Students experience home-school dissonance when their integrity and adequacy are threatened by real or perceived differences between home/self and what is valued within the school context. Home-school dissonance includes both cognitive and affective components. It incorporates an awareness of real or perceived discrepancies between home culture—a reflection of who one is—and what is valued in the school context and the negative emotional reaction that accompanies this awareness (Kumar, 2006). Phelan and colleagues (Phelan, Davidson, & Yu, 1998) defined these discrepancies as borders between students' selves—thoughts, feelings and adaptation strategies—and the worlds of home, school, and peers, all located within students' larger community. Each “world” is characterized by values, beliefs, expectations, actions, and emotional responses that may be consonant or dissonant across contexts. Not all differences necessarily lead to feelings of conflict and dissonance. It is the threat to self posed by perceived cultural differences and discrepancies, not the differences per se that arouses dissonance.
Home-school dissonance is often a consequence of contact between the school culture, reflecting mainstream culture, and home or community culture. Dissonance results from the differing demands placed on students as they negotiate the norms, values, and behavior expectations of both contexts (Kumar, 2006; Phelan, Davidson, & Yu, 1998). Many immigrant and minority children, and adolescents from ethnically and economically diverse backgrounds, perceive differences between home and school cultures as insurmountable (Suarez-Orosco & Suarez-Orosco, 2002). Others may negotiate the boundaries between the two even when norms, values, and behavior expectations are dissonant—though this may come at great psychological cost (Gibson, 1991; Arunkumar, Midgley, & Urdan, 1999; Phelan, Davidson, & Yu, 1998).
Adolescents' feeling of home-school dissonance is a function of the degree of polarization in values and normative expectations between contexts (Ward, Bochner, & Fur-ham, 2001). Adolescents' subjective culture—including, among others, beliefs about parents' academic and behavioral expectations, occupational aspirations, and normative attributions for school success and failure—shapes their behavioral choices and motivational orientation toward learning and achievement. Immigrant and minority adolescents may find such choices problematic when family culture does not align with what is considered normative in mainstream culture.
Home-school dissonance often arises because adolescents feel that qualities they possess are devalued in school and society (Graham & Hudley, 2005). For example, the cultural markers associated with African American youth— dress, music, and language—are often equated with poor performance (Ladson-Billings, 1995) and classroom misbehavior (Spencer. 1999). Along similar lines, several European countries look upon hijab (head scarves worn by Muslim girls and women) with disfavor and preclude students from wearing hijab in schools. Sometimes students belonging to groups that are numerical minorities in school or whose phenotypic characteristics differ from mainstream society feel marginalized because they do not “fit in” with peers and others (Brewer, 2003).
By studying acculturation patterns of immigrant minorities to host societies, researchers highlight the importance of intercultural relations within the school context to understand adolescents' experiences of home-school dissonance (Montreuil & Bourhis, 2004). Group membership is the lens through which individuals in a culturally pluralistic society view one another. Thus when students categorize themselves as minority or others within the school context, the probability of stereotyping, ethnocentrism, intergroup clashes, and competition increases (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Mainstream members are more likely to adopt a segregationist orientation toward immigrants whose culture differs considerably from the mainstream. Ethnic group relations in schools parallel ethnic and minority immigrant group inclusion or exclusion within American society (Montreuil & Bourhis, 2004). In fact, cultural minority students in more integrated school environments report greater exclusion and ostracism than students in more homogenous school environments. Friendship patterns in schools are also based on the inclusion or exclusion of a student's racial, ethnic, or national group.
While some experiences of home-school dissonance are tied closely to students' racial, ethnic, religious, and socio-economic background, others cut across cultural lines. Students often feel marginalized when not performing well in school and when they feel disengaged from an environment designed to promote learning (Kumar, Gheen, & Kaplan, 2002). Kumar (2006) conducted a growth-curve study examining stability and change in adolescents' experiences of home-school dissonance during the elementary-to-middle school transition and found that dissonance increases when students perceive an evaluative classroom environment and move into middle schools that encourage social comparison and competition among students. These findings are supported by interviews conducted with seventh-grade students who reported high home-school dissonance. No two students experienced dissonance for all the same reasons. Interviews indicated that lack of material resources and cultural affiliations promoted feelings of dissonance in many students. Additionally, students described school factors, including emphasis on relative ability in the classroom and the nature of student-teacher relationships, as contributing to home-school dissonance.
Beliefs and behaviors of significant others in both contexts may also trigger feelings of home-school dissonance among students. Teachers' attitudes toward students, together with the ways they communicate expectations, influence students' beliefs about themselves, motivations and behaviors (Oakes, 1985). Evidence indicates that teachers reflect society's deep ambivalence toward minority and immigrant students in their attitudes towards these students (Suarez-Orosco & Suarez-Orosco, 2002). If teachers view cultural minority students as lazy, less intelligent, and more prone to trouble, such expectations may exert a profound effect on students' beliefs about school, motivation and behavior—thereby exacerbating feelings of dissonance.
There is a psychological cost associated with feeling caught between two cultures, marginalized, powerless, and socially alienated (Rosenberg, 1962; Ward, Bochner, & Furham, 2001). High-dissonance fifth-grade students reported feeling angrier, engaged in more self-deprecation, had lower self-esteem, were less hopeful about the future, felt less academically efficacious, and had a lower GPA than low-dissonance students. Additionally, high-dissonance students experienced a greater decline in GPA and smaller decline in anger than low-dissonance students when moving from elementary school to the larger, more complex middle-school environment (Arunkumar et al., 1999). Home-school dissonance, controlling for ethnicity, is also a significant predictor of skeptical beliefs about the value of school (Kumar, Gheen, & Kaplan, 2002) and lower levels of school belonging (Kumar, 2006). Poor intercultural adjustment is associated with depression, anxiety, and poor emotion regulation among students of different ages (Buddington, 2002).
For some adolescents and young adults from immigrant and minority groups the sociocultural differences between classroom and family culture norms interfere with their ability to adjust to school environments (Lafromboise, Har-din, Coleman, & Gerton, 1993). Tharp and his colleagues (Vogt, Jordan, & Tharp, 1993) demonstrated that traditional American classroom structure (independent seat work, whole-class instruction) interfered with Hawaiian students' learning. Changes in classroom structure that incorporated group learning centers and peer collaboration similar to their community's emphasis on sharing, cooperation, and group needs facilitated adjustment to school. Gibson's ethnography (1991) demonstrated that Punjabi adolescents not joining majority-dominated school activities were made to feel culturally inferior by their peers. Ogbu (1987) attributes poor school performance, low motivation, and high dropout rate among African Americans and non-immigrant Latinos as resistance to mainstream institutions. Research also indicates that the aggressive coping attitude of African American youth results from the dilemma posed by competing allegiances and socialization contexts that are daily stressors. This reactive coping mechanism is seen as a response to negative peer and teacher perceptions and an inferred, undervalued sense of self (Spencer, 1999).
Both negative and positive stereotyping regarding group intellectual capacity contribute to dissonance. Experimental studies on stereotype threat demonstrate that awareness of negative stereotypes regarding one's groups' intellectual capacity results in disindentification with academic achievement (Steele 1997) and dropping out of school (Osborne & Walker, 2006), because group members perceive these attributes as stable, internal, and uncontrollable (Reyna, 2000). It is equally likely that the “model minority” stereotype associated with Asian American adolescents often sets them up for failure. Many low-performing, model-minority adolescents feel ashamed of poor performance and inability to fulfill the stereotype. Consequently, they are reluctant to seek academic support, thereby perpetuating their academic struggles (Lee, 1996).
Schools and teachers who want to promote the well-being of students at risk for experiencing dissonance need to face the challenge of minimizing the saliency of differences among students and work to foster learning within an inclusive and empowering environment. This can be accomplished at the individual level by requiring teachers and school personnel to examine their own beliefs and behaviors toward culturally diverse students and at the systems level by restructuring school practices in ways that help ameliorate home-school dissonance.
For quite some time educators have stressed the need to encourage teachers to critically examine, and overcome their personal prejudices and biases so that they may be fair and equitable in their dealings with students. As early as 1971 Geneva Gay, a prominent multicultural education scholar, developed a model for educating prospective teachers. The model included three components for multicultural education: knowledge, whereby “teachers become literate about ethnic group experiences” (p. 34); attitudes “to help teachers examine their existing attitudes and feelings towards ethnic, racial, and cultural differences” (p. 43); and skills “to translate their knowledge and sensitivities into school programs, curricular designs, and classroom instructional practices” (p. 48). The 2006 revisions of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) guidelines advocate the deliberate articulation of multicultural values into all the standards that define quality teaching; a focus on the ideals of fairness; the utilization of teaching and learning strategies that permit all students to learn; and the application of knowledge as it relates to students, families, and communities.
The social reconstructionist view of multicultural education takes a systems approach and calls for major school policy reform that will promote equity among students (Banks & Banks, 1997). It urges schools to dismantle policies and practices promoting inequality—such as tracking and ability grouping—and replace them with policies and practices that empower students to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to function effectively. This, according to Banks & Banks (1997), requires integration of multicultural curricula into all subject areas; an understanding among teachers that all knowledge is culturally constructed (and thus necessitates the adoption of culturally relevant pedagogical approaches); and the reduction of prejudice and improvement of inter-group relationships in the learning context. In essence, social reconstructionists' vision of education through equity pedagogy and culturally responsive teaching requires redefinition of school culture that students find empowering, validating, and inclusive.
The understanding of school and classroom culture in a way that can help ameliorate home-school dissonance and foster a sense of belonging to school, can be advanced by achievement goal theory, a social cognitive theory of motivation that conceptualizes the relationships between school learning environments and students' motivational, emotional, and academic well-being. Achievement goal theory defines school practices that encourage intellectual development through effort and engagement in challenging activities as “mastery-focused,” and describe school practices in which comparison and competition are the norm as “performance-focused” (Maehr & Midgley, 1996). For instance, practices such as public honor rolls or special privileges based upon academic standing send important messages to students regarding what constitutes success in a given school (Maehr & Midgley, 1996). In a performance-focused school environment, the nature of the task is not the issue; rather, the focus is on student performance, particularly relative to others. Thus, one of the main distinctions between mastery- and performance-focused environments is a focus on self-improvement versus a focus on the self in comparison to others in the environment.
Mastery-focused learning environments are designed to create a community of learners in an atmosphere of mutual respect. An environment that promotes respect for and openness toward others' ideas and ways of thinking is more likely to encourage students and teachers to be less judgmental of others whose ideas, values, and cultural norms are different from theirs. Thus, a mastery-focused academic culture, unlike a performance-focused one, is beneficial for students at risk of experiencing home-school dissonance (Kumar, 2006).
Research across disciplines indicates that home-school dissonance produces negative consequences. Though not all minority students experience home-school dissonance, they are at risk if they perceive insurmountable discrepancies between the two contexts. Nevertheless, mastery-focused school and classroom environments can be created that ameliorate feelings of home-school dissonance and emphasize differences as a source of opportunity. This is best done exposing students to multiple cultural perspectives and contrasting systems of thought and affect, thus creating cognitive flexibility and tolerance.
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