In the first chapter of Diversity and Motivation (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 1995), entitled, “Understanding relationships between culture and motivation to learn,” the authors present the argument that what is needed is a deeper understanding of the cultures of our students in order to become more effective in our reform efforts. According to Schien (1991) to someone inexperienced in dealing with people from other cultures, objectively studying multiculturalism may be a subject that is uncomfortable to deal with at first. due to the fact that one’s culture can seem to be the only true and unquestioned reality rather than being a set of learned behaviors and expectations that vary greatly around the world. (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 1995) The study of culture goes much deeper than outward physical characteristics and simple membership within social organizations. A surface study of other cultures can lead to stereotyping, which will only hinder progress. Add to this the fact that people are unique within their cultures. It is important to seek out the deeper individual meaning of culture in order to gather meaningful information.
Wlodkowski and Ginsberg define culture as the “deeply learned confluence of languages, values, beliefs, and behaviors that pervade every aspect of a person’s life, and that it is continually undergoing minor changes.” (p. 7) A good place to start is in identifying and comparing cultural values. Several researchers are cited in this article as having compiled lists of categories of cultural values, among who are Robin M. Williams (1970) and Locke (1992). Wlodkowski and Ginsberg’s contribution to this effort is in adding several alternative cultural perspectives within each of fifteen categories. The list of cultural values is as follows.
1. Achievement and success 9. Freedom
2. Activity and work 10. External conformity
3. Humanitarian mores 11. Science and secular rationality
4. Moral orientation 12. Nationalism-patriotism
5. Efficiency and practicality 13. Democracy
6. Progress 14. Individual personality
7. Material comfort 15. Racism and related group superiority
Using this list as a starting point, one could thoughtfully define what each of these cultural values means personally and then seek to interview and respectfully compare the responses of people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Within the classroom setting, Wlodkowski and Ginsberg suggest four concepts for reflection that educators can use with their students. First, identify how classroom norms interface with cultural norms. Second, construct a discipline policy that is respectful of cultural perspectives. Third, use illustrations in teaching that are culturally sensitive, and fourth, provide creative ways to draw students culturally into the school setting. As an example, let’s look at the first category, Achievement and Success. The white middle class values ‘rags to riches’ stories. Several alternative values include personal generosity above personal gain, distaste for conspicuous consumption, “rags to riches’ stories are propaganda that overlooks social and political forces within the society, and that achievement has as much to do with class privilege as with effort. (p.12) John Meyer’s article in the American Journal of Sociology (Jul., 1977), “The Effects of Education as an Institution,” concludes that the allocation power of schooling effects students in three ways. First, by students being given immediate membership in social organizations, second, that membership within this social organization confers status and third, that this conferred status is the most legitimate measure of stature within the society. (1977) Clearly, it would be in the best interests of society to have young people identifying themselves with the values of higher education. That there is a trend leading students and teachers away from educational pursuits is evident. Classrooms that value multiculturalism will more positively influence students towards academic achievement.