Opinion
Equity & Diversity Letter to the Editor

Gates ‘Principles’ Neglect Cultural Sensitivity

January 19, 2016 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has now pledged to make another huge donation, this time to teacher-training programs that best meet its four criteria for best practices (“Gates Foundation Turns Attention to Teacher-Prep ‘Transformation’”).

Once again, however, none of these driving principles addresses a central problem of instruction: a lack of cultural literacy and sensitivity.

As long as teachers themselves are largely ignorant of the powerful impact that cultural norms have on the behavior of students, too many students will continue to fall further and further behind their peers because of learned behaviors that might be acceptable and productive within their home communities but not in school. These students will continue to be seen as problem students, underperform, and, on occasion, interfere with the performance of other students because of their alienation and resentment.

In my 30 years in urban public schools, most recently coaching math teachers, I’ve seen good teachers flounder again and again when confronted by culturally learned behaviors that from kindergarten onward impede students learning in typical classroom situations.

Teachers are uniquely positioned to model the informed and sensitive behaviors that contemporary diverse societies require of their citizens if they are to live in peace and prosperity. But first, teachers must learn more about how acceptable behavior is defined across various cultures, and how to work with their schools’ specific student populationsto help all their students succeed. Being a caring person, as most teachers are, is not enough.

In my experience, teachers have been eager to learn about cultural differences. Where is the attention to this knowledge, which should be taught in teacher-training programs and encouraged in professional development?

Cathy Wilkerson

New York, N.Y.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 20, 2016 edition of Education Week as Gates ‘Principles’ Neglect Cultural Sensitivity

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Opinion We Can End Academic Tracking Fast—Or We Can Do It Right
Eliminating ability grouping can give students better opportunities, but teachers must be ready to get students to grade-level standards.
Miriam Plotinsky
5 min read
 Diverse group of students sitting on chairs looking away at an abstract background.
iStock/Getty Images + Education Week
Equity & Diversity States That Require Period Products for Free in Schools
More and more states are either requiring K-12 schools to stock pads and tampons, or provide funding for schools to do so.
1 min read
A menstrual product dispenser inside a women's restroom in Purdue University Stewart Center on Feb. 6, 2020, in West Lafayette, Ind. More than half of the states have legislation on the books either requiring products be stocked in schools, or provide funding to purchase them.
A menstrual product dispenser inside a women's restroom in Purdue University Stewart Center on Feb. 6, 2020, in West Lafayette, Ind. Legislation in a number of states seeks to provide more access to pads and tampons for students in K-12 schools.
Nikos Frazier/Journal & Courier via AP
Equity & Diversity More Schools Stock Tampons and Pads, But Access Is Still a Problem
Period products are becoming more commonplace in schools. But there are gaps in funding—and in access, a barrier for lower-income students.
7 min read
Photograph of hygienic tampons and a sanitary pad on a blue background.
iStock/Getty
Equity & Diversity A School Board Reinstated Confederate School Names. Could It Happen Elsewhere?
Shenandoah County's school board voted in May to reinstate two Confederate names. Researchers wonder if others will, too.
7 min read
A statue of confederate general Stonewall Jackson is removed on July 1, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Shenandoah County, Virginia's school board voted 5-1 early Friday, May 10, 2024, to rename Mountain View High School as Stonewall Jackson High School and Honey Run Elementary as Ashby Lee Elementary four years after the names had been removed.
A statue of confederate general Stonewall Jackson is removed on July 1, 2020, in Richmond, Va. The Shenandoah County, Va. school board voted 5-1 on May 10, 2024, to restore the names of Confederate leaders and soldiers to two schools, four years after the names had been removed.
Steve Helber/AP