Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cultural Noise

Reading Jules Henry is an eye-opening experience for those studying to be teachers.  You realize that you have to worry about how your classroom setup, demeanor and tone of voice educates your students when you feel like a lesson plan is really enough to worry about.  The nice thing about classroom noise is that while it cannot be completely controlled it is within the teacher's circle of influence (see the chart on my previous post) because it occurs within the classroom.  While studying language and culture we have, as a class, had to confront the notion of cultural noise.  What have students been taught by their culture and how does it affect the classroom?  There are two differences between the noise in the classroom and the student's cultural noise that make it harder to deal with.  It is in the circle of concern, the one that affects the student's learning experience but cannot be controlled or influenced by the teacher.  It is also different for each student.  All of the teacher's students are in the classroom together and are therefore affected by the same noise.  The students are not all taught by the same cultural noise.  A teacher can keep up with examining the noise of one classroom, the noise of the dozens of cultures represented by the students is a different matter.

How do teachers deal with the cultural noise that affects their students?  Because they cannot change it they can only be aware of it and try to work with it.  Students must be aware of the different cultures represented in their classrooms, respectful enough of the cultures to get to know them well and affirming enough of their students' cultures so the noise does not become dissonant.  Herbert Kohl noted instances of this where students were refusing to learn because they felt that the teacher was out of touch with their culture and disrespectful of it.  They tuned out as part of their defense mode.

This respect for and interest in culture is a practical step in creating a successful learning environment for students but is not necessarily a moral philosophy.  Teachers are not required to see everything that every culture does as good.  In fact, most people can find things in their own culture and others that they find immoral.  Hopefully teachers can see respecting other cultures, even the ones with practices they find immoral, as a greater good because it aids the teaching process.  Teachers cannot change their students' cultures, so even if they do not like them it is outside their circle of influence, so the only response, if they are still interested in teaching the students, is to take the steps necessary to learn about their culture and adjust their teaching strategy accordingly.

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