This city is a melting pot. It is a classic phrase: true, utilized, and heard quite possibly too often, yet it remains an apt description of the absolute fusion of cultures, connections, and states of being existing in New York City. There is a quintessential fluidity here that unapologetically paints the gritty asphalt and sleek skyline with more eclectic hues. This attribute is both the cause of multifaceted social tensions as well as an embracing of cultural amalgamation. The single idea of the melting pot is really an overarching notion with a million tangled threads – a labyrinth of dark conflicts and brilliant epiphanies.
Though there may be less cultural diversity in the Bronx (as related to countries of origin at least) one of the infinite realizations I have explored over the course of my graduate studies is that in one culture there can be many others. Every community, household, and individual harbors unique cultures of learned and transformed behaviors and ideologies. This genuinely makes the idea of culture a work of intricate mosaics that are impossible to fully decipher. My mother says “Cada cabeza es un mundo” (“every mind is its own world”), and I can’t think of a more fitting description of what I have learned culture to mean at its most micro levels.
Culturally Responsive Practice (CRP) is an essential acknowledgement of this reality. It is a pedagogical practice which equips teachers and children with empathy, deep understanding, and an exceptionally profound engagement with those of differing backgrounds. CRP is an integral aspect of progressive education that seeks to create openness, acceptance, and deep-seated respect.
In my classroom, the students are currently learning in a more pronounced way about social justice, equity, and identity. I say more pronounced quite purposefully, because I try to inculcate these in more organic ways throughout all the content we explore and within our classroom community. The students and I recently did an experimental activity where both brown and white eggs were subsequently cracked (more like smashed) to reveal equal insides – we had a blast. The implications of this activity were not lost on the children and we quickly had discussions about how we are all important and are all equal, no matter how our shells may look. We explored how, although our languages may often be different (or our clothes or whatever else) we are the same inside and thus should be treated equally.
Because culture is often complex and deep (see the Iceberg Model of Culture), CRP must be a constantly evolving thing. Finding new, relevant ways to involve all children and all cultures in our classrooms can be multi-layered and challenging – but it is necessary for healthy development, and there are many resources available to support early childhood educators in CRP. Young children need to see themselves and their cultures reflected in their learning environments in order to feel safe, comfortable, and as important parts of their classroom community. Understanding the immeasurable value in our individual, familial, and cultural funds of knowledge can strongly influence our perceptions, our own stores of knowledge, and our social interactions throughout our lives.
I remember in October of last year, Bank Street hosted an amazing culture forum via the Early Childhood Urban Education Initiative Program (Bronx Cohort I). All of us students attended at the Highbridge Advisory Council Richard Mangum Early Childhood Center in the Bronx along with our programs’ school directors, family engagement staff, and some parents. Dr. Faith Lamb-Parker, director of Bank Street’s Center for Culturally Responsive Practice (CCRP) along with several other Bank Street CCRP staff, presented us with an interactive CRP workshop which informed, unified, and empowered us to employ and strengthen this practice in our individual programs. The workshop explored the ways in which we view culture and challenged us to analyze personal unnoticed biases, becoming more inclusive ourselves.
Communities all over the city could benefit from having a safe place to speak honestly about our cultural ideas and learn more about each other. If educators and caregivers have knowledge of CRP and implement its tenets, these effectively trickle down into our homes, communities, and other schools and classrooms throughout the city and incite change that will generate more and more acceptance of others, no matter who they are.
For more CRP information and resources please visit: