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Saturday, September 23, 2023

A cognitive approach to the understanding of ethnic and cultural diversity

CSMS Magazine Staff WriterIn this briefing, Dr. Ardain Isma includes information for teachers who are unfamiliar with the diverse cultures in the state of Florida. It centers on the quintessential question regarding the “Hispanic” group and other ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students in American classrooms. The word Hispanic covers various cultures and nationalities.  Many ethnicities fall under the umbrella of Hispanic such as people who are from Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Columbia with many more also included.      Immigration to the United States grows at a rate of one million per year, according to latest census. It is estimated that one in every five students enrolled in public schools is an immigrant or a child of immigrant parents.  Many of these immigrants had some difficulty fitting in because they often do not look like the mainstream population.      Studies have found that immigrant students and their parents (and family) have higher educational aspirations than do natives of their own cultural groups.  Many of these Hispanic immigrant children view their education as the primary mode for attaining the “American Dream.” Generally, that is the main premise behind why their families have decided to leave their home country in order to settle in the United States.  Many of these student’s aspirations are motivated by their parents’ sacrifices they made in order to offer them a better life and opportunities, and by a sense of duty, that has compelled them to fulfill their family’s expectations.      Many students tend to exhibit what Rumbaut (1995) refers to as the “immigrant ethos”—a high motivation to succeed academically, which alone accounts for their otherwise inexplicable ability to overcome many of the other challenges they face.  Rumbaut found that Hispanics demonstrated this “ethos” not only in their in-school performance but also by spending more hours on their homework and less time watching television. An example of this “ethos” is how the Hispanics have excelled academically even though most of their parents are not literate. This group of students is considered to being strategically compliant, as opposed to being authentically engaged.     It is important for the teacher to make contact with the parents of their ESOL students early in the academic year because in some Latin American countries, the teacher is regarded with much respect. However, the teacher’s job is at school and the parent’s job is at home. So they may not be used to playing an active role in their child’s education.  It is up to the teacher to rectify this and make this understood.  (Case study done at Colorado University, www.colorincolorado.org)     As a teacher, one should always understand and remember that if/when a meeting is recommended, the parents cannot come, and there may be a good reason for this.  Sometimes the parents will not want to come because they do not speak English, or their culture looks at questioning the teacher as being rude, or they simply cannot leave work or do not have the means of transportation.      Many Hispanic students are insulted and upset over the label of being Hispanic, because of the stereotypes in respect to their language capabilities that go along with that label.  As a teacher we should be aware of the differences between fact and fiction.  For example, not every Hispanic speaks Spanish, just like not every Haitian speaks Creole. Many of them were brought up to understand English, but not to read or write it.  These students are often expected to perform better in their Spanish class than their peers, which may not be attainable.  Being a teacher, one needs to avoid stereotypes at all costs.     In a demonstration, William Cruz showed the audience how differences in nonverbal communication cause misconceptions between Hispanic Americans and European Americans due to their cultural differences. A very specific study from the Center For Strategic and Multicultural Studies shows that European Americans generally speak at a distance of 18 to 30 inches, whereas Latin Americans and Southern Europeans generally communicate at a distance of 8 to 18 inches.      “The misconception occurs at an unconscious level that Latinos appear too pushy or overly sexual and that Anglos appear cold, uninterested and prejudiced.”   Cruz also stated that “Latinos will smile in many situations where an Anglo will not,” Cruz said. “Friendly touching is common in Latino culture, however it is not accepted in Northern European culture to touch another person while talking with them besides a hand shake.”        William Cruz, who studies Latinos cultures extensively in the US, later quoted a study in which the researcher watched couples in cafés around the world. In San Juan on the average, the couples touched each other while talking over 180 times.   However here in the United States couples only touched each other about 50 times over the same time period.  Each of these studies demonstrates very different socially acceptable nonverbal ways of communicating.  As a teacher, it is important to be conscious, aware and sensitive to these issues. If we always take the above-mentioned statements into thought when teaching, we can only be more effective as teachers in the classroom.       In another research different from I discussed above, I found that communication styles among cultures are very different, and the differences are worth noticing here—that is the differences between Hispanic communication styles and Anglo European communication styles respectively.Animation/Emotion: In ethnically mixed settings or with unfamiliar persons, Latinos or Hispanics tend to be somewhat low-key. They may often state their points quite directly, but in a relatively quiet and respectful manner. In settings with only Hispanics present, a high level of emotional expression is acceptable. (Olquin, 1995).Eye Contact: Direct eye contact is often viewed as disrespectful. When a person from a Latin culture is being spoken to, they may look away or down as a sign of respect to the person speaking, especially if that person is significantly older than the listener or is in a position of authority over them (LaFrance & Mayo, 1976).Gestures: People from Latin cultures tend to use a medium to high level of gestures. This is consonant with a cultural pattern that considers a higher level of emotionality in expression to be the norm (Kaplan, 1967; Albert & Nelson, 1993).Identity orientation: Latino cultures in general have a collateral orientation. This means the person’s identity is intimately tied to the identity and status of their family throughout the individual’s life span. Decisions are often made in relation to obligations to family, and secondarily to one’s own desires (Condon & Yousef, 1975).Pacing & pause time: If the person’s first language is Spanish, pause time tends to be relatively short. Among indigenous groups, the pause time will be considerably longer, perhaps approaching that of Native people from what is now the continental United States (Bennett, 1996).Animation/Emotion: Emotionally expressive communication is not a preferred mode in public communication situations. In fact, European Americans worry that intensely emotional interactions may lead to a loss of self-control, and therefore should be avoided. (Kochman, 1981). What people know is not necessarily expressed in behavior. There is a strong preference to preserve the appearance of cordiality and friendliness, even when strong differences of opinion are present. European Americans prefer to speak about beliefs, opinions, intentions and commitments. The prescribed value of “equality” in U.S. culture commonly leads to a presumption of sameness: people assume that if they feel or think a certain way about a situation, others would feel or think much as they do, if placed in the same or a similar situation (Samovar, Porter, & Jain, 1981).Directness/indirectness: European Americans tend to speak very directly about certain things. Their general form of communication tends to rely heavily on logic and technical information rather than allusion, metaphor, or other more creative or emotional styles of persuasion. “Good” communication is believed to be linear: the speaker should move through their “points” in a straight, logical line, with an explicitly stated conclusion (Kaplan, 1967; Stewart & Bennett, 1991, p.156).Eye Contact: The European American convention for eye contact is for the speaker to make intermittent brief contact with the listener, and for the listener to gaze fairly steadily at the speaker. Children are specifically taught to look at the speaker (Kochman, 1981), and will be reprimanded if they do not. Direct eye contact is believed to be a sign of honesty and sincerity (Stewart & Bennett, 1991, p. 99; Johnson, 1971, p. 17; Althen, 1988, pp.143-144).Gestures: European Americans tend to use a “medium” range of gestures in usual conversation—not so large or frequent as Arabs or Southern Italians but not as restrained as the English or Japanese (Althen, 1988, pp.141- 142).Identity orientation: European Americans have an orientation based on individualism. They view the “self” as located within the individual person, who is seen as having a separate but equal place among other individuals. Self is viewed, and mature identity is believed to be formed, primarily as an autonomous individual. Children are raised to become self-sufficient; ideally, neither they nor their parents expect them to live with older generations of the family after about the age of twenty. A young person who lives with parents after this age may be regarded questionably by themselves and others (Condon, 19; Althen, 1988, p. 5).Turn taking and pause time: Ideally, turn taking is signaled by the speaker looking directly at the listener and ceasing to speak. Pause time is very brief; often people speak on the end of the first speaker’s last sentence (Kochman, 1981).Space: The usual distance for social conversation is 2-3 feet—about arm’s length. Standing closer than this will usually be perceived as intimacy or invasiveness, depending on the relationship of those involved.Time: In European American culture, time is thought of as linear and monochronic — that is, one thing or one person at a time should be given full attention. Time is conceptualized as having a past, present, and future, and is often thought of as a real object “which should be saved and not wasted” (Samovar, Porter, & Jain, 1981, pp. 113-114). It is not seen as a human-made abstraction. People often speak of losing, wasting, or finding time. Many European Americans feel pressured by the passage of time, and consequently tend to behave in an “efficient” and task-oriented way. If a person has an appointment with you at 3:00, most European Americans would begin to be affronted if the person is not there by a few minutes after 3:00, and would want an explanation of why they are not. This behavior can be interpreted by members of other cultures as coldness—U.S. Americans may be seen as having little interest in personal relationships and trust building, valuing only efficiency (Condon, 1997).Touch: Most European Americans tend to “employ very little touching in public” (Samovar, Porter, & Jain, p. 175) that is, beyond the expected greeting ritual of the handshake. Lack of touching may be related to cultural values of objectivity, efficiency, and autonomy. European Americans have been described by members of other cultures as touch-avoidant. Compared to the amount of touch that occurs in Latin American, Southern European and Arab cultures, this is certainly true.Vocal patterns: Tend to be in a mid-range of pitch and on the low end of vocal variation. “Adult,” mature communication in public is believed to be objective, rational, and relatively non-emotional. Someone who is expressing himself or herself in a very passionate way may be suspected of irrationality. (Kochman, 1981).Thought patterns and Rhetorical style: Directness in stating the point, purpose, or conclusion of a communication is the preferred style (Kaplan, 1967). Kaplan describes the English language style graphically as an arrow: This style of communication may be viewed by other cultural groups, with quite different styles, as abrupt or inappropriate. It is in strong contrast to the Asian style, portrayed by Kaplan as a spiral. It is also quite different from the Romance style (including Hispanic), which is portrayed as an arrow with sharp turns in the shaft.   A study of schools done in three states, Dentler and Hafner (1997) noted that schools that best served ESOL learners had administrators that were positive about the increasing diversity of their population. So let’s try and keep our thoughts, as educators, positive and pure because it will show in the work we do every day, and that work will certainly make a difference in the lives of our youngsters.  Note: Dr. Ardain Isma is the chief editor of CSMS Magazine. He teaches Cross-cultural Studies at Nova Southeastern University.See also Multiculturalism and Cross-cultural awareness: Not really intertwined https://csmsmagazine.org/news.php?pg=20060615I124

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