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Reframing the Novice ersus Expert Roles of Children, Parents, and Teachers from a Cultural ... - page 13 / 22





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Co-Constructing the Transition to School


values, beliefs, and practices in the children’s homes so they could find ways of bridging gaps between sets of expectations (the teacher’s and the home’s). This would require conversation between teachers and parents—not the teacher explaining what she or he wants and expects but an interchange in which both teacher and parents could learn from each other.

The idea that typical sets of experiences (whether the parents’ experiences in their own schooling or in the workplace, or the child’s experiences in the typical settings in which they are placed) should be counted as cultural practices can be taken further by examining the types of literacy experiences that middle-class and working-class children have in the home. As Heath (1983, 1986) demonstrated, White children from these two types of backgrounds engaged in many early literacy activities, but the manner of engagement was quite different in the two groups, with working-class children being encouraged to say the words in the books correctly and the middle-class children being drawn to make connections between what was in the books and what was in their own experiences. When these children enter school, their past experiences with books and literacy fit relatively well or relatively poorly with the teachers’ expectations for reading. It is not a question of one or another group be- ing deficient, but the likelihood of a mismatch of expectations will only make the transition to school that much more difficult. Only when the teacher has learned about the children’s past experiences can she or he best help the children. The fact that the teacher has made the effort to discuss those experiences and learn from the parents can only help strengthen the connection between children and school.

For historical reasons, all of the issues that have been raised in this chapter regard- ing social class are likely to be magnified when talking about cultural differences that stem from ethnic or racial differences. This should not be confused with a cultural relativity approach—it is not reasonable to argue that some schools are right for working-class chil- dren but not middle-class children any more than it is reasonable to condone school seg- regation on the basis of race/ethnicity or national origin, particularly because this is a society in which middle-class White values link much more clearly to status, power, and wealth (Delpit, 1988, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1994, 2001). Certainly, culturally sensitive pedagogical practices should be incorporated into the classroom (Ladson-Billings, 2001), but beyond that, as others have argued (Bloch & Swadener, 1992; Delpit, 1988; Fine, 1993; Grant & Secada, 1990; Graue et al., 2001), issues of power and access to educa- tional capital must be addressed if diversity in U.S. classrooms is to become a source of strength rather than an excuse for failure.


Some research has considered the unique contributions of culture and the wealth of knowl- edge offered by parents; such research suggests that there is indeed cultural variation in expec- tations, beliefs, and practices with respect to children’s schooling. For example, Okagaki and Sternberg (1993) found that immigrant parents from Cambodia, Mexico, the Philippines, and Vietnam placed a higher value on conforming behavior habits than did their Anglo American and Mexican American counterparts, among whom autonomous behavior habits were re- garded more highly. In terms of their beliefs about markers of intelligent first graders, Asian parents in the sample rated motivation and self-management higher than social skills, whereas social skills were highly important to Hispanic parents’ conceptualizations of intelligent first graders. Ruth Chao (1994) explored the parenting styles of Chinese immigrant and European

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