Culturally Responsiveness through the Eyes of an Indian American Educator

Sheena Jacobs
Coordinator for Social Studies, Glen Cove School District

“I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes, but I laugh, and eat well, and grow strong. Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table when company comes. Nobody will dare say to me, “Eat in the kitchen,” then. Besides, they’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed—I, too, am America” (Hughes, 2012).

James Mercer Langston Hughes was a famous American writer who was known best for being a leader of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City. Through his writings, he spoke about the inequalities that Blacks faced in our nation. He wrote and talked about the trials and tribulations that society has put on Blacks, and he questioned all aspects that are a nation is derived from, which are political, social, and economic. Reflecting on Langston Hughes poem, “I, Too,” and in the current political and social climate that we are living in, we are reminded that now more than ever, schools must embrace diversity and become culturally responsive. We are currently living in a society where the haves are at an advantage point, and the have-nots are at a disadvantage. For social mobility, we must provide equal and quality education for all children.

Unfortunately in the 21st century, we still face segregation and inequalities within schools from various regions, such as rural, urban and suburban areas. According to Leonard Valverde article titled, “Equal Educational Opportunity Since Brown: four major development” (2004) research has indicated the following implications are all steps to assist the segregation, promotion of equality and quality of education for all children.

  • Implication #1: Compensatory Education for Equal Treatment Programs stimulated and encouraged by federal funding
  • Implication #2: School Financing: Equity and Adequacy—Includes facilities, equipment, and personnel; inclusion and access using affirmative action
  • Implication #3: Multicultural Curriculum: An Accurate Account—A balance and true representation of contributions made by populations in America’s development

These strategies are targeted to address four basic concepts necessary to eliminate school segregation: promote equality in treatment, equity in resources, equal opportunity, and cultural democracy (Valverde, 2004). When researching responses to diversify and provide equal and quality education, author Ezella McPherson states the following points in “Moving from Separate, to Equal, to Equitable Schooling: Revisiting School Desegregation Policies,” (2011)

“…to diversify schools, housing policies need to be implemented to end racial discriminatory housing practices while integrating neighborhoods so that children and parents can interact with people from different racial backgrounds. By doing so, parents may be able to build racial tolerance and acceptance of their neighbors, which will place them in a better position to feel more comfortable to send their children to racially integrated schools. Besides neighborhoods, schools may need to be reformed to provide equitable learning environments for students regardless of their racial and/or socioeconomic class background. By equitable learning environment, I am suggesting that schools provide students with the opportunity to learn through providing an equitable education to students through quality teaching, school resources (e.g., books, materials), in-school tutoring for students with special needs or who have challenges in a particular subject. More importantly, in building racial tolerance and acceptance for people from different racial backgrounds, community members (e.g., school teachers, parents, local community members) should consider working together to provide a quality education for students” (2011, p.479).

Reflecting on my personal story, my parents migrated to the United States of America in the 1970s, looking for a better opportunity in three aspects of life, political, social and economic. They left their family and possessions behind and started in this country with a clear motivation, “to provide a better opportunity and lifestyle for their children and extended family.” I grew up in a household with strong cultural ties to the Indian culture and the Christian faith. My siblings and I were consistently reminded of the struggles that my parents and their ancestors endured and faced as they lived in India. They told us their hardships if it dealt with socioeconomic status, race, equality, or gender relationship, that they dealt with as they started and continued to live in America. The challenge of living in a traditional household that focuses on culture and religion is when you are living in a different culture besides the one that you are growing up in. Living in a household and trying to find an even balance between the American culture and Indian culture was challenging because there were ideology differences in culture, achievement, motivation, and gender. As I entered the elementary school, I thought that all children are equal and viewed the same; however, I soon came to realize how different I was even though I was born in the United States of America. I saw that I was not a part of the same culture, in fact, I was a minority looking into a culture that I had no idea about.

At an early age, I found myself making decisions and understanding perspectives that differed from mine; I look at the content in multiple ways because I was exposed to understanding how the world can be complicated, unjust, and unfair. My parents instilled in us that one should not allow being conquered by the injustices or unfairness that we might receive, one should look at these trials and tribulations and overcome them by continuing to follow their aspirations, advancing to become educated and eventually empowering oneself and making the change he or she wishes to see.

Looking at my parents starting point as they entered this country in the 1970s and comparing to where we are as a family now is remarkable, considering the strides that they made with the limited resources and support at their disposal. My parents eventually moved out to the suburbs on Long Island. They were adamant about providing us a quality education, and as a result, they uprooted their family to a new location where they were the only minority family. I can remember racial tension stories, an unfair treatment that my parents endured as they lived in the United States. I remember entering school and seeing racial injustices amongst my siblings and I. However, the one thing I remembered is that my parents consistently demonstrated that the culture that they have raised us was a culture that entailed language, knowledge, history, morals, and values that we should be proud of. We were taught not to back down and continue to strive. My parents equipped us with ideas that when we face injustices, we must be prepared with words, education, knowledge, and understanding and only then can we achieve equality.

In a traditional Indian household males and females are distinctly different. Being the youngest and a female, my gender defined my family responsibilities, social behavior, and thought process. For instance, I was expected to learn how to cook and clean, prepare meals and serve, be submissive and inferior to the males. However, living in a western culture and growing up in a traditional Indian household, my environment did not allow me to accept and practice any of these expectations. In fact, with the combination of the American and Indian culture intertwined, the two cultures combined empowered me to become a stronger individual that was aspiring to be a change agent for future minority youths, adults and especially minority females.

As an educator, administrator, and a doctoral student, I can emphatically say and agree with Ezella McPherson; it is time for schools to support children that come from diverse background, it is imperative that we as leaders provide professional development to our teachers who are in the frontline to help children who may differ from the majority, it is time for local and state officials to make culturally responsiveness a priority and not a checklist of things to get done within the educational system. The racial segregation and intolerance I felt in my life was strikingly turning points in my life, however the people that I came across, my family who was my foundation, and my loved ones who continue to support me were all factors why I keep staying on a path where I can be a change agent for schools to become culturally responsive.

References:

Hughes, L., Collier, B., Linn, L., & Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers (Firm),. (2012). I, Too. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Kozol, Jonathan (1991). Savage Inequalities: children in America’s schools. New York: Broadway Paperbacks.

McPherson, Ezella (2011). Moving from Separate, to Equal, to Equitable Schooling: Revisiting School Desegregation Policies. Education and Urban Society, 46(3), 465-483.

Valverde, Leonard (2004). Equal Educational Opportunity Since Brown: four major developments. Education and Urban Society, 36(3), 368-378.

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