Culture Influences Education

We always talk about the importance of education and its impact on our culture, but seldom think about how culture affects our educational system. We often ignore the fact that ethnics, customs and traditions deeply affect education. Culture and education are actually tightly bound entities and hence cannot be separated from each other. Before we further investigate into the cultural influences on children’s learning and education, I think it is better to figure out what is culture, what culture includes. From Webster’s Dictionary, the word “culture” has 6 definitions relating to human activities. . Artistic and intellectual pursuits and products. 2. A quality of enlightenment or refinement arising from an acquaintance with and concern for what is regarded as excellent in the arts, letters, manners, etc. 3. Development or improvement of the mind by education or training. 4. The sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another. 5. A particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a nation or period. 6. The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.

While according to wikipedia, the term “culture” was first developed to refer to the betterment or refinement of the individual, especially through education, and then to the fulfillment of national aspirations or ideals in the 19th century. As we can see, culture has a long history relating to human learning and education, as well as development in various aspects such as language, tradition, religion etc. The learning of culture, like the learning of language, begins with a child’s first experiences with the family from which he is born, the community to which he belongs, and the environment in which he lives.

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By the time children begin their formal education at the age of five or six, they have already internalized many of the basic values and beliefs of their native culture, learned the rules of behavior which are considered appropriate for their role in the community, and established the procedures for continued socialization; they have learned how to learn. Different child-rearing practices are preferred in different cultures, and these will have a significant effect on later learning (Saville-Troike 1973). They range from very lenient when compared to dominant group standards, with little physical restraint or coercion mployed, to very strict control of early behaviors. For example, although few pronouncements can be made about “Indian children” as a group, since the many tribes maintaining their identity in the United States are very heterogeneous with regard to language, culture, and even physical (racial) traits, there are a few social values and practices that are quite wide-spread among the various Native American communities. In general, little or no physical punishment is used, for instance, with children commonly disciplined by teasing, ridicule, or fear (as with Hopi Kachinas), or by indirect example through folklore.

Their learning of physical tasks is often more through observation than verbal instruction, but many social and religious lessons are also taught through story-telling. A number of studies suggest that the visual perception and visual memory of Native American children raised in these groups are much higher than that of their Anglo age-mates (Kleinfeld 1970, Lombardi 1970, Cazden and John 1971). Another example of the effect of culture on child’s learning is the Puerto Rican differentiation of sex roles from a very early age; these make a significant difference in educational attitudes and performance.

For one thing, Puerto Rican girls show a higher anxiety pattern than boys when they are in a situation where they are threatened with failure, as when taking a test. The boys’ lower anxiety is probably a function of the cultural attitude toward their admission of anxiety (Siu 1972). Behaviors of three and four year old Anglo and Puerto Rican children have been observed and compared while they were responding to a “demanding cognitive task” (Hertzig, et al 1968).

The differences were not believed to be due to differences in socioeconomic level (although this was evidently not controlled), but in home experiences: focus on social interaction rather than tasks; age at which independence is expected; and regarding toys as entertainment rather than education. Such differences should be related to questions about cultural differences in values, stages in the life cycle and acquisition of roles, and perceptions of the nature of work and play. Other contrast involves the role of Hispanic parents in education.

Parents from some Hispanic cultures tend to regard teachers as experts and will often defer educational decision making to them. (Valdes, 1996) In contrast, European American parents are often more actively involved in their children’s classrooms, are visible in the classrooms, or volunteer and assist teachers. These cultural differences in value and belief may cause educators to make inaccurate judgments regarding the value that non–European American families place on education.

While it is important to keep in mind that different cultural groups tend to follow particular language and interaction styles, there is tremendous variability within cultural groups. (Gutierrez & Rogoff, 2003) Thus, educators need to understand individual histories and ideologies regarding education and learning as well as the cultural patterns and beliefs of groups. Many research projects have been designed to show what differences in cognitive styles are systematically related to particular social group membership and cultural practices (see Cazden and Leggett, 1976).

The visual modality has been shown to be a relatively stronger learning style for Chinese and Native American students than for Puerto Ricans and Anglos (see Stodolsky and Lesser 1967, Cazden and John 1971, John-Steiner and Osterreich 1975), and there is considerable evidence that Mexican American students may be more field dependent (i. e. , make more use of the overall context in, learning and processing information) than are Anglo students, who may be more field independent (see Witkin 1967, Cohen 1969, Ramirez and Price-Williams 1974, Ramirez and Castaneda 1974).

There are cultural differences in teaching styles as well, although the acquisition of specific teaching skills during professional training is part of the socialization of educators to the subculture of the school. It is not at all certain that teachers from a similar cultural background to the students’ will teach them more effectively, although research in this area is still far too sketchy to draw definite conclusions. It does seem clear, however, that all teachers would profit from greater understanding of differences in learning styles, and greater tolerance of differences.

Particularly inappropriate for language education are categorical claims about the best way to learn or teach anything (which are all too common in teacher training); the claim that “children learn best by doing”, for instance, is not true for all children. Cultural sensitivity and respect requires relativism and flexibility in teaching styles. Such eclecticism is nothing new as an option in pedagogy, but it is necessary, not optional, when teaching students from diverse sociocultural backgrounds.

Culture also clearly affecting learning are the attitudes and motivation of students and their parents, many of which are culture-specific. Cultural attitudes and values most assuredly affect learning and teaching as well, for example, students from a family that is low in socioeconomic and with lower parental education are more likely to perform less well in school as a result of his/her parents’ influential attitude and beliefs on education, and thus form a negative effect on children’s education and handed down generation by generation in some cases.

Culture plays a significant role in education. It can influence it both ways, positively and negatively. The values, morals, and principles of a culture will create an education system that upholds the same values, morals, and principles. A cultural group that believes in righteous acts and decent interactions will hone its individuals to teach the same to other people. However, there are also certain inequalities in the society that creates a negative effect on education.

There are many culture that deny and prevent women right to education, holding discriminations against the women wanting to enter certain fields of study, or men are discriminated against penetrating certain fields of study that women dominate. Racial discrimination, religion issues, all these are some negative effects culture pose on education that needs to be reconsidered or abandoned. As a nation consists of ethnics from all around the world, the United States along with its educational system has been greatly influenced by a variety of cultures.

Formal education of the American educational system is actually itself a cultural invention. In the United States, it is a system which serves primarily to prepare middle-class children to participate in their own culture. For a long period of time, students who came into the system from other cultures, including the lower social classes, was considered “disadvantaged” or “deficient” to the degree that their own cultural experiences differ from the mainstream, middle class “norms”. Programs in compensatory education in the United States have been based primarily on this rationale, and serve to provide middle-class cultural experiences to children who have been “deprived” of them. ) Many complaint raised about our traditional educational system for inadequate provision or respect for students culturally diverse backgrounds, however, such criticism has constituted one of the basic motivations for the respect and implementation of multicultural education nowadays.


Culture. (1997). In Webster’s universal college dictionary(199,1997). Gramercy Books. Saville-Troike, M. (1978). Culture in the Classroom. National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, 1-48. The Impact of Culture on Education. Retrieved November 17th from http://www. education. com/ Society’s Influence on Education. Retrieved November 17th from http://www. buzzie. com/ Understanding Society Influence on Education. Retrieved November 17th from http://influence. bafree. net/ www. wikipedia. com

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