Directions for Research

Cultural Diversity and Early Education

Chapter 5 and References (of Cultural Diversity and Early Education, Report of a Workshop)

Although both theory and research on learning and instruction have advanced in recent years, only a small share of this work specifically addresses the educational needs of the increasingly diverse student population in the United States. To the extent that a relevant research literature exists, it has tended to examine children in elementary or secondary school, to the neglect of the growing share of children whose first experience with school occurs at 3 or 4 years of age. Given the magnitude of the demographic changes in the composition of preschool and school-age children, it is remarkable how tenuous is the understanding of the myriad of issues that bear on their educational success. Many suggestions for research have been made throughout this report; in this concluding section, those that were noted repeatedly at the workshop are highlighted, along with other important topics not previously mentioned.

CHILDREN AS CULTURAL BROKERS
Children whose home backgrounds do not correspond to the norms, expectations, and language of their schools negotiate two (or more) cultures on a daily basis. In effect, they serve as cultural brokers and translators for their family, their neighbors, and their teachers and classmates. Only rarely, however, are children studied in more than one context. The field lacks a framework for considering factors that predict successful adaptation on behalf of these children, and even for defining “successful” in this context. What characteristics and skills distinguish children who enjoy and fulfill

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Suggested Citation:”DIRECTIONS FOR RESEARCH.” National Research Council. 1994. Cultural Diversity and Early Education: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9197. 

this role effectively? What supports in children’s communities and schools facilitate their efforts to move between their home and school environments? Is successful adaptation gained at a cost to children’s identity development or to their relations with their families? Is there a set of brokering skills that benefit children in ways that extend beyond their experiences in negotiating between home and school?

BILINGUAL LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION
Language instruction is among the most politically sensitive facets of educating children from diverse backgrounds. Bilingual education is typically associated with controversial issues, such as U.S. language policy regarding the official status of English and policies regarding access of immigrant families to public education and other services (August and Garcia, 1993; Hakuta, 1986). This context serves to underscore the critical importance of having a solid knowledge base as input to policy discussions about language- minority children.

There is no dearth of researchable issues regarding bilingual education. Three were prominent among the workshop discussions. First, there is virtually no research available to guide decisions that are being made regarding the treatment of language-minority children in the context of education reform. Pressing issues range from effective means of ensuring language-minority students access to high-quality curriculum content to identifying valid assessment methods for these students.

Second, there is a set of unanswered questions regarding the relationship between a child’s home language and English acquisition: When and how should English be introduced? Should instruction in the native language be phased out once children can benefit from English instruction? What adjustments need to be made regarding instructional language for bilingual special education?

Third, it is important to place research on language in the context of children’s lives at home and at school. For example, very little is known about the conditions in homes, in schools, and in communities that influence variation in language acquisition and retention. Similarly, effective language instruction cannot occur in isolation from other aspects of an instructional program, yet questions regarding school and classroom environments that facilitate and sustain successful educational outcomes for language-minority students have not been addressed by research.

EFFECTIVE EDUCATIONAL PRACTICES
The workshop drew into sharp focus the dearth of research that is available to inform teachers’ efforts to provide effective instruction in the con-

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Suggested Citation:”DIRECTIONS FOR RESEARCH.” National Research Council. 1994. Cultural Diversity and Early Education: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9197. 

text of cultural diversity. Some dimensions of effective instruction that warrant careful research are the following:

Minimal attention has been paid to school- and district-level factors that facilitate effective instruction in prekindergarten programs for ethnic and language-minority children.

Early work on the use of math, science, and social studies curricula as an avenue for literacy development points to a particularly intriguing topic for future study with preschool populations.

Models of teacher training designed to promote the experimental approach to instruction that is captured by the term “reflective practitioner” are sorely needed.

Effective means of incorporating parents into their young children ‘s early school experiences also warrant careful study. An appropriate starting point would involve understanding, from parents’ perspectives, different ways in which parents feel comfortable relating to teachers and other school personnel.

NONMINORITY CHILDREN AS BENEFICIARIES OF CULTURAL DIVERSITY
Virtually all of the research on the role of cultural diversity in education has focused on children from minority ethnic and language groups. The ramifications of various educational approaches tend to be examined only for these children, to the neglect of their classmates from the majority culture. Yet the diversity of the U.S. population, along with the globalization of economic and geopolitical activity, suggests that all children could benefit from exposure to multilingual and multicultural learning environments. Diverse classrooms afford the opportunity for all students to acquire an expanded repertoire of languages, skills, and capacities to function effectively as citizens in a multicultural society and as workers in a global economy. Examination of the interpersonal and scholastic effects on nonminority students of attending culturally mixed schools, of exposure to dual-language instruction, and of learning cooperatively with children who acquire and express their knowledge in differing ways is a very promising direction for research.

SAMPLING STRATEGIES FOR STUDYING CULTURE AND SOCIAL CLASS
The most long-standing methodological challenge to research on cultural differences in the United States is that of devising sampling strategies that offer greater social-class variability among the cultural groups being

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Suggested Citation:”DIRECTIONS FOR RESEARCH.” National Research Council. 1994. Cultural Diversity and Early Education: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9197. 

studied. This is especially difficult because of the confounding of class and ethnicity among American Indian, African American and many immigrant Latino groups. At a minimum, researchers need to specify which aspect of culture is being targeted for study. Additionally, efforts to specify how selective migration patterns might affect the patterns of behavior observed in the United States and to combine observational research in the United States with research on similar populations in their country of origin (see Landale, 1994) warrant serious exploration.

Luis Laosa noted further that only some groups and some mixes of students have been studied. Of particular importance for future research, given demographic trends in urban areas, is research on classrooms that contain multiple ethnic, immigrant, and linguistic groups. The study of multi-ethnic groups holds the potential to refine understanding of the variability that has been documented within culturally defined groups and to determine both generalities and specifics that are relevant to schooling.

THE COMMUNITY CONTEXT OF MULTICULTURAL EDUCATION
Although the workshop focused on educational issues, several participants called attention to the role that violence has played in the lives of many immigrant and other ethnic minority children. They emphasized the importance of dealing with the stress that many of these children and their parents experience as an integral aspect of helping them adjust to early childhood settings. Barbara Rogoff, for example, has worked with Guatemalan children who have witnessed the torture and killing of family members.

To illustrate the powerful impact that urban violence in the United States can have on young children’s ability to concentrate in school, Delia Pompa described the tensions that children feel between the schoolroom focus on learning to read and the neighborhood pressure to learn how to avoid antagonizing gang members. These experiences undoubtedly have a profound effect on young children’s ability to engage in the new cultural environments that schools present to them, as well as on the anxiety that parents experience when they send their children to the neighborhood schools. Many children who are studied in the context of research on cultural diversity are actually adjusting to two cultures: that of urban communities and that of their preschool programs. The next generation of research needs to cast a broader net in order to capture the full extent of adjustment that these children are experiencing and to examine the undoubtedly intricate ways in which the different environments that children inhabit at home, at school, and in their communities (past and current) influence each other.

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Suggested Citation:”DIRECTIONS FOR RESEARCH.” National Research Council. 1994. Cultural Diversity and Early Education: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9197. 

RESEARCH CAPACITY
The workshop suggestions for research are intended to direct scholars toward issues that hold the potential to advance current debates about the early education of children from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. For this to occur, however, consideration needs to be given to identifying mechanisms that will promote more effective exchanges between scholars and practitioners in the development and application of research. Appropriate roles for federal agencies (both program and research agencies), foundations, and academic institutions require careful thought and coordination. Effective means are also needed to recruit and retain both junior and senior scholars from multiple disciplines and a range of ethnic groups who are motivated to address these research questions. Without attention to these issues of research capacity, it is unlikely that the country will be in any better position in 10 years than it is today to guide sound early educational policy for an increasingly diverse society.

 


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Cultural Diversity and Early Education

Report of a Workshop

 

The Challenge of Cultural Diversity, Origins and Purpose of the Workshop, The Role and Meaning of Culture, Assumptions About Children and Learning, The Report

Parental Beliefs, Home Experiences that Support Learning, Social Conventions, Summary

Chapter 3: WHAT CHILDREN BRING TO SCHOOL

Exposure to Early Learning Experiences, The Social Context of Learning, Effects on Children, Summary

Chapter 4: IMPLICATIONS FOR EARLY EDUCATION

Goals of Early Education, How Teachers View Their Role, Effective Instruction in Diverse Classrooms,The Role of Parents, Summary

Chapter 5: DIRECTIONS FOR RESEARCH

Children as Cultural Brokers, Bilingual Language Instruction, Effective Educational Practices, Nonminority Children as Beneficiaries of Cultural Diversity, Sampling Strategies for Studying Culture and Social Class, The Community Context of Multicultural Education, Research Capacity

REFERENCES

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