"I want [my son] to be proud of his rich heritage and culture..."
An Indian Father's Plea
Cultural Relevance in Education
By: Chris Valenzuela, City Year Los Angeles
During my nearly two years of service in South Central Los Angeles and Watts schools, I have become increasingly aware of the cultural differences that students face and how those differences impact their education. I previously served at a high school in which the student demographic was 91% Latino. However, their History curriculum dedicated just one week analyzing the Mexican American Labor Movement, neglecting all other Latin American accomplishments. I felt it was disheartening for students who may have felt their culture was irrelevant despite their rich history in American society. As a result, I’ve found two pieces I believe provide wonderful depictions of the challenges students face: Robert Lake’s An Indian Father’s Plea and Christopher Emdin’s Hip-Hop and the Remix of Science Education.
In An Indian Father’s Plea, Lake walks the audience through his son’s education, challenging the early labeling of his five-year-old as a “slow learner” based on Western standards. Lake expresses that his son’s education has been “colorful, complicated, sensitive, and diverse,” and acknowledges contrasting cultural practices by stating that his son is “not culturally ‘disadvantaged,’ rather, he is culturally ‘different.’” Lake elaborates by explaining where cultural misconceptions might have been made, citing that his son believes there are 13 months in a year because “he has been taught byour traditional people that there are 13 full moons in a year according to the native tribalcalendar.” As Lake brings his plea to a close, he urges his son’s teacher to work with him and provide his son with the education that he deserves so that he can “develop the necessary capabilities to adapt to, and succeed in, both cultures.”
An Indian’s Father’s Plea is a powerful piece that paints a picture of how cultural differences can inhibit academic growth. Lake’s commitment to his son’s education is admirable, and serves as a great representation for all parents who advocate for their children and their right to have equal access to education.In addition, his perspective that “[his son] is a full basket coming into a different environment and society with something special to share” serves as a great portrayal of what it means to learn, share, and grow from one another.
In the similarly powerful presentation Hip-Hop and the Remix of Science Education, speaker Dr. Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University and author of Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation shares how in order to engage students in curriculum, educators must make the material culturally relevant. Dr. Christopher Emdin specifically talks about hip-hop and how it can bridge that gap for urban youth. When voicing the concerns of urban youth regarding their experience in school he stated, “why would I want to be successful in schools when the whole entire process is delayed gratification? When the process of schooling for urban youth is always endure the challenge, endure the challenge, endure the challenge, and then some day you’ll enjoy it? When in other spaces school is supposed to be fun, engaging, and exciting?” This statement is particularly captivating to me because it allows me to dive deep when reflecting on my own educational experience, how it might have been different if it weren’t culturally relevant to me, and how our students’ must struggle from seemingly irrelevant content every day. It’s extremely important that students are being held to high expectations in order to alleviate educational inequity, and while doing so we need to ensure that the content we present to them is relevant enough to engage them.
Both An Indian’s Father’s Plea and Hip-Hop and the Remix of Science Education are wonderful representations of the varying backgrounds of students, and how education can affect learning outcomes. Both pieces urge educators to embrace the heritage of their classrooms by creating a culturally rich environment to best educate each child. Overall, Lake and Emdin show that cultural relevance is a necessity for each student within the classroom, because without it, an education isn’t worth anything.
Christopher Valenzuela is serving as an AmeriCorps Member as a Team Leader for City Year Los Angeles after previously serving in 2013-2014. He graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in Politics. He originally planned to attend law school following his service with City Year but was quickly inspired to pursue a career in teaching. He believes in City Year's impact and is inspiring his fellow corps members to enter a career where they are needed most. Following his service, he will be teaching in Los Angeles with Teach for America.