Granny Smith Apples

Granny Smith Apples

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Culture Influences Disability Perspectives

Starting from what the person sees and not what you see.
My Kindergarten Class
Division 20.  Mrs. Kuhn's classroom.  Roll Call.

Gloria Andrews                         Janet Atchison                   Karen Basi                  
Michael Brenner                       Nikki Crowder                     Harjit Dhesi                        
Biance Fillion                            Christy Fontaine                Sunny Jaura
Stephen Ford                           Gordie Giroux                    Kevin Hubbard          
Mark Kavanagh                        Gamoon Lau                      
Lubin Liou                  
Sandra Misceo                         Nancy Seto                        Elayne Sun                
Charity Zaparita                       Melissa May                       Josip Valesic

62% of the kindergarten class was of European descent

My Graduating Class

Magee Secondary School.  Graduating Class of 1996.  215 graduates.  
32% of the graduating class was of European descent

It isn't hard to see how the faces of the Canadian classroom has changed.  I remember a distinct feeling of being different when I began kindergarten. By the end of high school I felt odd checking off the "minority" box when asked about my culture because I felt like I was in the majority.  You would see row after row of students just like me from the back of many of my classes.  Granted my experience is unique.  I grew up in Vancouver when immigration from Hong Kong was at a peak.  Regardless, the general trend remains that our classrooms are more diverse than they used to be.

Cultural diversity in the classroom has ignited much conversation regarding the role of culture in the education process.  Some of the discussion and debate has focused upon having a culturally relevant curriculum, effective teacher education programs for dealing with cultural diversity in the classroom and the effects of culture on learning.  Studies have also been conducted in order to understand how parental attitudes from families of different cultures affect the schooling of their children.  Unfortunately in all of this there has been little research in the area of special education regarding the parental attitudes of different cultures towards disability.  

In my Masters project I chose to start with my own Chinese culture and research how the Chinese culture views disability and the effects this has on special education.  In the traditional Chinese culture, I found disability to be viewed as a medical issue.  Disability was something that could be fixed.  As such physical disabilities were more easily recognized.  Disabilities such as autism and learning disabilities were seen to result from a lack of effort.   Segregation, placing students with disabilities in separate learning environment, was often viewed as the ideal.  This is almost exactly the opposite view of our Western ideas where the social model of disability and inclusion are prevalent.  My interviews revealed how these perspectives are pervasive in the thoughts of a Chinese person even though he/she may not consider themselves to be a traditional Chinese person.  My interviews also revealed how perspectives can evlolve as context, time and experience change.

What does this mean as a teacher?  It means....

  • I can't assume my perspective regarding special needs is right or better.  If I want to work effectively with parents of a special needs child from a minority culture, I need to start with their understanding.  Any strategies I present will fall on deaf ears if a parent does not consider autism to be real because he/she thinks it is a result of something in the spiritual world.  
  • I need to take time to ask probing questions and to listen with an open mind in order to discover what their perspectives on disability are.  I can ask the child what they do on the weekends.  I can ask the parents what goals they have for their special needs child. Both questions help me understand the values within the home and the level of familial acceptance.
  • It means I need to help bridge the gap between the different understandings of disability.  If a parent thinks a learning disability is stemming from a lack of effort I can agree with the parent's desire for extra tutoring but I can also make suggestions as to the kind of tutor needed.  I would suggest the tutor work on the missing skills instead of focusing upon homework completion.    I would suggest hiring a tutor who will steer away from rote memorization/practice and teach from a real life context.
Recognizing the effects of culture on disability perspectives only serves to increase our success rate as teachers trying to reach our special needs students.  What teacher doesn't want that?

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