The Relevance of Culture

For our most recent Critical Commentary, the third one to be precise, we read “The Culture of Power and Science Education: Learning from Miguel” by Barton and Yang (2000). The article was a case study examining the cultural influences that kept a man named Miguel from obtaining a science education. These influences included the conflict between his own ‘hood culture and the “culture of power.” From readings from my other Warner courses, I described ‘hood culture as the subordinate culture and the “culture of power” as the dominant culture (Schmidt, 2005).

While Miguel had an interest in animals which could be used as an “in” for an education in science, this interest was never capitalized by either the subordinate or dominant culture. In fact, both cultures actively ensured that Miguel did not receive access to science education. The subordinate culture believed that science was only for geniuses and anyone that walked that path had turned their back on the ‘hood. The dominant culture also had expect everyone like Miguel were destined for blue collar work and placed him in classes accordingly, not considering (maybe?) the perpetual cycle that was being generated.

These perceptions are just one form of barrier that blocks access to the means of empowerment, such as being scientifically literate. Those within the dominant culture are privileged with greater access. For science teachers, it is up to us to help bridge the gap with those students that are underprivileged. Our pedagogical practices must have a cultural relevance to our students in order to succeed in this goal. It is a matter of social justice, after all.

In another course I take, EDU 442, multicultural education and culturally relevant pedagogy was a recent topic of discussion. We looked at read a case study about a white science teacher named Mr. Hall, who built relationships with each of his students in a public city school. With those students that were struggling in his class, he would find out about their interests outside of class and engage with them that way, such as playing a few games of b-ball with them. I believe that his goal was to create bridges with his students outside of race, which he would do by telling stories about his wife’s pregnancy and his children. He took on different roles depending on what his students needed, ranging from surrogate father, mother, older brother, and friend.

This got me to thinking about how I will integrate culture into my own teaching practice and how that could be used to empower my students. For my current draft of my mini-grant assignment, my investigation involves school lunches and how healthy they are. I’ve been tinkering with how “healthy” will be defined/determined. Will it be by merely calorie count, compared to the national average amount of calories needed each day during lunch? I could try to test the fat and sugar content of each food in the lunch vs. lunches from home vs. food in the local community vs. school lunches in other districts. I think that comparing the school lunches between districts or even between private and public school s would be a fascinating look in the differences between class, and it would have a social justice slant because evidence found from that investigation could be used to motivate activism for improved school lunches.

 

What do you all think?

 

 

Reference

Barton, A. C., & Yang, K. (2000). The Culture Of Power And Science Education: Learning From Miguel. Journal of Research in Science Teaching37(8), 871-889.

Sheri Lyn Schmidt (2005) More Than Men in White Sheets: Seven Concepts Critical to the Teaching of Racism as Systemic Inequality, Equity & Excellence in Education, 38:2, 110-122

2 thoughts on “The Relevance of Culture”

  1. I will have to read that article (about Mr. Hall)!

    I think your school lunch idea is a great one! Do you think that there is a huge difference between lunch options from school to school? I think it would be interesting to find out!

  2. Response to the Relevance of Culture

    I think choosing a topic where students have a personal connection and interest to finding solutions is a great idea! Take a look at previous cohort group blogs to see if there is a similar project to what you are envisioning.

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