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Reframing the Novice ersus Expert Roles of Children, Parents, and Teachers from a Cultural ... - page 12 / 22

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Doucet and Tudge

heterogeneous (Fuller, 1992b). In these latter cases, the children’s transition to school and sub- sequent performance in school can only be enhanced if the teacher is both willing to teach and learn from the children and their parents. This is not to suggest that children should only be taught by teachers who share their cultural characteristics. Grant and Secada (1990) and Sleeter and Grant (1987) warned that, taken to the extreme, cultural compatibility models could be used to justify segregation of children and teachers of color and also to provide an “easy out” to White teachers who would not have to learn how to teach these children (Bloch & Swadener, 1992). Whether the teacher comes from the same community in which he or she is teaching, his or her first job should be to learn from the children and parents he or she serves.

One reason that this is important involves issues of social class. Although there is clearly a good deal of controversy about appropriate definitions of social class (Duncan & Magnuson, 2003; Ensminger & Fothergill, 2003; Holden & Edwards, 1989), Kohn (1977, 1979, 1995) argued convincingly that class differences in child rearing (among many other things) are related to parents’ current conditions of life, particularly in the workplace, and their past expe- riences of education. Income also plays a role, but with the powerful exception of families liv- ing in or close to povert , its role is less important than education and occupation.

Kohn (1979) argued that whereas all parents want their children to be successful, they differ in what strategies they believe will help their children attain success. If, based on a par- ent’s educational experiences, success has required following the teachers’ rules, regurgitating what the teacher has taught, and so forth, and if success in the workplace has required arriv- ing on time and carefully carrying out the boss’s instructions, it is not surprising that such a parent’s approach to raising children might involve stressing doing what one is told, being neat and organized, and so forth. Whether this approach brings success or failing to take this approach inhibits success, parents with these types of experiences would most likely teach their children at home that these types of qualities will lead to success.

By contrast, parents who have gone to college are more likely to have progressed far enough in terms of education have been encouraged to think for themselves rather than simply follow what the teacher has said (something they may not have experienced in an educational setting since preschool or kindergarten). If their occupational success depends less on following instructions than on thinking for themselves, they are more likely to en- courage their children to be self-directing, not simply following rules, as a likely way to be- come successful.

If families are defined as middle class when the parents have a college degree and a pro- fessional occupation and as working class when the parents have not been to college and when their jobs do not require a great deal of self-direction, teachers, by definition, are mid- dle class. If some or all of the children in a kindergarten class are from working-class back- grounds, one can see an immediate clash of values, beliefs, and practices if the teacher tries to set up the classroom in such a way that the children are encouraged to choose which “cen- ter” to go to, expected to work relatively independently, or to do group work without much teacher direction. If working-class children have more difficulty doing these things than do middle-class children, this is no more of a limitation than the fact that middle-class children might have more difficulty than working-class children fitting into a tightly structured class- room in which they are expected to do just as the teacher wants. In both cases, home expe- riences and those experiences of the classroom are mismatched. Rather than argue that one way is correct and the other not, it would be helpful for teachers to know the prevailing

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