Cycle One: The Culture of Childhood

I always knew I was different growing up, but could never really figure out why. While all of my friends were riding their bikes around the neighborhood, I was stuck riding from the big tree at the start of our driveway to the little tree at the end. When my friends were getting to stay up late on Saturday nights, going to the mall, I was tucked into bed with my cellphone turned off. When my family friends were all doing pizza Friday’s, we were having some form of manja (or Macedonian soup). Perhaps the biggest difference I noticed, though, was the discipline. When my peers would sneak out, earn an unsatisfactory grade, or talked back an adult, nothing happened. They got to keep their cellphone, go to the varsity football games, and hang out at the 5th Quarter Bonfire. If I did any of that, my life was as good as over (well, for a teenager): no cell phone, no after school activities, no leaving the house period. Back then, you could say I was bitter. I didn’t understand why my life was different, and I most certainly didn’t think it was fair.

If I’m being honest, to this day, I still don’t understand why. The closest I’ve chalked it up to was cultural differences. I come from a very old fashioned Macedonian family. There are certain expectations that Macedonians hold, which can be deemed a tad, bit out of date living in the United States today. Even though I have grown up some, I still notice these differences.

I have been fortunate enough encounter multiple opportunities to build professional relationships with students beyond my grade range. I have coached middle school students from fifth grade to eighth grade. Coincidentally, this is the same age as my three younger cousins (one in sixth, one in seventh, and one in eighth). I have found that, even fifteen years or so later, not much has changed. If one of my students fails a test, nothing happens. If they get their phones taken by a teacher, they get it right back after school upon their parent retrieving it from the office, and if they show disrespect to an adult (of which I can only speak on behalf of the staff members), they still show up to after school activities. Meanwhile, my cousins’ consequences would entail extra study hours, no cell phone, and being in the house (and even in bed) prior to ten. I should clarify that this isn’t all my students, there are a few outliers; however, I would say over 50% fall into this category that I would view, as a twenty something year old Americanized Macedonian, as the non-existent definition of “normal.”

As I’ve grown, the bitterness has subsided. However, curiosity is on the rise. It appears that there are cultural differences that do in fact lie within the disciplinary techniques of various parents/ guardians, but I am more so curious as to how each culture responds to those disciplinary techniques. Pamela Druckerman’s excerpt from Bringing Up Bebe really got me thinking about the way children act in different cultures, how parents respond in different cultures, and how that is received by, again, the children.

There was one thing I was weary of while reading her piece and I was really trying to be cautious of while I was writing my own (as I could tell she was, too,  while writing the excerpt). That is, this definition of what the behavioral norm is. I don’t think the cultural differences surrounding behavior or discipline should be compared in a negative light. She did an excellent job of just stating her observations, something I worked hard to do in this post. However, when looking at those observations, it is very clear there are differences—but my question still remains—why?

Who do we adapt these behaviors from? Where do we get our discipline techniques? Most importantly, how do we embrace these differences in the classroom? I was misunderstood growing up. My friends couldn’t understand why I couldn’t go out, why I was grounded, or why I ate certain things. As a teacher, I have worked hard to get to know my students and their families’ backgrounds. For example, we have celebrated Cinco de Mayo, created bulletin boards revolving around black history, conducted author studies of famous Polish authors, and even looked into Irish astronomy. However, as an educator, the work is never done. Creating an environment of respect and rapport is something that we must work on year round, and a key part of that is understanding where students come from. By doing so, we can better understand behavior, anticipate responses to discipline or praise, and openly create and mbrace a culturally diverse classroom.

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2 thoughts on “Cycle One: The Culture of Childhood

  1. Hi Allison,

    Thank you for your post! It was honest, and therefore moving. You are such a careful and fair writer (and so, I presume, a careful and fair-minded person).

    Acknowledging some of the bitterness from your own childhood seems pretty important to me. Better than carrying those feelings around and letting them come out who-knows-when (which is what most of us do, myself included, a lot of the time). For me, it’s not so much bitterness as fear. As a parent, I have to be really careful that I don’t let my own fears and hurts overly guide the decisions I make as I parent.

    You might really enjoy the entirety of Bringing up Bebe. It’s a fun read. But I also really learned a lot, as a teacher and parent, by reading it. I do think Druckerman is incredibly careful to be fair in that excerpt (and throughout the book). But I think she is on to something when she observes that, to an American, the French (and many Europeans, but maybe especially the French) appear both absurdly lax and strict, at the same time!

    That gives us a clue that it is something about us. In France, at least for many in that culture (there are far too many isolated and hurting people in the outer cities there), there is a shared way of doing things that is widely acknowledged and lived by. We may be further along the road to multiculturalism here, but we also tend to achieve that by live and let live, by leaving each person to do their own thing. But that’s hard when it is shared wisdom and collective responsibility that is called for (as with raising children).

    One thing I think I know: in France, and in much of Europe, there is no “teenage crisis.” They seem to get through those years, and the early 20’s, without all the drama. I think it’s because they find a way to avoid power struggles, and it’s possible for parents and kids to grow in friendship and love. I hope to learn that much from them as my own kids grow into their teens (we’ll see how I do on that one!).

    The open, non-judgmental way you reach to your families is so important. What a model of caring you are. In an ideal multicultural democracy, we take the best from each, and don’t just leave each to their own. We build a common and shared culture that is truly a testing of everyone’s common sense. What better way to live, given that we have the openness and compassion to pull it off?

    A great post! Thank you so much,



  2. Hi Allison,

    Thank you for your post! I enjoyed reading it.

    Your post demonstrates the good results that can come from even the smallest of efforts–though in your case, I would actually say you went far beyond the smallest of efforts. Bringing the Spanish language into your classroom had such a demonstrable effect on not just this one student, but the whole class. It’s like you had a referendum on the use of home cultures in the classroom, and the class voted entirely in one way!

    That is what interests me so much in Rodriguez’s book. The narrative you shared is one we would expect, so it is always interesting to hear from those who disagree. Or at least qualify what we say. The parents at the Alhambra Preschool are another interesting example–most saying they wanted the school to focus on academics and English, as opposed to native culture (and therefore in disagreement with a lot of academics).

    There is a tension between social mobility and cultural maintenance, at least in our country, right now. Since we don’t have a genuinely plural public sphere, students need access to the culture of power and we should assume the schools might play a hand there. But there is also no reason to think schools should be at war with Spanish or African American English, or any other home cultural practice. At the very least, these are bridges to the culture of power. And in some cases–such as our desire to have a bi-lingual population for economic success in a globalized world–we are literally shooting ourselves in the foot when we don’t support bi-lingual development.

    Ultimately, curricular decisions need to be made by teachers. There is no box that people can easily check to tell us what they want, for themselves or for their children. As teachers, being sensitive to the nuances is always important.

    Rodriguez also teaches us, I think, to see that education is as much about loss as it is about gain. What do students lose when they assimilate to the culture of power–such as many white ethnics did earlier in the twentieth century?

    A great post. Thanks for sharing!



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