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Cultural Autobiography By: Haley Martin 06/05/2013

Self-Awareness ✤

I am a white female of Anglo-Saxon background.

I am heterosexual. I am also the daughter of married, heterosexual parents.

I grew up in a middle-class household

I am a Canadian. I was born in western Canada in Castlegar, British Columbia.

I lived in Canada for the first 8 years of my life before moving to South Carolina. I remain a Canadian citizen.

My first language is English. I am able to speak some French and some Spanish, but I am fluent in neither.

I am middle class, white, and college educated which generally gives me little experience with discrimination. My family situation is very traditional, with two parents and two children. My mother and father have been married for over 25 years, and my sister and I have a very normal two year age difference. However, I have experienced some discrimination when it comes to my gender and my regional upbringing. There are stereotypes associated not only with women, but especially with blonde women, that contradict my personality and my success in education. Blonde women are sometimes seen as air-headed and materialistic, often associated with such titles as beauty queens and trophy wives. These stereotypes seem to be especially prevalent in the south. In spite of these perceptions, I know that I am intelligent and driven which helps me to retain a positive attitude. Moving from the Rocky Mountains of western Canada to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina was a little bit of a culture shock for me. For instance, I found that I had moved to the middle of the Bible Belt. I felt a bit discriminated against by my classmates in South Carolina because my family was not very religious, and I had never been brought to church before. Clearly, this was a much bigger deal in southern United States than it was where I grew up. Also, southern prejudice against African Americans and Hispanic people was quite foreign to me, being from Canada. In the small town in which I was raised in the Rockies, we didn’t have a lot of diversity to begin with.

Privilege and Disadvantage So far, my life has generally been one of privilege. There weren’t many obstacles for me from a socio-economic stand point growing up. My dad makes enough money to support the whole household, which provided my mom the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom for the first 12 years of my life. My parents were able to finance my college education for the first four years, and are financing my sister’s education as well. Even so, my life has not been without some disadvantages. I occasionally get negative responses when I tell people that I am not an American citizen even though I have lived here for 15 years. My family and I are permanent residents, and it was a long process for us to obtain green cards. There are always a few extra hoops to jump through when I apply for college or jobs, to prove my status. Also, when I tell people of my plans to become a social studies teacher, my Canadian citizenship has lead some to question my abilities to teach classes on U.S. Government or U.S. History even though I am quite adept at those subjects. Despite some of the disadvantages of not being an American citizen while living and working in America, my entire extended family still lives in Canada and it is a part of my heritage that I am not yet willing to part with.

My Cultural Lens: Privilege & Disadvantage Though being a Canadian citizen sometimes puts me at a slight disadvantage in America, it has not provided any serious obstacles that have threatened my pursuits of getting an education or a job. I have middle class goals and values stemming from my socio-economic background and family life. This means that I perceive my disadvantages through a cultural lens of considerable privilege. This cultural lens also affects the way that I perceive the disadvantages of those around me. I do not believe that my cultural background makes me insensitive to those who may be considered more disadvantaged, it is just more difficult for me to relate to their situations or world views.

Concept of Education Education has always been very important to me. I worked very hard in high school so that I could attend a good college with a scholarship. I think that everyone should have the option or opportunity to go to college, because it opens so many doors. Going to college gives people the opportunity to find a subject and a career that they love, and allows them to make a good life for themselves. My dad graduated from the University of British Columbia, but my mother did not graduate college. She always says that she wishes she had graduated. She taught preschool in a private school before a specific degree was required. However, when she moved to another city she was unable to get another job in this field. Therefore, I was taught from a young age that going to college was an important step.

My Cultural Lens: Education Though education has always been important to me, I don’t take for granted that it was easy for me. I was a white child from a traditional middle class family which meant that I faced very little adversity in school. My parents were very supportive of my education, and always helped me when I needed it. I was placed on the gifted and talented track from a young age. In middle and high school I was always placed in honors classes, and I took as many AP classes as I could. I was given opportunities to push myself and build up my college application. Though it many not be a pleasant truth, there was less diversity in the honors and AP classes at my schools than in the “regular” classes. Therefore I did not generally have a lot of experience with diversity or the disadvantages of others while I was in school. However, I was involved in many extra-curricular activities such as advanced show choir and the school musicals, that put me in contact with a much more diverse group of students. Theatre is not exclusionary based on socio-economic status or race, it is based on talent and interest.

Senior cast of Aida, Carolina Forest High School, 2008.

I was taught from a young age that going to college was essential so that I could support myself completely if necessary and be independent. It was not a way out of a bad situation for me, but I was driven to better myself. When I graduated high school there was never any question that I was going to college. However, I was required to apply to instate schools because my parents wanted to be able to benefit from the Palmetto Fellows scholarship that I earned coming out of high school. There was some pressure from my parents for me to major in a area of science, math, or technology because they felt like those degrees had the most potential for me to get a well-paying job. Therefore, I started in a major that was not a good fit for me, and ended up changing majors several times before I found one that I enjoyed. Luckily, my parents came around and they support my decisions and my chosen career path. As I have grown and graduated from college, I come to see that my culture and my situation is not the norm. While school was easy for me, and college was a given, there are many that do not have the same opportunities I had.

My Beliefs About Education I believe that education should not be exclusionary. In a perfect world, prejudices and stereotypes would not put any individual at a disadvantage when it comes to their education. Every student should be pushed to reach their full potential. However, I also realize that socio-economic status and family life can provide disadvantages that go beyond prejudices and stereotypes. Teachers and school administrators should be mindful of the needs of students from different cultural backgrounds.

My Beliefs About Teaching As a teacher, my cultural lens and my experiences may not allow me to relate directly to the specific disadvantages and discrimination that some of my students may face who come from a different background. However, I believe that it will be my job to celebrate the diversity in the classroom and foster a positive and open classroom atmosphere where students from every cultural background can be comfortable. Even though I will not be able to directly relate to all of my students, I think that by creating a positive relationship with my students I can encourage them to be open with me about their interests, values, and needs. Because I can not speak for the needs of people who have had different experiences that I have, I will be sure to allow the students to have a voice in the classroom, and have a say in what or how they are learning. As a teacher it will be my job gather the skills and tools that I need to most effectively meet the different needs of a diverse group of learners. Every student deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential. It is a teacher’s responsibility to make an equal effort on behalf of each student to determine what that student needs to help them reach that potential.

Cultural autobiography  
Cultural autobiography