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CULTURAL RELEVANCE EMPOWERS URBAN YOUTH

Updated: Jun 30, 2019

The U.S. Census Bureau (2010) estimated that about 81% of the population of the United States resides in an urban area. This estimate increased from 76% according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s (2000) reports from a decade prior. The Census Bureau (2010) identifies an urban area as a community with over 50,000 people. Urban areas are the home to large numbers of ethnic minorities, especially those who belong to underrepresented ethnic groups. Currently, in New York City, the largest city in the United States, there is a minority population of about 65%. This number is up from 62%, which was estimated in 2010 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). In Los Angeles, the second largest city in the United States, there is a minority population of about 58% and in Chicago the third largest city in the United States, there is a minority population of about 55% (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Not only do minorities make up the majority of urban populations, but they are concentrated in specific geographic areas where frequently poverty disproportionately affects urban minorities. Poverty is a major urban issue. Twenty-one percent of all urban children in the United States live in poverty. Thirty-nine percent of urban youth live in poverty, while they only make up 26% of the total population. Moreover, about 40% of urban youth attend “high-poverty schools” (U.S. Department of Education, 1996).


There is a significant amount of research in urban education that is grounded in cultural relevance as a significant aspect of teaching and learning. Scholars such as Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995b), and Gay (2001), consider the importance of engaging urban youth through culturally relevant pedagogies. In her pioneering article Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, Ladson-Billings (1995b) argues that in the midst of conversations regarding diversity, equity, and teacher education in urban settings there has not been much emphasis on pedagogy. Ladson-Billings (1995b) writes, “the dilemma for African- American students becomes one of negotiating the academic demands of school while demonstrating cultural competence. Thus, culturally relevant pedagogy must provide a way for students to maintain their cultural integrity while succeeding academically” (p. 476). Ladson-Billings (1995a) also highlights that in “the classrooms of culturally relevant teachers, students are expected to ‘engage the world and others critically,’ rather than merely memorizing content from outdated textbooks, which students in some urban communities only have access to” (p. 162).


Ladson- Billings (1994) defines culturally relevant pedagogy as “a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural references to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (p.18). Essentially, culturally relevant pedagogy is a practice that encourages educators to connect students’ home and school lives while still meeting the expectations of the curricula. In Ladson-Billings’ (1995a) study of effective educators in urban settings, she identifies culturally relevant pedagogy as pedagogical excellence and as an effective way of educating African- American populations, which rests on the following criteria: “(a) Students must experience academic success; (b) students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence, and (c) students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order” (p. 160).


Several scholars have used culturally relevant practice to improve literacy in core academic courses such as math and science. In William Tate’s (1995) article, Returning to the Root: A Culturally Relevant Approach to Mathematics Pedagogy, he describes what culturally relevant mathematics pedagogy looks like through his research and provides exemplary practices based on his observations of a middle school math educator named Mason. Tate (1995) observed that problems-posing tasks involved topics such as “the AIDs epidemic, drugs, ethics in medicine, sickle cell anemia, and cities of the future” (p. 170). Through culturally relevant practices, students were empowered to create social change in this middle school math classroom. Over the course of two years, students from this math class embarked on a mission to close or relocate liquor stores in the community, based on their proximity to schools. Students studied laws and regulations and created fiscal incentives for liquor stores that relocated. Students were able to enact social change as the city council adopted a resolution, which stated that liquor could not be consumed within 600 feet of the school.


Tate (1995) noticed, “Mason’s pedagogy incorporated an awareness of the problems African American children face in education and society” (p. 171). It was Mason’s objective as an educator to develop democratic citizens through her pedagogy. Mason’s pedagogical approach is closely aligned to the experiences of her students and includes investigative research, questioning content, people and institutions, and open- ended problem solving connected to the realities of students and social action (Tate, 1995).


In a study by Goldston and Nichols (2009), science educators who teach at a middle school in a predominately Black community in the Deep South used photo narratives to envision the benefits of culturally relevant science pedagogy. The researchers encouraged the teachers to produce photos of important aspects of the school’s community to give insight into who they are and what they value personally in relation to culturally relevant pedagogy. The study created a prism for educators to realize that the Black church was prominent in the community and that Sunday’s sermon is supportive of oral traditions in Black communities, which encourages teachers to rethink literacy, in particular, narrative interspersion, practices in their science classrooms. Teachers involved in the study realized that they needed to create a space to be more accepting of students’ discourse.


Teachers who participated in this study were able to think about their positionality, which highlighted, “sociocultural landscapes and structural inequalities of the community which should be used in conceptualizing culturally relevant pedagogy in science” (Goldston & Nichols 2009, p. 195). Teachers were also able to identify cultural references that could be used to connect content to artifacts within the community in the classroom. Although teachers were not able to translate their new understanding of culturally relevant pedagogy into their science practices, they did recognize the importance of utilizing culturally relevant pedagogy. They also recognized that questioning injustices in science education are important to develop culturally relevant practices.


IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your students and staff members gain an understanding of one’s sense of self and what they deeply value to create a culturally relevant bullying prevention model. Having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown it is linked to better well-being, less stress and delinquency, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed. Understanding a sensitivity to students’ values can be developed with culturally responsive practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Adults can also be trained in anti-bullying strategies and techniques to build an inclusive climate. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a culturally relevant bullying prevention program, visit our website at www.iinii.org, or contact us at iinii@iinii.orgor 1800-507-2502.





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