MY PERSONAL CULTURE
I am a WASP-white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant I am a female I was raised in the southern United States, in a middle-class family. I am heterosexual, married and the mother of a daughter. English is my first, and pretty much, my only language.
So, let me explain. Aside from my gender, my background has allowed me to experience limited discrimination but I have dealt with stereotypes of southern, blonde, women. However, rather than these holding me back, I have found them empowering because I am easily underestimated. I look the part and can act the part of the southern, proper genteel woman. Yet I know I am strong, I am intelligent, I am outspoken and these qualities have typically served me well but being outspoken is not always seen as a positive trait. Furthermore, I live the traditional American life. I am straight, I am married to a man of the same race, and we have one daughter. The most extreme elements of these aspects of my life are that we only have the one child and that my husband is eight years older than me. Certainly these are mild and have not made me the subject of any particular social outrage or controversy.
Finally, I am an educated, middle-class English speaking citizen in the United States.
Privilege and Disadvantage The system works well for me and there are few obstacles when it comes to navigating the world around me. I have had privileges of being one of the good kids, from a good family and with sufficient opportunities. However, my life has not been without its disadvantages. My generation is one of the first to experience less economic success than their parentsâ€™ generation. Some might say it is because of my chosen profession, as well as that of my husband. But that is only a part of it. My professional life is occurring during a time with fewer raises, increased costs of living, and fewer times of promotion. My husband owns a small business in a time of recurrent economic downturns. As a result, we will not be able to put our daughter through college debt-free. We have not had the financial opportunities that my parents had and provided for me when I was growing up.
ITâ€™S ALL RELATIVE: MY CULTURAL LENS
Fortunately, that is all pretty relative. In other words, even my view of disadvantage comes through a cultural lens of privilege. I live a life many would love to have. We have a home, a church, a safe environment, and do not wonder where our next meal will come from. I do not take this for granted. The fact that I have had limited adversity in my life shapes my own cultural view of disadvantage. I mean, really, the fact that we will have to take out loans for our daughter to go to college or that we will work longer before retirement are not disadvantages by many standards. As a teacher, and a citizen of the world, I have to be aware that my own cultural lens has shaped even my views of privilege and disadvantage. Some would not view my life as particularly privileged and others would not view it as particularly disadvantaged. This is my lens, based on my own experiences, and it directly impacts how I see the world.
CONCEPT OF EDUCATION Education has been an important part of my life, in many ways. Interestingly, neither of my parents attended college. I did not really think about it, until recently, but my brother and I would be considered firstgeneration college students in our family. It never occurred to us not to go to college, but our parentsâ€™ own understanding of college was limited. While I never thought about it at the time, I have come to realize that this may have had something to do with why we both went to college at the University of SC rather than leaving our hometown or state. We did not go on college visits, we did not consider applying to out of state schools but there was never any real idea of why. Therefore, we didnâ€™t feel deprived and, in fact, felt privileged beyond what our parents had experienced. When I decided to go to graduate school, I pursued it entirely on my own. Again, no real reason why, just the way it was. The key was that our parents supported what we did. Our undergraduate college education was paid for, without having to go into debt. There was no pressure regarding what we majored in or the path we chose. It seemed the natural path but I now realize that, for many, this isnâ€™t the case.
So, with regard to privilege and disadvantage shaping my own concept of education. I was not coming from a background of poverty in which education is seen as a way out. I came from a traditional middle-class background at a time when going to college seemed to just be what everyone did and my parents planned accordingly so that we could do the same. The disadvantage might have been that their own lack of a college education may have limited where we saw our educational paths going but, again, thatâ€™s a pretty minor disadvantage. The privileges are many. Financially, I had no debt so going to graduate school was not a particular economic burden. I went to good schools, where I had fun, got a good education and, again, experienced limited adversity.
Obviously, I greatly value education. I say obviously because I think that is a requisite when someone is a teacher. I do see education as an opportunity for all to improve themselves, to reach their full potential and I do believe that education opens doors that would not otherwise be opened.
CULTURAL LENS: EDUCATION
I did not go to school hungry. I was read to from an early age, went to kindergarten before it was mandatory, had adequate health care and did not lose sleep at night over issues children should not have to worry about. My personal culture created pretty optimal circumstances for success in school but, somewhere along my growing up, I came to recognize that such circumstances are not the norm. Before I ever entered a public school classroom as a teacher, I recognized the privilege I had and the disadvantages of others. That realization greatly informed my own performance as a student, as well as how I approach teaching in a public school.
MY EDUCATIONAL BELIEFS Because it was what others around me did, I was expected to succeed in school. We did not take family vacations during school times, I only missed school when I was ill. I was encouraged, at home, to do my best and was provided with assistance when necessary. This was my norm, itâ€™s what those I was raised around did. Therefore, I did school well. I was the kind of kid that school was made for. I was not the only type of kid that had to come to school. While I didnâ€™t realize it much as a student, I definitely realize it as a teacher. But, the fact remains, that public education is required by law for all students until whatever age state law says they can legally drop out. Therefore, public school teachers are there to serve ALL children. While my own background and cultural factors shape, and even limit, my ability to understand what others are carrying with them into my classroom, I must do whatever I can to help them, to care for them, to show compassion and to learn from them.
Teachers are supposed to be lifelong learners. This learning must go beyond content and strategies. It must also include how to best help those who are different from me, in whatever ways they are different from me. I must learn to recognize their challenges, to create a safe place for them and help them be the best that they can become. There is not a magic formula for this or even the perfect answer of how to do this. It is an on-going process; one I must approach mindfully, one I must commit myself to, and one I must encourage others to pursue. After 20 years in this profession, and almost 47 years in this world, I am not na誰ve but I like to think I am optimistic. My background may have informed who I am but it does not have to limit who I become and who I help others to become.