Why TCK Researchers and American Ed Reformers Should Talk

In my previous post, I referenced a book that I’ve been asked to read in preparation for graduate school this fall. The book is called Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms by H. Richard Milner IV.

One aspect that I appreciated most about this book was the willingness to dive deep into a conversation about the causes of educational inequity and how different systems within the United States perpetuate that inequity. Rather than positing that all students, regardless of background or specific need, should be forced to succeed within a potentially problematic educational system, Milner encourages readers, educators, and policy-makers to look at the big picture of education and how different systems in the United States interact with each other. Moreover, Milner avoids pointing a finger at any one group and blaming them for destroying public education. Readers leave the book following Milner’s own asset-based thinking, and considering how all parties involved can contribute to education.

One of the challenges for educators and policy-makers alike that presented itself throughout the book was the diversity of needs and circumstances of students. A recent study published by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that, in 2012, enrollment in public schools across the United States consisted of 51% white students, 16% black students, 24% Hispanic students, 5% Asian/Pacific Island, 1% American Indian/Alaska Native, and 3% or two or more races.[1] I’m not writing this to argue that this is good or bad in anyway—I’m citing this statistics to indicate the level of diversity present within American public schools, and the fact that, according to the same study, this diversity is likely to increase. It’s also important to understand that the definition of race extends far beyond simply the physical definition, but also includes social constructs, legal constructs, and historical constructs.[2] Thus, the implications that race has for diversity and equity in education are huge.

This diversity necessarily leads to challenges in the classroom. Teachers enter classrooms full of students from very different backgrounds than their own. The curriculum cannot encompass all of the learning needs of students from such varied backgrounds. Despite attending school in the same country, each of these students have such unique stories that a single curriculum cannot possibly fulfill all learning needs, not to mention the impact of implicit curriculum that schools construct and teach students through school culture.[3] Milner quotes A. Ede in saying that “the diverse ethnic and cultural makeup of today’s classrooms makes it unlikely that one single curriculum will meet the needs and interests of all students.”[4] Education cannot and should not be a “one size fits all” profession.

So where does that leave us? With the increasing diversity and increasing needs of students, there’s a lot to improve in the education system. And as I ventured further into Milner’s book, I could stop thinking: TCK researchers and US education reformers should really be talking.

Why? Why should a group of researchers that focuses their study of children who live globally mobile lives be communicating with researchers who are focused on education reform in the United States?

In many ways, TCK research and education research focuses on the same things. Education is more than just a transmission of knowledge; rather, it’s a development of skills necessary for a child to succeed in life. Within the past decade, there’s also been an increased emphasis on areas such as social and emotional learning (SEL) as supplemental to any content curriculum. Additionally, schools transmit culture and cultural practices. As content continues to share the spotlight with SEL, child development, and implicit social constructions within the education context, education will still need to be concerned with children’s cultural and identity development.

Much of TCK research seems powered by the same energy: a desire to understand the child and identity development of TCKs in order to understand outcomes and equip TCKs to impact their world. Especially in the past few years, there’s been more emphasis among TCKs themselves to use their own understanding of their own identity to ignite change in the world (take Tayo Rockson’s UYDMag for one example). The emphasis that education reform needs to place on understand the needs of students within their unique cultural and identity development contexts is similar to that which TCK researchers must place on TCKs.

Though I have no data to support this, it would seem that many TCK researchers are TCKs themselves. This means that TCKs have developed a certain set of skills while navigating cross-cultural transitions. Among these skills are intercultural communication, linguistic ability, mediation, diplomacy and the ability to manage diversity…”[5] With the increased diversity among public skills, it would make sense that people who have developed skills in crossing cultures and contexts be working within these environments.

Finally, much in the same way that a TCK crosses cultures between the their parents’ home culture and their host culture, creating a third culture, teachers and educators must also cross cultures. I realize that most educators probably would not equate the concept of a classroom culture to a country or ethnic group’s culture and societal norms, but I think it’s worth drawing a connection. Teachers create a set of expectations within their classroom, bridging the diversity of their students’ home cultures and the school culture. Granted, the difference is typically not as pronounced as the difference between a passport country’s culture and a host country’s culture, but similarities could exist and might be worth exploring further (or if I’m imagining the similarity, maybe we should pick a different word to describe classroom environment besides classroom “culture”).

Not that I think that working with TCK researchers would be the silver bullet for education reform and solve all its problems. In many ways, American TCKs are ill-equipped to approach education reform issues in the United States because few of them have actually experienced the American public education systems, among other reasons. But the lessons learned and approaches that TCK researchers take to further their own research could help to frame a conversation and maybe solutions for education reformers in the United States.

[1] Racial/Ethnic Enrollment in Public Schools, National Center for Education Statistics, May 2015, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cge.asp.

[2] Milner, 8.

[3] Milner, 57.

[4] A. Ede, “Scripted Curriculum: Is it a Prescription for Success?” Childhood Education 83, no. 1 (2006): 31, quoted in Milner, 58.

[5] Norma McCaig, September, 1994, Growing up with a world view, Foreign Service Journal, quoted by Wendy Stultz, Global and Domestic Nomads or Third Culture Kid: Who Are They and What the University Needs to Know, http://www.colostate.edu/Depts/SAHE/JOURNAL2/2003/Stultz.htm.

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Southern Hospitality

When I started this blog, its primary purpose was to document my cross-cultural experiences.  In the past couple of years, I’ve tended to drift away from these topics–not because I don’t have enough topics like that to blog on having moved to the South, but more because I’ve been…teaching.  For this post, I’d like to go back to that purpose.

So if my readers (though I know they are few and far between) might join me for a moment in enjoying Southern hospitality, I would be glad to share what exactly prompted such a return in topic.

Today school called for a two hour delayed opening due to an ice storm that came through last night.  I used to scoff when the South shut down for things like that, but I have a new respect for these decisions after today.

I drove into school early because I needed to prep sub plans before leaving for an appointment an hour and a half away.  Ten minutes after I got to school, the 2-hr delay became a no school day.  So I started driving to the big city for my appointment.

As I pulled out of school, I knew that the roads were not in the best condition.  Not being able to stop completely before turning right at a stop sign showed me that.  [Please note: this post is not to highlight my own stupidity and lack of common sense–I’m very aware of that and chalk it up to never having driven on black ice, despite having lived in New England for four years.]  I made a mental note to myself to be careful and kept going.

About fifteen minutes down the road, I discovered what black ice does.  One of the things it does is prevents you from braking effectively.  As I far too rapidly approached the car in front of me, I realized that I had two options: either rear-end the car, or turn into the ditch.  I opted for the ditch, and effectively spun into the median of US-64.  Stuck in the frozen-mud-turned-slush, I could not get out. [This post is also not make you all worried–I’m fine.]

Literally within 5 minutes of sitting in the ditch, a truck carrying three construction workers pulled over and the guys inside pushed my car out.  I reiterated my previous mental note: be careful.

Despite the shimmy in my car, I kept going, though it became a 45 mph trip instead of anything more.  And about 15 minutes later, the black ice continued.  As I was trying to change lanes, the car lost traction again, and another spin out was underway.  I missed a speed limit sign by a few feet and ended up with the front of my car on the shoulder of the road and the back end of the car slipping into the ditch on the side of the road.

Not two minutes after that had happened, a van had pulled over.  Five minutes later, there were two other trucks pulled over helping me get the car out and going again.  With a combination of pushing, braking, and driving on the grass, we were going again.  Mental note: be very, very careful.

I was struck by the graciousness of North Carolinians to pull over immediately and help, especially since the ice posed some danger for them also.  In both circumstances, the span of time between me spinning out and someone stopping was less than five minutes.  Sometimes I wonder if this would have happened in other states, or even closer to the city.  I remember as a kid sitting on the side of the road for much longer than that because our second-hand car had overheated again.  Not in North Carolina.

For obvious reasons, I ended up stopping at the Toyota dealership during my time in the big city to have them look at my car.  There was no way I was driving an hour and a half back when the steering wheel was visibly shaking at 40 mph.

When I walked into the dealership in New Jersey to buy my car, I had the feeling that the only thing they were trying to do was take my money.  However, North Carolina car dealerships are slowly inching their way up the list of favorite places for me to spend my time in.

When I walked in I must’ve looked a little lost.  “Are you being helped?” a jolly looking guy asked.

“Uh, not yet, but if you could help me, that would be great,” I replied.

“Yeah, you had that lost look about you.  Have you been here before?”

“Nope.”  This followed by a series of questions about what was wrong with my car.  Not long after he walked into the waiting room to explain what was wrong with the car and what they would do to fix it.

“Are you comfortable?  Can we get you anything?” he asked about twice during our conversation.

I assured him I was fine.  After he gave me the quote, I half jokingly asked if they gave a teacher discount.

“Yeah, absolutely!” was the answer he gave.  About an hour and a half later I walked out with 10% off the total for being a teacher.

During my two hours sitting in the dealership, I watched as not only the serviceman working with me, but nearly every other serviceman greeted the other customers waiting by name and had conversations with them.  I saw how much they knew their customer’s stories, and realized how much people in the North often miss out on the stories and how those stories impact people.

Like I said before, my goal tonight is not to highlight my own ineptitude of driving on ice (you can call it foolishness), nor to worry my parents any more than I already did by calling them on their evening telling them I’d gotten stuck in a ditch.  Rather, I was reminded of one of the many things that the South has to offer: a genuine hospitality and concern for others.  I often don’t like being the person in need and having to be on the receiving end of it, and sometimes I admittedly fail to extend that helping hand when others are in need, but I think that the example that North Carolina gave me today is definitely something to aspire to.