NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL VOLUME 21, NUMBER 2, 2008 NATIONAL IMPACT: MODEL OF A CULTURALLY ACTIVE CLASSROOM Kimberly McLeod Texas Southern University Tyrone Tanner Prairie View A & M University William Allan Kritsonis Prairie View A & M University ABSTRACT The authors discuss teacher perceptions of culture based on responses collected at an inservice diversity training session. In addition, the authors introduce the concept of “culturally active” classrooms and how practitioners take into account the cultural perceptions of the educator, the cultural perceptions or misconceptions of students towards their own racial identity and the racial identity of others. These concepts are discussed in building culturally active classrooms utilizing the components of a student's psychological, intellectual, physical, environmental and social (PIPES) landscape. The purpose of this article is to describe how culturally active classrooms can contribute to the academic success of both the educator, and the learner. Introduction A group of teachers from across the country were asked during a diversity training to anonymously identify common stereotypes they were taught or grew up thinking. They revealed the following: 49 50 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL “Blacks are lazy”; “Mexican’s don’t work very hard”; “Black people don’t speak properly”; “All Blacks steal or are thieves”; “Whites go to college and blacks go to jail or learn a trade”; “Black are on public aid and are too lazy to work”; “Blacks are genetically better athletes, dancers and they all love rap”; “Asian students are intelligent and driven”; “White people are prejudiced”; “White people feel that they are entitled”; “I was taught in school that Black people have their own schools because they don’t want to go to school with whites”; “All Hispanics are lazy and do not care about education”; “All Black people will hurt you given the chance”; “Asians are smarter in math and science and their parents expect them to get A’s”; “All Native-Americans are alcoholics”; “Hispanics are dangerous, cut you with knives, don’t believe in birth control and are lazy”. Did they truly believe these stereotypes? Were these nonverbalized stereotypes communicated to the diverse student population? Were these hidden stereotypical thoughts, not so hidden in daily practice? At the end of the diversity training, as they reflected on their experiences, a few statements made were: “I used to think that I could not academically reach the black student, but now I know I can”; “I used to think that the black student was incapable of learning at the level of white students, but now I know they are students like everyone else”; “I used to think that white people were genetically smarter than I was, but now I know I am just as capable as they are”; “I realize now, that I still have some work to do in eliminating the beliefs that I have towards other races.” Kimberly McLeod, Tyrone Tanner & William A. Kritsonis 51 Purpose of the Article The purpose of this article is to describe how culturally active classrooms can contribute to the academic success of both the educator, and the learner. As illogical as some stereotypes they revealed sounded, many believed them. As the stereotypes were read back to them, many laughed as they thought how ridiculous these thoughts are, but the laughter soon turned to silence, when they realized that these were their own thoughts and they were very pejorative. Is this how teachers truly feel about other races, what about those other races they are teaching? The silence, as they stated in their reflections was a silent pain and disbelief, a silent astonishment. The participants in this workshop who were Asian, AfricanAmerican, Hispanic or Native-American bore on their face what could only be described as a proud pain. They were proud of their racial identity, but incensed by the stereotypes shared by their colleagues or themselves. One African-American teacher stated causally before the workshop began, “I have about twenty-two students in my classroom, most are African-American. There are about eleven that are worth teaching and want to learn, the other eleven, I could just throw away.” One of the challenge of teaching in culturally diverse classrooms is accepting the belief that all children have potential for academic and life success and that all teachers have the potential to reach all children when they eliminate the obstacles that interfere with their ability to disseminate pedagogy and the learners’ ability to receive it. The obstacles that interfere with teaching and learning often reinforce negative stereotypes, as well as negative cultural and racial misconceptions. It is important for both the teacher and the student to come to the realization that it is not the teacher who is inept or the student who is incapable, rather it is the acceptance of negative cultural misconceptions that interferes with the capacity of the educator and the student to embrace the potential and possibility in the 52 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL learning environment. Classrooms become toxic to both the learner and the teacher when stereotypical statements and racial identity misconceptions become affirmations of one’s belief system. Teachers can influence and shape the culture of their environment when they begin to examine their own belief systems. Research has demonstrated that knowledge and prior skill attainment are poor predictors of future performance because the beliefs people hold about their performance have more power than acquired learning (Pajares, 1996). The Pygmalion effect or idea of self-fulfilling prophecy is the idea that the expectation of an event or occurrence is instrumental in it coming to pass (Murphy et al, 1999). The Pygmalion effect divides the socio-emotional state and the academic performance of a student in two very distinct ways. First, the thought pattern and belief system the teacher embraces regarding student potential can be transferred to the student through nonverbal actions as well as verbal communications. Second, if the student does not match the perception the teacher has adopted, the teacher may mentally force that student into the perception through any idiosyncratic behavior. In either case, the thought patterns overpower the teacher’s perception of student potential and academic success. Even more, the student may begin to accept the teacher’s perception of their potential as their reality. The acceptance of student possibility and potential for uncompromising success can be the catalyst in contributing to student achievement; however, if the thought process of the teacher is negative, or supported by stereotypical thinking or cultural misconceptions, then it can be catastrophic in that student’s academic and life pursuit. Stereotypical thinking, perceptions and biases will reveal themselves in various conditions and environments and will have an influence on interpersonal relationships and class climate. It may have a positive effect or a negative effect, but stereotypical thinking will influence classroom climate and student performance. Because the role of the teacher shapes the culture and climate in the classroom, professional development for teachers aimed at understanding and influencing the psychological, intellectual, physical, environmental Kimberly McLeod, Tyrone Tanner & William A. Kritsonis 53 and social (PIPES) characteristics of the teacher and the student will contribute to creating a healthy cultural climate in the classroom. When teachers are challenged to create culturally appropriate classrooms, they are in essence creating classrooms where students share common beliefs and practices that are unbiased and free from any perceived cultural restrictions, including race. Culturally active classrooms take into account the individual differences of the entire unit so that differences are used to work on behalf of the student and contribute to, rather than hinder academic performance. The focus is on creating a classroom in which the collective talents of the group determine the success, as opposed to a student’s racial background as the primary factor. The teacher is actively creating an environment that is responsive to both the teacher’s and the students’ psychological, intellectual, physical, environmental and social (PIPES) needs. Addressing PIPES, as it relates to the professionally developing teachers to grow beyond any stereotypical thoughts, ideations and philosophies, first involves teachers examining their psychological perspectives. In examining the basic psychological mindset of the teachers, minority and non-minority, they must be able to have an honest self dialogue with themselves, and address any preconceived beliefs about racial identity and student achievement. Teachers must be able to examine how they may have inadvertently reinforced negative stereotypes. Many teachers resist the painful process of confronting their own prejudices, and this may be attributed to different levels of readiness or differences in personal and intellectual development (Jordan, 1995). Intentional or not, racial beliefs held by the teacher impacts the culture of a classroom (McLeod, 2006). Teachers become susceptible to believing that they are unable to reach students because of a lack of control of their environment, in spite of receiving learning experiences in multicultural education or professional development. Gomez (1994), reports that multicultural education is viewed as being only about “the others” and does not include “the self.” As a result, when 54 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL teachers participate in diversity trainings, they may believe that the content is more relevant to someone else rather than applying the learning to themselves as individuals. After the diversity training highlighted earlier in the article, teachers gave written feedback. They shared that this specific training allowed them address diversity without feeling like the “bad white people.” They also shared that tough conversations occurred and tough issues were addressed without signaling anyone out, or making anyone feel guilty about how they perceived issues of diversity. Others stated they were allowed to express their genuine feelings without embarrassment or ridicule. Many times, teachers view multicultural training as, in the words of one teacher, “someone coming in to talk to us about black people and how we are doing them harm.” As a result, many diversity related professional development opportunities do not experience success because the topic alone has put teachers on the defense. Restructuring and rebuilding a classroom begins with shifting the paradigm of teachers to address their own biases and then shape the culture of the classroom to benefit all learners. When teachers take a cultural activist approach to understanding diverse students, by conducting a self examination and elimination of biases that negatively influence student performance and potential, at that point, they can begin to create culturally active classrooms that are not negatively influenced by race. To restructure, educators must first look deeply at the goal that we set for our children and the beliefs that we have about them (Hilliard, 1991). Concomitantly, as there are sensational gaps in achievement scores among African-American and Hispanic children compared to their white counterparts, there are also cultural gaps that exist that encumber educators from retaining a holistic understanding of the diverse needs in the classroom that are a result of cultural ignorance and cultural dissonance (McLeod & Tanner 2007). Kimberly McLeod, Tyrone Tanner & William A. Kritsonis 55 Model of a Culturally Active Classroom Classrooms that are “culturally active,” as opposed to “culturally responsive,” have taken into account the cultural biases of the educator, the cultural misconceptions of students towards their own racial identity and the racial identity of others. It also addresses how components of one’s psychological, intellectual, physical, environmental and social (PIPES) attributes can contribute to the academic success of the educator and the learner. Also, teachers who practice a cultural active philosophy understand that the classroom environment is fluid, as oppose to static and that teachers’ and students’ needs may change, develop and require the teacher to actively re-engage the learner(s) and classroom environment in order to experience academic success. Culturally active classrooms are classrooms in which the teacher has organized the learning environment so that both the teacher and the student experience success. In order for this to happen the teacher must accept and view the student as an equal stakeholder in the dissemination, receiving, processing, understanding and application of instructional pedagogy. Acknowledging the importance of the role and responsibility of the teacher and the student, the teacher facilitates the learning process and cultural environment by involving the student in every process. Teacher’s can begin to understand the needs of student’s and their personal needs by applying a PIPES paradigm. In addition, it is the responsibility of the teacher to facilitate the establishing of classroom agreements and not rules. Rules are one sided and involve one party in enforcement, additionally, the student may not have been a part of the rule decision making process. However, agreements are created by both the teacher and the students. They are basic understandings on terms that are necessary for the teacher to experience success, and for the learner to experience success. In essence, the needs of the teacher are shared and processed, and the needs the student’s feel must be in place in order for learning to occur and be applied. The teacher is not only attempting to be responsive to student learning needs, but the teacher is also modeling 56 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL this process by demonstrating how students can be responsive to teacher needs. The teacher is humanizing the environment or demonstrating that everyone has needs including the teacher and the teacher is exhibiting an appreciation of student needs. As students experience the culture of the classroom and the intricacies of life outside of the classroom growth and development are destined to occur. As students begin to develop whether it works for or against them, the culturally active educator, realizes the need to reassess the needs of the students with a PIPES frame of reference. A teacher who embraces the philosophy of a culturally active classroom understands that there is no point of arrival; rather it is a continuous work in progress. Establishing learning environments that are culturally active require the teacher to address their thoughts and belief systems on an ongoing basis, and the thought and belief systems of the students. When unhealthy thought patterns emerge, it is the culturally active teacher who takes steps in eradicating those ideologies and replacing them with though patterns that nourish the learner and support the cultural environment in the classroom, supporting the agreements. The culturally active classroom is fluid in nature and not static. Creating culturally active classrooms is above identifying people or circumstances responsible for academic and student fallacies; rather it is an examination of factors that should be eliminated that impede the teaching and learning process and an acceptance, and accountability of the role of the teacher in developing personal and student accomplishments. The terms race and culture many times are blurred and blended together. Although they are both socially and historically constituted, they are different in some very significant ways (Lynn, 2006). Creating culturally active classrooms is inclusive of but not exclusive of racial appreciation. By definition from the American Heritage Dictionary, culture is defined as the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought (2000). Culture is independent of race, but many times is associated with race. Kimberly McLeod, Tyrone Tanner & William A. Kritsonis 57 When teachers are challenged to culturally create active classrooms, they are in essence creating classrooms where students share common beliefs and practices (McLeod, 2006). Culturally active classrooms involve creating learner-centered environments that develop practices, beliefs, patterns and customs that propel all students’ to academic success equitably (McLeod, 2006). Culturally responsive classrooms take into account the individual differences of the entire unit so that differences are used to work on behalf of the student and contribute to, rather than hinder academic performance (McLeod, 2006). The focus is on creating a classroom in which the collective talents of the group determine the success, as opposed to a student’s racial background as the primary factor. In essence, the teacher is creating an environment that is responsive to the student’s socio-cognitive needs, with PIPES as a reference point. Schools can be successful, teachers can be successful and students can be successful when all stakeholders are able to identify individual obstacles that impede the learning process and have the courage to eradicate them. This means that the teacher constantly reflects on thought processes that many entrap student and teacher success, while working with students to free them from destructive thoughts, beliefs and misconceptions regarding themselves or beliefs they have of others. The process does not have an arrival point. Teachers can contribute to healthy lifestyle and academic patterns by examining PIPES in the classroom and approaching the classroom environment as a cultural activist. Concluding Remarks Cultural activeness is more than a matter of principle; it is a matter of practice with an aim towards classroom perfection. Regardless of environment, background and experience, teachers are capable and students do have potential to achieve academic and life 58 NATIONAL FORUM OF APPLIED EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH JOURNAL success as long as they facilitate learning environments do not accept excuses for academic fallacies, but instead produce results in the presence of perilous cultural environments. Figure 1. Model of a Culturally Active Classroom Educator Address & Eliminate Stereotype & Bias Fluid vs. Static Classroom Acceptance Culturally Active Classrooms Address Cultural Misconception of learners Establish Agreements Building Academic Success through PIPES Kimberly McLeod, Tyrone Tanner & William A. Kritsonis 59 REFERENCES Culture. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved October 06, 2007, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/culture Gomez, M.L. (1994). 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