Cognition and Culture
One would wonder what would have been possible in education without psychological insights. The study of psychology ha continued to immensely impact on almost every discipline that human beings engage in. The impact on education has been immense and the emergence of the field of educational psychology was not a surprise. The psychological insights have two major contributions that enhance the processes of teaching and learning.
First, the insights on child development, language learning, bilingualism and learning, intelligence, multiple intelligences etc help the teacher and even the parents to understand how the children learn and what psychological factors hamper or enhance learning. Secondly, the above enumerated insights therefore help the teachers, parents and other stakeholders in education especially the curriculum developers to develop curricula that are appropriate and relevant to each stage of student’s development.
Further, the impact of culture in the classroom has been studied and conclusive assertions made that have been used in policy development. An example is the parallelism that has been drawn between culture and cognition and thus the effect of culture in the classroom. Culture shapes ones personality and needless to say that it also affects the psychological development i. e. the way of thinking and reasoning and thus this can affect the way one learns especially if that individual is a student.
This paper bases on the link between cognition and culture to explain how the effects of culture in the classroom has evolved over time and thereby showing the implications of this evolution in multicultural contexts. 2. 0 Introduction To understand how the effects of culture in the classroom setting have evolved over time and the implication the evolution has on the multicultural setting, it is important first to understand what cognition is and how distinct it is from culture besides its relation ship between the two.
Cognition may be defined as the mental process of knowing which also includes aspects such as reasoning, judgment, awareness and perception. In psychology, the concept of cognition refers to the mental processes of an individual with emphasis and orientation to the view that the human mind enshrines mental states such a beliefs (originate from culture), desires or even intentions and the fact that the human mind can be understood in terms of information processing especially knowledge in abstraction, learning, skills and expertise.
Using the term on a wider spectrum brings out a rather general meaning. In this way, cognition refers to the act of having knowledge of something and it can also be socially and culturally interpreted to refer to the emergent behavior, knowledge and conceptual development in a given social group. On the other hand culture refers to the values, beliefs, symbols and meanings which are common and distinct to a given society and are passed on from one generation to the next It has often been told that an individual is the sum total and the product of his/her upbringing, culture and environment.
All these three combine in quite a unique complex way to give forth an individual with definite unique personality. However, it has been noticed that other factors such as gender and ethnic background, which automatically implies culture, affect the way an individual thinks and behaves besides other aspects of life such as attitudes, belief system etc all of which are shaped and immensely affected by the culture, gender and ethnicity among other things. 3. 0 Relationship between Culture and Cognition Culture is all about society and it is therefore more of a social submission than anything else.
It is developed, enacted, implemented and even changed or overhauled purely within a social domain and context. Therefore to try and link culture to cognition, before identifying the effects of culture on cognition especially in a multicultural classroom setting, it is imperative that one understands the fact that cognition is not only a social process but also occurs in a social environment. In this way, the two (cognition and culture), always meet as culture is being defined in a social process which is cognitive in nature or cognition occurs in a social process which is cultural.
The relation is rather complex but there indeed exists a relationship and the two affect each other at different levels and in different ways. As mentioned earlier, cognition is not only a social process but also occurs in a social process. To illustrate this statement, it is a common observation that since medieval time language acquisition in children has been observed not to happen unless the children are first exposed to the language. Therefore, language is a perfect example of an emergent behavior which can only develop in an enabling social environment.
This also implies that an individual is made up of a set of mechanisms that aid in cognition and these mechanisms expect input entirely from the social world. Further illustration takes us to education. Education has an explicit role (in society) of helping develop the child’s cognition in that the choices made by the child or student in this case as regarding the environment or moral actions end up in fully formed experience that can be used agin to make future similar or even different choices.
On a different note, the task of explaining the foundations of culture in mental or cognitive processes and the mental foundations of culture has been the collective concern of social sciences even though there has been little or no hope of establishing a natural science of culture until recent coining of cognition and culture. This recent approach is different from the past attempts in that it simply focuses on fostering an in depth understanding of the relationship between individual cognition and social processes.
The in depth understanding so far has established that cognition is not entirely mental but it also enshrines both the inter-subjective social dynamics in play between individuals thus implying the fact that language, bodily communication and social interactions among other things play a formidable role in cognition. 4. 0 Cognition, a Psychological Process The kind of the mental processes termed as cognitive has been influenced largely by research. For instance, Thomas Aquinas in his study of behavior divided the study into two broad categories: cognitive (how we know the world), and affect (feelings and emotions).
The description, cognitive mental processes refers to processes such as: association, memory, language, perception, concept formation, attention, problem solving, action and mental imagery (Fletcher, 1994). Whereas very few people will resist the authenticity of the fact that cognitive processes are purely the function of the brain, rarely does cognitive theory refer to the brain. The theory simply describes behavior as a function of information flow and information processing.
Therefore in this way, cognition refers to the human faculty of information processing, application of the processed information and the consequential change of preferences. Cognitive processes can be conscious or otherwise, natural or artificial and can be analyzed and evaluated from a myriad of different perspectives and contexts especially in the fields of linguistics, philosophy and psychology. In psychology, cognition is closely associated to concepts such as reasoning, intelligence, perception and learning. 5. 0 Effects Of Culture In The Classroom And How These Effects Have Evolved. 5. 1 Intercultural Communication
It is quite evident that culture must have an impact or effect on classroom activities. It doesn’t matter whether the effects are positive or negative but the bottom line is that there is such an effect. The classroom presents a multicultural context because the students in the classroom come from different cultural background and this therefore sets the pace for intercultural communication which is simply the face to face communication of people of different culture and has the major objective fostering a common meaning through which intent may be understood between individuals of different cultural background.
This kind of multicultural or intercultural communication is necessary in the young students to induct them early enough in life because this skill is not only necessary but has become popular. Rapid Cultural growth in the 21st century has laid unparalleled emphasis on not only interpersonal but also intercultural communication. This is especially so due to the continued globalization as a result of technological breakthroughs.
Intercultural nonverbal and verbal communication serves to emphasize the cultural differences that exist among cultures and to draw boundaries between those who belong and those who do not belong to a given culture at the same time teaching the cultural nonmembers to know how to handle people of other cultures other than theirs and may lead to acculturation which has been noted to be advantageous not only in global business but also comfort when traveling abroad. Intercultural communication is advantageous because it is a dual-component process: the person and the culture.
Whereas the person enables interpersonal communication which aids in enhancing the self esteems, general inner growths and self image of the participating individuals, the cultured endows the same individuals with a global orientation as opposed to the parochial orientation possible in a monocultural setting. Further, there is learning from each other at every stage and moment of interpersonal and intercultural interactions and communication and this is especially so because of the various multiple intelligences of the students i. e.
Linguistic intelligence, Logical-mathematical intelligence, Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence, Interpersonal intelligence, Naturalist intelligence, Spatial intelligence, Musical intelligence and Intrapersonal intelligence all of which have a cultural orientation (Armstrong, 1994). 5. 2 Cultural or Ethnic Language and Classroom/School Success Language is one area in which the effect of culture on classroom activities comes strongly into play. There is no learning without communication and there is no communication without a common channel of communication which is commonly taken to be a common language.
Language is culture-endowed and people of the same culture share a common language among other things. Therefore, if language is not learnt first, other cognitive classroom activities cannot be carried out effectively (Wong-Fillmore, 2007). Further, the classroom is a haven of a myriad of learning activities but majority of these are cognitive. As mentioned earlier, social activities and processes such as interpersonal relationships and communications may be extrapolated to constitute cognition because learning occurs during these activities.
Interpersonal relations, interactions and communication are simply not possible without a common cultural language. Common culture in a classroom is almost a utopian ambition in today’s rapid evolution of towns to cities, cities to metropolis and sates to global villages. Therefore, learning is hampered when minority students go to majority schools. There has been heated debate, especially in the US, whether to institute the Bilingual Approach (embraces bilingual education) or stick to English-Only in the school curriculum.
The debate was evident during the Bush administration and it was prompted with the poor academic performance of the American-Indian, American Hispanic and other ethnic minority students in the US. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) embraced the Bilingual Approach. However, majority of US citizens have embraced the popular ‘English-Only’ (as minority students continue to languish in it (Trueba, 1994)), because of two major reasons. First, increased immigration has let down the bilingual campaign because the bilingual education will not only be expensive but will also be tedious and might end up building a segregated America.
Second, widespread notion that bilingual education arrangements or programs do not teach English has greatly hampered the success of the bilingual campaign. Jim Cummins in his book, Language, power and pedagogy, rebuts the bilingual program critics and goes ahead to clarify the process of using both English and ethnic language in bilingual programs by a stern questioning of the apparently rigid separation of the languages in bilingual program. He further asserts the fact that literacy skills are transferable in a rather automatic way from ethnic language to English (Cummins, 1979).
5. 3 Teaching Culture in the Classroom Learning is complete when associations are made by the student and this is where culture comes in strongly. Cognitive processes witnessed in the classroom learning are powerfully enhanced by the cultural background of the student. This can be explained in the fact that if a concept is taught in class, then it has to be done in such a way as to draw relations with things witnessed in the student’s culture thereby achieving relevance.
Once the child or student for that matter, realizes that the concept being taught is related to what he/she already understands and sees in his culture, he will then make associations with the concept and the cultural representation of the concept thus achieving maximum understanding. When understanding has been achieved then we can say that cognition or knowing has occurred and a student can claim meaningful knowledge or cognition of a given concept, fact, principle, skill etc that has been taught in the classroom. Therefore, culture is very important in achieving cognition in the classroom.
The implication represented by this submission in the current multicultural context is the fact that we should have cultural classes that will help instill culture in the students to help them establish a formidable base for cognition, understanding, synthesis and evaluation of information and knowledge alike. 5. 4 Culture as Seen from the Cognitive Advantages of Bilingualism A number of teachers and parents have hitherto forced children to study only one language because of notions that they hold as reasons for this forceful act. It has all been outdated notions to think that;
? Bilingualism impedes on the child’s cognitive abilities ? Languages are learnt independently and what is learnt in one language cannot be transferred to the other ? As more is learnt in one language, less can be learnt in the other ? Idea that there is a total amount of language that can be learnt and learning two languages presents pieces that can be added to reach this amount thus implying that when two languages are learnt neither of them can be mastered to excellence because the other interferes by claiming the piece required to add up to the total amount desired (Hakuta & Bialystok, 1994).
However, the consensus that has hitherto grown among the linguists, psychologists, scientists as well as the general public has seen an otherwise orientation as opposed to the above parochial notions. The consensus can be communicated as below: ? The idea that what is learnt in the two languages can be kept separate and kept from influencing each other is highly irrational. For instance, a child who achieves knowledge of the addition concept in one language need not re-learn the same concept in a second language.
Similarly, a child who has recognized the fact that spoken language can be broken into smaller units called words and presented in writing in one language also need not be taught the idea of presenting spoken language in written in the other language. ? The idea that proficiency in one language is impaired by the learning of a second language is debatable. Besides the so mentioned consensus being developed, it was also agreed that bilingualism has multiple advantages which include but are not limited to the following: 5. 4. 1 Bilingualism Has Enhancing effects in children
When a child or student claims proficiency or fluency in two languages, he or she knows more than one word for the same concept or fact. From active research, it has been established that this adds to the bilingual child’s cognitive flexibility which is demonstrated by the multiple connotations and ideas surrounding a word and thus knowing two words for same concept (due to bilingualism) helps the child to develop a complex in depth understanding of not only the word but also the concept represented by the word while at a tender age.
This idea is shared by Hakuta and Bialystok in their book In Other Words where they propose that the sum total of knowledge learnt in two languages is definitely greater than the sum of the sum of the parts making up the knowledge (Hakuta & Bialystok, 1994). Therefore, the implication fielded by this idea is that the child’s cognitive flexibility can be developed earlier in life by encouraging bilingualism especially in this rapid evolving multi cultural global village where one can live and raise a family and children go to school anywhere. 5. 3. 2 Bilingualism and its Impact on Literacy
Studies have shown, with sufficient supporting evidence, that mastery of one language has an impact of knowledge and learning of the second language. Gigi Luk, Ernest Kwan and Ellen Bialystok showed this in their research which they compared a group of monolinguals with three groups of bilinguals: Chinese-English, Hebrew-English and Spanish-English bilinguals (Kwan et al, 2005). The result showed that the Hebrew-English had the highest levels of literacy and that bilinguals, generally, showed a competitive advantage over monolinguals in two major parts:
? General reading and its understanding basis in a systematic print ? Prospective of transfer of reading principles from one language to the next Therefore, this means that the teaching of two languages helps in boosting the literacy of the children or students at their early ages which in turn has an advantage in enhancing the general academic performance in later years. 6. 0 Global Orientation in a Multicultural classroom
When there is a multicultural setting in a classroom, the children are able to learn from one another’s culture especially in terms of value systems and their norms will achieve a world view due to inter cultural interaction which are highly enabled by the multiple intelligences in the students which can be identified and developed (Armstrong, 1993). It is important to note that the learning of various value systems may be ambivalent in that the children may learn to adopt individualism/collectivism, monochromic/polychromic, achievement/ascription etc all that have a global orientation.
Further, once the children have learnt value systems that have global orientations, then they automatically have cognition of norms that must be oriented to the value system such that the norms interact with a world view. If a norm has to govern behaviors of an individual and at the same time exert impact on the community or society, there must be consensus (agreed upon by community or society) and felt with strong intensity that appropriate negative sanctions shall be anticipated in the event of norm violation.
For instance, monochromic orientation will always value punctuality in whatever situation and a monochromic orientated individual will sanction the self if the punctuality norm is violated. In this way, the norm, due to its orientation to the world view, enabled by the multicultural setting in the classroom, is able to positively affect behavior. The general implication here is that the effect of culture in the classroom cognition processes leads to learning of value systems and norms that are more oriented to the world view which can both affect and control behavior in a positive way.
7. 0 Gender Issues in the Math and Science Classroom Culture offers gender roles which the children get to learn through their cognitive faculties and get to internalize these roles. These gender roles are similar in almost all the cultures especially in that, the woman , through the gender roles assigned to her, she is seen as inferior thus giving the man a superiority orientation. These orientations get dangerous when the females believe in them themselves.
The composition of the Math and Science has been predominately male and this is not because the female lack the competitive cognitive faculties to tackle the subject content but because of what society has prescribed. In fact, these female can even perform better than the male populace. In US the issue of gender inequality was first brought to the congress by Edith Green, a representative from Oregon, in 1970 leading to the legislation of Title IX which denounces denial of an individual of benefits under any educational program receiving federal financing on gender grounds.
Therefore, policy makers need to understand this dynamic effect of culture on the classroom setting and thereby develop policies that can effectively arrest the practice of gender inequality in the classroom and the entire educational system. 8. 0 Conclusion An individual is the sum total and the product of his/her upbringing, culture and environment. Upbringing, culture and environment all combine in quite a unique complex way to bring forth an individual with definite unique personality.
Culture therefore will continue to impact on the multicultural class settings in ways ranging from interpersonal and intercultural communication, to other potent effects on bilingualism and its impacts on literacy, value systems and norms that have a global orientation and even the teaching of culture in the classroom among other effects that culture exerts on the classroom setting especially if the classroom is multicultural.
It is important to note that the effects are both positive and negative and this calls for action to avert the negative impacts such as gender inequality and enhance the positive impact of culture on cognition in the multicultural classroom settings. References Cummins J, (1979): Cognitive/Academic Language Proficiency, Linguistic Interdependence, the Optimum Age Question and some Other Matters, Working Papers on Bilingualism 19, 121-129, pp20-21
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