Educators exercise substantial influence over the intellectual, emotional, and social development of individual children. When one considers the fact that children spend a significant part of their childhood inside the classroom, it seems logical to examine the ways in which this influence is directed. Much time is usually spent looking at the following elements of the educator’s environment:
- Academic and social needs of the children
- The set-up of the educator’s environment
- The curriculum the educator must focus on
- The children as a group that the educator is responsible for
Yet, what so often goes unattended are the ways in which educators themselves unconsciously influence and judge children through their own culturally constructed expectations.
Indeed, past research papers have noted that educators not only teach content, they reflect attitudes toward people, toward what they teach, and toward the activity of learning in general. These attitudes do not arise in a vacuum, either. They stem from very specific judgments about individual and group behavior which are always filtered by their expectations and preferences, some of which stem from their own membership in larger contexts of community or ethnic group.
Further, these judgments and perspectives intimately affect the outcomes for those that we teach. Whether one is to look at statistical data comparing standardized test performance of various ethnic or socio-economic groups or to relate anecdotal experiences of being the "other" in a mainstream educational setting it is clear that cultural and social context play a large role in defining the experiences of students. Despite the efforts of curriculum designers and governmental bureaucrats to construct learning as a clear-cut process easily replicated given certain easily defined variables such as financial support or pre-packaged curricula, the educational process within institutionalized schooling is not so clean.
Thus, as we teach it becomes important to consider our own cultural context and its impact on the classroom environment. Educators must examine and determine the cultural origins of our own expectations while at the same time looking at how these expectations shape the educational experiences of children in our classrooms, especially those who do not share our cultural background. This is because when those subtle expectations go unrecognized, they carry the potential of hindering the positive development of the children we teach, particularly those removed from our experience. Equally important is recognizing how the institutions of a particular school are organized to radiate very specific cultural expectations. The way they are ordered says a lot about what they value in terms of families, community, and the intermingling of education between the three.