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.


Confessions of an Aspiring Grad Student

The same day that I concluded my full time job I received an email from the dean of my graduate school, sent out en masse to incoming students. Given that I’m currently unfamiliar with all of the names associated with the administration at my school, it took me a moment to figure out why this name had graced my mailbox with its presence.

I opened it and began to read. It began with a welcome to the school and to engaging in continuing education.

And as I read on, I have to confess: I inwardly groaned. Halfway through the email, we as readers were directed to a link where we could download recommended summer reading, entitled Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms by H. Richard Milner IV (2015). The purpose of the reading is to open a dialog around diversity, and explore the link between poverty and educational inequity.

Yes, despite the fact that my career path has led me to confront poverty through education, I still groaned that I was being asked to read, what in my mind, was simply another book about how if we can simply provide impoverished children with a quality education, then America will be better and all poverty will magically evaporate.

This was my fear: in my few short years in the education sector, it has seemed that education reformists have been preaching the same message. If we provide all students with a quality education, they say, they will get a good job and make enough money to provide for their families. Once this happens, poverty will be erased, and somehow we will also eliminate the racism that has been rooted in our country for hundreds of years.

I realize this is an oversimplification of what is being presented about a very complex issue, but many days, especially while I was classroom teaching, this is what it sounded like.

That message never sat well with me. Here’s why:

  • First, it revolves around money and financial security being the measure of success. And accomplishment. While I believe that no one should have to live in poverty, I think that focusing success solely on monetary gain is short-sighted and empty. There are many more things to life than accumulating material wealth.
  • Second, the message implies that we require students to learn and change within an educational system, without examining broader system that may itself be flawed. The United States, and even the world, is not what it was 150 years ago when the current educational system was modeled after industrialization.
  • Finally, the current educational system itself transmits certain cultural expectations that may or may not be in alignment with a student’s own culture. Not to say that any parts of the system is undeniably wrong, but there should at least be serious examination of the system itself before we expect students of different cultures to adhere to it.

So when I downloaded the book onto my Kindle that night and finally manipulated the text on the PDF to be of readable size, I did so with a certain amount of apprehension, expecting another overly simplified account of how education is the key to success in life for humanity.

To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement.

Five pages in, I felt like someone had read my thoughts and responded to them on paper. It was a similar feeling to the one I felt when I walked into Salon CDE at the FIGT Conference in DC this past March—without knowing me, someone had understood my concerns and was responding to them.

“Those who are in schools are coerced into assimilating into contexts that do not allow them to build the types of attitudes, dispositions, skills, and knowledge necessary for them to analyze, critique, and contribute to their communicates when education is in place,” I read on page three of the book.*

I almost dropped my Kindle. In the opening pages of this book, this man had addressed the broader scope of education—that education is preparation for the world, not a degree on paper. Education is a transmitter of a culture that we can either force on our students or equip them to participate in themselves.

Too often, we try to fit all students into an archaic educational box. The fight is not to train students to succeed in a predetermined culture. The fight is to create an environment where each student is valued and can reach his or her potential. I’m thrilled that a book on poverty and education is capturing this belief.

Within ten minutes, my perspective on this book and my entire year had changed. I haven’t even finished the introduction, but Milner has already articulated the depth of topic he is addressing, the limitations of his book, and the complexity of the problem. I’m thrilled to be able to enter an intellectual community led by people who are eager to engage in the heart of education and how we can use it to better lives globally, and I plan to suspend judgment before I enter into any future conversation about race, poverty, and education.

*All quotes attributed to Richard H. Milner, Rac(e)ing to Class, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2015.

North Carolina Education

My roommate showed me this post in another blog.  I was excited to hear that Diane Ravitch had a blog after reading a phenomenal book by her on the history of education.  The post hits the nail on the head in terms of North Carolina education at this point:


Before I start, I would like to extend my previous blog entry and add on two more events for which I earn American points: 

1. The local town Peanut Festival–30 points.  20 for going, 10 for sitting at the info table and looking like a local.

2. Attending/serving gate duty for the high school homecoming football game–10 points.  I will never understand the football culture.

And finally, a disclaimer: as a recent college grad, I am no expert on educational reform.  I merely think a lot and convince myself that I am right about many things, which I know is not always true.

Recently I’ve started cracking open my education textbooks again and doing more research into what everyone recommends as the most effective teaching strategies.  Seeing as these are how I will be evaluated, and given the fact that I am always looking for more teaching strategies, I found this a useful and remotely relaxing way to spend some of the smallish snippets of free time that come my way in my first year of teaching.

The new emphasis on 21st century skills brings with it many components, some of the most important ones being cooperative learning, hands-on activities, and the learning experience as a whole.  All well and good.  I would agree that this is what students remember better, as well as how to teach them higher level thinking skills.

However, I foresee a slight problem.  Another emphasis in organizations like the one I have joined and among schools themselves is the phrase “college readiness.”  All that we do for these high schoolers is supposed to be preparing them for college.  Good idea, since in the world today you need at least a bachelor’s degree to get anywhere.

However, I’m slightly confused with how “college-readiness” and 21st century skills are supposed to mesh.  Based on the college experience that I just left, there was a very heavy emphasis on reading texts independently, on sitting through lectures, on absorbing information and spitting it back out on tests and that writing papers with very little guidance.  Not very much of this cooperative learning stuff, constant feedback, many chances for mastery sort of thing.  If students graduate high school, then, and are unable to sit through a lecture and pick out the main ideas, or learn in classes that don’t necessarily accommodate multiple learning modalities, are we really preparing them for college?

If elementary and high school reform is going to be effective, this country may need to revisit the college standards for education also.

Just a thought…not passing judgment or anything.

Educational Reform