How Do You Define Culture?

How do you define culture?  It seems like it would be easy for us to explain the cultural differences talked about in the video above, but what about the cultural differences we see in our own country everyday, that we may not even recognize as cultural differences?  And let me start off by saying that yes, there are SO many different aspects of culture, I often speak about the culture of school.  But, the culture I am talking about right now is the culture our kids bring TO school from their different racial, ethnic, class, regional, family, and community backgrounds.  When we work with our kids, it is critical for us to understand “where they come from”.  It is also important for us to speak to others, about these differences, whether we are speaking about a person with a disorder or speaking about people in general.

What’s really important to understand is that everyone has a culture (multiple ones at that).  The key to understanding this is that it may not be the culture you are used to.  It may not even be a culture you are familiar with.  But, just because this is so, it doesn’t make their culture any less than what America considers the “norm” (i.e. White Middle-Class).  While we are taught about and are constantly immersed in White middle-class culture, this is not the only culture we need to understand.

Another aspect to understand is exactly what constitutes these cultural differences.  I find that we often understand “culture” best when a child is an English language learner.  From my experience, many people seem to “see” cultural differences easiest if the child speaks a different language, is from a different country, his parents are from a different country, she wears a head scarf etc.  Yes, all of these may be expressed as cultural differences, but what of the children who we don’t see as having a different American background, but the ones who deviate from mainstream American culture…Don’t they have cultural differences as well?

Here’s a personal example, I am an African-American female who grew up in a multicultural middle-class community with two formally educated parents, one of whom was military.  I have cultural differences from my White friends who grew up in middle class communities (it’s difficult for them to understand when talk about my hair, Anthony Hamilton, or the food I eat for holidays), cultural differences from African-Americans who grew up in working-class communities ( I speak mostly using MAE as opposed to AAE which many AA from working class communities speak) and even cultural differences from my African-American middle-class friends who grew up in all Black neighborhoods (I remember being a cheerleader and my school’s cheers were very different than the cheers from the Black schools, less stomping and clapping).

So, I’d like to expand the way we think about cultural differences…Perhaps there’s a child who enjoys playing the dozens (think, yo mama jokes) with his friends at recess, but to someone who doesn’t understand this cultural norm, the kids just sound mean.  (see some great examples between 1:33 and 2:02)

Or maybe there’s a kid who doesn’t verbally express herself to adults because that’s just how her family has socialized her to be with adults.  Then there are the kids who respond best to discipline when an adult in the position of authority tells them what to do versus asking them.  Or maybe the kid speaks in two different languages because they are expressing two of their identities equally.  Perhaps a child comes from a home where the TVs are always on, music is blasting, and there are multiple people in the house at once. Therefore the child speaks a little louder than what the school classroom calls for.  And what about the kid who sleeps in his parents bed because that is how the cultural values are expressed within that ethnic group or in that home.

All of these are cultural differences displayed on many different levels.  It’s important for us to recognize, accept, value, and work within these differences.  For all people, and especially for our kids.