Culture and Behavioural Deviance in the Classroom

This is another short paper I wrote for a course I am taking.

Besides family and school, what major cultural factors may contribute to behavioural deviance? Why is it difficult to evaluate the effects of these factors?

Culture has a profound impact upon a person and their entire worldview. I always knew this, but I did not fully appreciate it until I spent years living in an entirely foreign culture from my own. When we talk/teach about different cultures in our society, we talk about different food, clothing, style of house, or religion. However, we can’t come even close to understanding the nuances of the culture when it comes to their overall worldview, their priorities and values, and the unwritten and even undefinable aspects of the culture that dictate the way they intuitively live their lives, monitor their behaviour, and interpret what they are seeing around them.

One specific example is how children in different cultures are taught to respond to direction from authority. Some cultures expect absolute obedience immediately with no questions asked; to ask a question of the teacher is to suggest that the teacher did not do a good job of explaining, and that would be rude. These students will comply with your directions even if they do not understand. If you say, “do you understand?” the answer will always be “yes.” If you say, “do you have any questions?” the answer will always be “no.” Conversely, in other cultures, children are “honoured” by being pampered and are never made to do something they don’t want to; this is different from the odd family in our culture who raises a spoiled brat, but instead reflects a cultural value of allowing children free reign in order to make sure the children grow up to take care of the parents in their old age. These children may hear your directions, decide they are not listening, and continue about their own business, not out of defiance, but because they’ve never known to do otherwise.

Our own culture actually has a very confusing take on this issue, though you may not even realise it because we grew up in it! It makes sense to us and is so intuitive that we get frustrated with our students from other cultures for not ‘getting it’ and being “difficult” or “defiant”. Basically, in our culture, we expect a complicated mix between the two. We completely expect students to do what we ask them to; however, at the same time, we encourage students to ask questions, challenge assuptions, and assert their independence. We (at least in more recent generations) know what this looks like and how to balance these appropriately, but students coming from these other cultures can find this so confusing!

It is SO important that we remember this when dealing with their behaviour and our frustrations in the classroom. Students need to be taught the Canadian way of doing things, and grace needs to be extended throughout the prolonged process – because it is NOT a matter of, “oh, now I get it,” but it is a change of worldview, or at least the mastery of behaviour that contradicts their worldview. It would be SO hard for us to move to a culture where the expectation is that you never ask questions and just quietly do as we’re told – think of how many times you’d be tempted to fight back, assert your “rights” and make your voice heard because otherwise it “isn’t fair” – and that level of counterintuitive challenge is what our students face every day in our classrooms (and this is only one example…).

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