whole life. It is ignorance that leads people to be racist and sexist. It is the people who

have not been educated about or have not been exposed to areas that are diverse that

are not open to different races and cultures. For example, Allison was unsure of what to

expect before going to Sumner and Camden because she had never been exposed to

that kind of city before and the school where she grew up was the opposite of what

schools in Camden is like. Fortunately for her she didn’t let her apprehensions take

over her overall opinion of the school and she ended up loving being there, but she is
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also a very well educated and open minded woman and not everyone is as open

minded as she is and most people are quick to judge in a situation like this one. “Being

antiracist and anti-discriminatory means being mindful of how some students are

favored over others in school policies and practices such as the curriculum, choice of

materials, sorting policies, and teachers’ interactions and relationships with students

and their families” (Nieto, 44).

        I believe that people who were never exposed to different cultures, races, and

religions may have ideas or stereotypes that may or may not be accurate about those

cultures, races, and religions. If a teacher were to start teaching in a multicultural

school when they had never been in a multicultural situation they may pass judgment,

assume things about a student too quickly, or most importantly they may feel outside of

their comfort zone and like they aren’t familiar with the situation and that may hinder

their interactions with the students and their overall teaching ability. We must also

remember that it is possible for anyone to find themselves assuming things about

students based on their appearance. While subbing at a middle school in Vineland a

few girls asked me who I thought got in trouble most in the class and there was one kid

who was on my nerves all day and I assumed it was him. I turned out he did get into

trouble often but definitely wasn’t the most troublesome student in the class. Afterwards

I thought to myself what exactly makes a student “look like trouble” as the saying goes.

So I thought back to when I was in middle school and I thought about who the

troublemakers were in my class, and there weren’t half as many as there are now, but I

realized how easy it is to stereotype a minority as being a troublemaker. I know that all

children are not only capable of learning but, they have a thirst for learning that is
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wonderful. I personally do not think that I was made for teaching elementary school but

those that want to will always say that (especially young) elementary students love

everything… they love you, they love school, they love learning, they love everything

about school, which makes teaching them that much better because you have

something more to look forward to everyday.

       I really believe that the city that you grow up in, the schools you attend, the

friends we keep, and even the state in which we grew up determines the majority of our

views on culture and racism. We don’t know something until we learn it and if all we

have ever known is vanilla we may not be able to understand or appreciate chocolate.

“The ways we organize classroom life should seek to make children feel significant and

cares about – by the teacher and by each other. Unless students feel emotionally and

physically safe, they won’t share real thoughts and feelings” (Christensen). Before this

class I have always thought that I would be a good teacher because of many things

about my personality that I just knew was made for teaching. After taking Teaching in

Learning Communities I, I feel like I have learned so much more about multi-cultural

learning and I feel better equipped to teach in a multi-cultural school setting. Over the

last three years have learned so much about myself and who I am, who I want to be,

where I want to be five or ten years down the road. Yet, I have also learned that as long

as we are willing to learn from others, we will never stop learning and growing as a

person and most importantly, as teachers. I know that everything I have learned this

semester about culture and schools will make me that much better of a teacher!
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                                           Works Cited

Christensen, Linda. "Where I'm From: Inviting Students' Lives Into the Classroom." Rethinking our
Classrooms, Volume 2 (n.d.): pgs. 6-9.

Nieto, Sonia. Affirming Diversity. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2008.

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