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.