Co-Constructing the Transition to School
REFRAMING THE TRANSITION TO SCHOOL: THE ROLE OF CULTURE
Parents and children should be allowed a place at the “experts” table so that parents can learn how to provide their children with experiences that prepare them for the transition (Delpit, 1995; Doucet, 2002a, 2002b). Teachers’ attempts to inform parents about what is going on in the classroom and what they are trying to accomplish with the children, as well as their efforts to involve parents in their children’s education, all deserve recognition. These efforts are extremely important in helping children make successful transitions to school. However, applying the theoretical perspective laid out in this chapter would be far more beneficial. Rather than providing parents with scaffolding to teach them how to help their children, teachers would make more of a long-term beneficial impact on their children’s de- velopment by applying the teaching/learning approach to their dealings with the children’s parents described in this chapter. In both cases, zones of proximal development can be cre- ated. Delpit (1995) wrote about the frustration teachers of color feel trying to communi- cate with White teachers about how best to serve the concerns of children of color in their classrooms. Calling it a “silenced dialogue,” Delpit described a process in which teachers of color shared their experiences with their colleagues, hoping to provide them with culturally nuanced insights, only to be met with responses about what research has shown are best practices or what progressive pedagogies suggest are better approaches for teaching. Teach- ers of color, unable to share their stories, experiences, and wisdom, felt silenced in conver- sations on how to teach children from their own cultural communities.
At this point, it might be helpful to return to the issue of culture, invoking both the fact that Vygotsky’s theory is a cultural–historical theory (not a theory of zones of proximal devel- opment) and Bronfenbrenner’s insistence that what goes on between individuals is profoundly influenced not only by the characteristics of the individuals concerned but also by the context in which those interactions occur, a context that is simultaneously proximal (the microsystem) and distal (the macrosystem, or culture). Cultures are distinguished by values, beliefs, prac- tices, a sense of identit , and an attempt (explicit or implicit) to pass on those values, beliefs, and so forth to the following generation. Although cultures are transformed (and transform themselves) over historical time, the passing on of cultural ways of making sense of the world to the next generation also ensures a good degree of continuity over historical time.
In some cases, similarities between the teacher’s culture and that of the children are clear. This occurs when both teacher and children share ethnic, regional, or socioeconomic backgrounds. Teachers and parents are then likely to have common values, beliefs, practices, and a sense of identity, although individual differences ensure that this commonality is likely rather than definite. Cultural compatibility is one of the central tenets of the Kamehameha Elementary Education Program (KEE , Tharp & Gallimore, 1988). The KEEP model re- quires teachers to work collaboratively with students and to understand the communication styles of Hawaiian children, which include multiple overlapping conversations and com- munication, or “talk-story” (Tharp, 1989). KEEP Schools fund a teacher-training program called the Preservice Education for Teachers of Minorities (PETOM), which actively re- cruits students to teach in their home communities (PETOM, 1993), believing that these students are best equipped to serve the children in their own communities.
However, in many other cases there is no such concordance, either because the teacher has a different cultural background than the students or because the student body is culturally