Traditionally, the cultural background of students affects consistently their performance in education. At the same time, minority students are often in a disadvantageous position compared to the white majority. In terms of the current study, African American students were selected and involved in the study to reveal cultural differences and the impact of the cultural background on education opportunities and performance of students. The study revealed the fact that African American students are vulnerable to the impact of their cultural background but, along with cultural background, they face a considerable impact of socioeconomic factors. On the one hand, cultural background of students provoked biased attitude to students from the part of educators, who represented the middle-class mainly. On the other hand, African American students had limited access to education, especially higher education. In this regard, cultural factors were important because obtaining higher education was not the priority in the African American community. However, they also suffered from the lack of financial resources to carry on education after finishing school. As a result, minority students involved in the current study face a number of challenges in terms of obtaining their education and their cultural background is one of the major factors that affect their education opportunities and performance but cultural background of students is closely intertwined with their social status in the US society and their socioeconomic position, which also affect their education consistently.
The group of African American students was selected for the study. Students were of the age of 14-15, representing both gender, attending one and the same school, and sharing the same neighborhood. The choice of students was intentional because historically African American students represented the oppressed minority that had limited access to education. In such a context, the current study aimed at the revelation of the current position of African American students, their access to education and their performance. At the same time, the current study attempted to reveal the difference between African American students and the white majority students in regard to their cultural background. To put it more precisely, the study aimed at the revelation of the cultural impact on the performance of students, their educational goals and prospects. For this purpose, the control group was selected. The control group consisted of ten white students of the age of 14-15, studying at the same school and living in the same neighborhood.
The interview involved the following set of questions:
- Do you like your school?
- Do you consider your education important? Why?
- How successful are you in your learning?
- Do you believe your education will be important in your life?
- What are your future plans concerning your education?
- Do you believe college education will give you advantage in the labor market?
- Do you believe you have equal access to education?
- Can you or your family afford higher education?
- Do you have any family member with a higher education?
- What are three major problems that you have at school?
This list of questions was posed to ten African American students comprising the subject group and ten white American students comprising the control group. Each student responded to the questions. Responses of the students were gathered and the collected information was processed. After that the common information and trends identified in responses of African American students and white students were defined. On the ground of the findings of the study the following facts and issues related to the current position of African American students, as representatives of one of the largest minorities in the US, were identified and the impact of the culture as well as socioeconomic factors on education opportunities and performance of African American students were revealed.
First of all it became clear that education plays an extremely important part in the life of the society. At the same time, the modern education system in the US is far from perfect because the access to education is still limited. However, the new concept of education emerges today, the concept of education grounded on the principle of equality and accessibility of education to all students. In this regard, it is possible to trace the shift in the attitude of Americans to education from an important commodity to a public good. In such a situation, the impact of the new cultural environment on the development of education in the US can hardly be underestimated because the modern culture tends to become more tolerant due to the emergence of multiculturalism that leads to the elimination of differences between students. In America today we often hear the expression, “No child left behind.” Expressions like this show how education in America is culturally strengthened now more than ever. In spite of the implementation of the program No child left behind, African American students involved in the current study still felt being inferior and deprived of equal opportunities in terms of their education. To put it more precisely, African American students pointed out that they do not have an opportunity to obtain the higher education. Almost all students, nine out of ten responded that they could not afford college education because their families have no money to cover college tutoring and support of students in the course of their college education. They pointed out that they have financial problems and their families have low income. This is why they could not afford higher education. In addition, African American students believed they did not have equal opportunities in education compared to the whites. For instance, many students pointed out that they attend the school, where the overwhelming majority consisted of African Americans and Hispanics, while whites were a few. At the same time, they were not surprised with such a situation. In contrast, they treated such a situation as a norm that means that such unequal situation in education was a deep-rooted cultural norm in the society.
Today, the development of the public education system is one of the major problems policy makers are currently facing. In fact, the effectiveness of the administration of public schools and the accessibility of education are extremely low. In actuality, it is obvious that education plays an extremely important role in the life of each individual and in the life of the entire country. In this respect, it is important to understand that strategic development of the USA and its policies in regard to education. In fact, the current President of the USA, Barak Obama emphasizes the importance of education and insists on the necessity of developing an effective system of education where children will be able to develop “skills they need for the 21st century” (Ramirez, 2009). In fact, this means that education is one of the major priorities of the public policies of the current Presidential Administration.
First of all, it should be said that some educators argue that in the contemporary education there are no significant distinctions between students in their social status. What is more, some educators argue that the contemporary education is characterized as highly liberal and all students are equal, while the attitude of teachers to students is just and deprived of any biases. However, such an attitude to the contemporary education and students is biased in its essence because the actual situation and the analysis of the contemporary education perfectly reveals that the presumable equality of all student and accessibility of education to all people has little in common with the real life.
In stark contrast, the contemporary education is characterized by the gigantic disparity between students and their educational opportunities and, what is probably even more important, there is an enormous gap between teachers and many of their students. To put it more precisely, it is not a secret that representatives of upper classes have larger educational opportunities since they can attend private schools, enter the best Universities, get the education they want or they need, while the majority of students representing lower classes are deprived of such opportunities and these students are forced to attend public schools where they cannot receive education which could provide them with good perspectives for their further education and their job opportunities are extremely low.
In such a situation, many teachers are influenced by the existing biases concerning the existing equality and accessibility of education. In actuality, biased educators prefer to ignore the socio-cultural background of students and treat all students equally, in spite of their level of development and knowledge and skills they have acquired. In such a way, biased educators do not pay attention to the background of their student and pose high demands, which students living in the poverty stricken areas cannot meet because the quality of education in public schools is consistently lower than in private schools for instance. As a result, on the level of the higher education students from different socio-cultural background will apparently have different opportunities and different level of knowledge and development, but this fact is ignored by biased educators in the development of the curriculum. Consequently, educators develop curriculum without taking into consideration the existing disparity between students and, therefore, the curriculum initially puts students in unequal position when the privileged classes are in an advantageous position compared to lower classes.
In this regard, students pointed out that their educators did not understand them and their needs. At the same time, many students were just disinterested in education, while some of them rejected the very idea of attending college because they viewed it as absolutely useless and pointless effort that would bring no positive effects or changes in their life. In this regard, the role of educators can hardly be underestimated because teachers should support and motivate students to learn but educators often failed to do it. At this point, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that African American students have different cultural background compared to their educators, who are predominantly white. In fact, the cultural difference between educators and African American students became important factor that led to misunderstanding between them and poor academic performance of students. In contrast, white American students did not have such problems in communication and relations with their educators. Remarkably, white American students and their educators are of the similar cultural background and social status. In such a situation, the difference in the cultural background of African American students and white students became an important factor that affected the academic performance and the access of African American students to education. In addition, the social status and social standing of students also affected the performance and access of students to education. In this regard, African American students turn out to be in a disadvantageous position compared to white students.
Moreover, it is necessary to remember that educators are representatives of the middle class and their biased attitude to students and the development of curriculum ignoring the difference in socio-cultural background of students lead to the imposing of the views of representatives of upper and middle classes on students originating from different socio-cultural background, including students from lower classes. Obviously, such a situation is determined by biased attitude of such educators to their students and contradicts to basic principles of the conflict theory which underlines that the social inequality does exist and, therefore, it needs to be taken into consideration in order to avoid the imposing of views of upper classes to students from lower classes and provide the latter with equal opportunities compared to the former.
In such a situation, it is apparently necessary to modify curriculum and change the biased attitude of educators. Speaking about practical recommendations, it should be said that primarily it is necessary to better understand the socio-cultural background of each student and attempt to adapt curriculum to needs and the level of development of each student. Moreover, professional educators should take an active part in the life of the community of their students and develop an active social position of students helping them get integrated into the new community, at the University, for instance, and making students able to get rid of the biases concerning representative of other social classes. Consequently, educators should assist students to realize their potential instead of limiting their opportunities through posing extremely high demands that some students cannot meet at the moment.
However, it is important to emphasize that often educators face a huge gap between their vision of education and the actual situation. While working in diverse classrooms they attempt to implement approaches and strategies that meet needs and interests of all students but it is impossible to implement them effectively in large classrooms. In addition, insufficient equipment of the school prevents educators from using new technologies in the learning process en mass. As a result, the effectiveness of education turns out to be dependent on the funding of the school, its financial resources, while minority students often turn to be in a disadvantageous position because along with problems common to all students and the school, they also face the problem of cultural barriers.
Obviously, existing state programs and the strategy of the development of the national education system aims at the elimination of barriers on the way of students to education and inclusion of all students, regardless of their social and cultural background, into the education process. In such a way, the modern education system is vulnerable to the impact of consistent cultural changes that occur in the modern society. In fact, the modern society is a multicultural society, where representatives of different culture live together and interact with each other successfully. They need to develop their interaction to make their own life better. The access to education is crucial because it opens the way to the development of multiculturalism and tolerance in students. If barriers on the way of students to the modern education persist, the US may face a problem of the cultural conflict that may outgrow into a social one because cultural differences cannot be barriers on the way of students to education. However, today, it is not only cultural but also socioeconomic barriers become unsurpassable for many students.
In such a situation, it is important to find a compromise. In fact, it is possible to recommend combine efforts of the state and voluntary associations. For instance, it is possible to involve voluntary organizations in the control over the use of state funds. In such a way, it will be possible to optimize the state spending on education and make it more effective, since voluntary associations can control and share their experience with state agencies.
Therefore, the modern education system needs consistent changes that occur under the impact of the contemporary cultural environment. In fact, the domination of multiculturalism stimulates the rise of tolerance in Americans and, today, tolerance is one of the core concepts of the modern American culture. In such a context, tolerance affects and defines consistently the development of the national education system. To put it more precisely, the emerging multiculturalism contributes to the change of the traditional values. In such a situation, the highly individualistic American culture tends to shift to the tolerant culture which respects rights and needs of people, who have limited opportunities because of their low social status. Obviously, many representatives of minority groups have the limited access because of their poverty and low language competence as well as the low integration in the American society at large. As a result, a considerable of Americans turn out to be excluded from the education system and have limited, if any, access to education. In such a situation, multiculturalism and tolerance, which become particularly important in the modern society, change the attitude of Americans to education and to the access of students to education. In fact, it is due to the multiculturalism and tolerance of the modern society, the demand on the equal access of all students to education grows stronger. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the fact that the multiculturalism and tolerance contribute to the change of the attitude of Americans to education, which becomes a social good rather than a commodity. This means that education, as a social good, should be available to all Americans, regardless of their origin, social status, and so on, whereas the past attitude to education as a commodity implied that education is a matter of each individual and each individual should decide how to get education or just stay being uneducated. The modern concept of education as a social good implies the wide state support of education and responsibility of the state for the modern education system and its development. Moreover, the concept of education as a social good implies that education should be available to all students. Today, education cannot be a commodity available to a few. In stark contrast, education should be a social good available to all Americans. Such a shift in the public perception of education has occurred under the impact of profound socio-cultural changes that occurred in the American society.
Obviously, African American students involved in the current study revealed the full extent to which their position was different and inferior compared to white students. At this point, the study revealed the fact that many African American students do not have family members with higher education and they underestimated the significance of the higher education for their adult life. To put it more precisely, African American students believed that they did not need the higher education because, on the one hand, they could not afford it, while, on the other hand, they were not interested in the higher education because they did not believe they would find a good job and make a successful career. Taking into consideration the fact that they did not have family members with a higher education, the limited access to the higher education was either a tradition of African Americans or just the lack of opportunities to obtain higher education. In this regard, the impact of the cultural background of African American students is closely intertwined with their socioeconomic position.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that African American students involved in the current study are in a disadvantageous position in the contemporary education compared to white Americans. In fact, the study revealed the fact that African Americans students feel their inferiority compared to white students and they suffer from the lack of access to education. Students involved in the current study faced considerable problems in their communication with educators, who were of the different cultural background and belonged to the middle class. This is why African American students believed their educators cannot understand them and their needs. In such a situation, the impact of the cultural background on the performance of students turns out to be extremely important because it affects the academic performance of students as well as their educational opportunities. On the other hand, culture is vulnerable to a considerable impact of the socioeconomic position and social standing of students and their families. Therefore, the contemporary education system needs considerable changes and such programs as No child left behind should be implemented and enroll all students, regardless of their cultural background or social standing.
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