Asians are not a homogenous group. They do, however, constitute a significant minority group in the United States. Asian Americans represent many distinct subgroups that speak different languages, worship through different religions, and practice different customs and beliefs. The main groups are East Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Korean), Pacific Islanders, Southeast Asians (Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian), and South Asian (Indian and Pakistani). Threads of similarities may run through the subgroups, but they all have distinct histories, origins, and cultural roots. Among these groups, differences also exist within national groups, families, and individuals themselves. Some Asians were born in the United States, while others come from abroad. Some are affluent and come with highly developed skills while others are barely literate.
Regardless of success or acculturation, many Asians are stereotyped as the “model minority” because often the Asian student is often the one who is at the head of the class and is the valedictorian at graduation. Many people believe that the Confucian ideas that stress family ideals, respect for elders, deferred gratification, and discipline, are the reason for high educational achievement. Studies show that Asian Americans are more likely to believe that success in life is connected to what has been studied in school. American schooling may contradict the fundamental cultural beliefs of Asians because it emphasizes individualism and competition, while the ethnic identify of Asian children is often based on their relationship to the group and allegiance to family.
Academic achievement and upward mobility are viewed as an obligation for the maintenance of the family, which is the responsibility of all family members. Additionally, Asian parents teach their children to respect authority, feel responsibility for relatives, and show self-control. School failure is seen as a lack of will, and this failure can be alleviated by increasing parental restrictions.
Baruth and Manning (1992) claim that Asian American children need reinforcement from the teacher, and work more efficiently in quiet, wellstructured surroundings. These children appear to be more dependent, conforming, and obedient by placing the family’s welfare before their own
Asians may be confused with the apparent teacher/student informality of the American classroom, and function better with structure and organization. (Baruth & Manning, 1992). Asian cultures also value the idea of humility and/or self-effacement. Children may not volunteer to participate in the classroom until specifically asked by the teacher. Drawing attention to oneself by virtue of misbehaving might cause great distress and result in “losing face” because children are taught to value silence, listen more than speak, speak softly, and be modest in dress and behavior. The following suggestions are offered by Feng (1994) as a formula for teachers to address issues concerning the diversity of Asian American cultures. It should be noted, however, that these suggestions could be implemented for any ethnic group.
Get to know the customs, values, and traditions of various cultures, and learn the conditions under which students came to the United States. Try to visit the students’ homes and get to know the families. Learn a few words of the students’ native language to set the tone for communication. Encourage native language use at home. Use English-proficient interpreters with parents. Try to learn the children’s names and pronounce them correctly. Be careful not to encourage discord between home values and school expectations.
For example, if the home expectation is conformity, don’t encourage the child to challenge the teacher. Academic expectation should be based on ability rather than stereotypical beliefs. Peer tutoring can be used for children who are not yet proficient in English. Know who make decisions for the child and utilize the natural support system. Develop strong home-school links for communication.
Avoid assumptions about children’s prior knowledge and experience (e.g., not every child has experienced a birthday party). Discover what you can about Asian parent networks. The best way to remove a cultural barrier is to appear sincere. Common Characteristics of Many Asian Cultures (Culture grams)
Bow or nod
Individuals do not touch each other
Little or no public display of affection
Stand far apart (even farther than Americans do)
Smiling and laughing often indicate embarrassment
Little or no affection is shown in public
It is impolite to speak loudly
Hand and arm gestures are not often used in conversation
People’s sneezes are not usually acknowledged.
People are beckoned by waving all the fingers with the palm of the hand facing down. Pointing is done with the entire hand.
Japanese say no by shaking the hand from side to side with the palm forward, and point to themselves with their pointer finger facing their nose. People must sit erect with both feet on the floor; it is impolite to put an ankle on the knee. Yawning is impolite.
Vietnamese men do not offer to shake hands with women.
Society is group oriented.
Loyalty is to the group, the family, and to one’s superiors as opposed to personal feelings. Humility and self-effacing comments are normal.
It is essential to act similar to or in harmony with the crowd. People strive to conform in appearance (even when wearing the latest Western styles, people must try to look like everyone else). Reserve and modesty must be observed at all times.
It is important to save face at all times, for self and others. People will often allow others to escape potential embarrassment with dignity. Goals and decisions are made with the good of the group in mind, not for the personal benefit of any individual. Time:
Being late is impolite.
People are prompt or a little bit early (for social as well as business affairs).
Family: The family is extremely important.
The family has a strong tradition of respect and loyalty.
There is a strong sense of family reputation and family obligation.
Elders are highly respected.
Many members of the extended family (particularly in- laws) live together.
Teaching and learning styles reflect cultural backgrounds. Students who have teachers from their same culture have little problem understanding the cues provided by the teacher. Students will already be familiar with the appropriate interactional behaviors expected in the classroom. Some students are from cultures with values that promote field dependence (a more community oriented style), while other cultures are inclined to be field independent, which encourages independence and competition.
With proper instruction, field-dependent and field- independent students can learn to be bicognitive; that is, their learning styles can be expanded to function appropriately in any given situation. Teachers need to provide activities that incorporate all types of learning styles. If they are aware of their own cultural learning styles and preferences, teachers will be better prepared to recognize the learning styles of their students.
Stereotyping can happen when false and exaggerated characteristics of a group are attributed to the individual, but socio typing involves an accurate generalization about cultural groups as a whole. If teachers misinterpret the learning style data and make decisions based on incorrect assumptions, students can be hurt or limited in their school experience. Mainstream teachers are often at odds with their diverse students because they are unaware of the differing cultural values they bring to the classroom. To promote effective teaching, teachers need to plan curriculum and instruction to incorporate the learning styles of their students. If students are uncomfortable in class, they may become bored, unresponsive, or test poorly.
Based on cultural norms, participation structures describe the interactions of students in the classroom, when and how to speak, and what to speak about. Teachers may misinterpret inappropriate or awkward classroom interaction, as every culture has individual norms that dictate proper classroom behavior and student-teacher interaction. Directness in speech is valued in the American cultures. “Don’t beat around the bush,” “Get to the point,” and “The bottom line is…,” are indicators of the values placed on direct speech. “Indirect speech” is an objective of cultural patterns held by Asians, Native Americans, and many Latin American cultural groups. It is important to “save face” by not embarrassing others or shaming another person. High-context cultures (such as Japanese) do not have to talk much because the members of the society communicate with intrinsic knowledge of how others think, feel, and what they expect. Low-context cultures (such as American, Swiss and German) must be very specific and explain everything- what is expected, what the rules are, and how things should be done. These cultural expectations are mirrored by how people think and act.
Miscommunication occurs during verbal interaction as well as through body language. Kinesics (the study of body language) includes facial expressions, posture, gestures, body movements, eye contact, or any ritual, that conveys messages or meaning for a culture. The Japanese bow is an example of kinesics. From the American standpoint, a bow is just a hello or good-bye gesture. However, to the Japanese (and some other Asian cultures), a bow can be quite complex because a deeper meaning can be conveyed by the bow. The lower-status individual must begin the bow, and must bow lower than the higher-status person. When the individuals bowing are equals in society, the bow is simultaneous and of the same depth. It can be erroneous to attempt to read someone’s behavior based on our own frames of reference.
Every culture has its own way of depicting the following domains of nonlinguistic communication: Paralinguistic: Sounds that accompany language and vocalizations that replace speech. Kinesics: The study of body motion, gestures, unconscious body movement. Oculesics: Eye contact and motion to indicate meaning. Individuals from some cultures show respect and interest by making eye contact (e.g. Americans) while other cultures show respect by not making eye contact (i.e., Haiti, and Puerto Rico). Haptics: Location, frequency, and contexts in which people touch. Proxemics: The unconscious use and organization of personal space.
Chronemics: Perception and use of time.
Monochronic time: Doing one thing at a time, in a linear fashion (e.g., American). Polychronic time: Doing many things at a time (e.g., Hispanic). All cultures operate on their own systems of communication, and these beliefs will be manifested within the everyday context of the classroom. Knowledge of nonverbal communication specific to other cultures will help teachers to understand the students they teach, and well as students’ parents. Educators must be careful not to make the mistake of judging people’s emotions by using their own cultural indicators. Not everyone shows grief, anger, happiness, and embarrassment, or other emotions in the same manner. Students with teachers from their same culture have little problem understanding the cues provided by the teacher and the appropriate interactional behaviors expected in the classroom. Those children and teachers from differing cultures do not know the rules of each other’s cultural rules and have difficulty interpreting correct teacher-student interactions.
Although not the panacea to end all classroom problems, effective teaching is more apt to take place if both the teacher and student are aware of the benefits of integrating appropriate instructional materials that correspond with culturally congruent teaching and learning styles. Knowing that cultural patterns drive behavior, teachers who are aware that their students have differing cognitive styles are able to adapt their classrooms to include activities that incorporate all types of learning in their teaching. The teacher will begin to understand why some students experience problems when their natural learning styles are incompatible with the teaching style of the teacher.
Various researchers have pointed out that Asian students tend to be highly visual learners. Hispanics are generally auditory learners, and non-Westerners are more inclined to learn through tactile and kinesthetic modes. The following information is given as a general guide for teachers to better understand the needs and styles of individual students. Individual personalities will always preside over the overarching cultural characteristics, yet teaching will be more effective and teachers can make modifications and adaptations to their curriculum and if they are aware of cultural differences.
Carrasquillo (1991) notes that Hispanic students are diverse due to different backgrounds, but they may share general experiences through family structure, religious beliefs, and general customs. Spanish-speaking cultures include people from many countries (including the United States) with unique characteristics. The common thread is the fact that they all speak Spanish, albeit with varying degrees of fluency, accents, intonation, verb structures (i.e. tu, usted, and vos) and certainly different connotations for similar words. These societal variations can be likened to the differences among the United States, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, and South Africa. Culture grams (produced by Brigham Young University) offer cultural information as an “aid to the understanding of, feeling for, and communication with other people.”