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Cultural perspectives

From the cultural psychological perspective, culture is the most significant system within which human development occurs ...

Lee and Johnson, 2007

Individuals develop as participants in their cultural communities, engaging with others in shared endeavours and building on cultural practices of prior generations ...

Rogoff, 2007

...developmentalism based on cultural psychology helps ... educators to be aware of diverse goals of child development within and across cultures.

Lee and Johnson, 2007

Efe infants safely use machetes, but American middle-class adults often do not trust five-year-olds with knives.

Rogoff, 2007

Western understanding of culture

Normative regulation through notions such
as 'timetables' and 'milestones' for talking and walking or its emphasis on 'age appropriate' behaviours... [are] expectations, which have come from particular dominant middle-class cultural perspectives in Europe and the
United States ...

Bird Claiborne, 2007

In my own teaching of human development in Aotearoa, New Zealand, Samoan students have commented on the strangeness of studying infancy as a specific period in life, without considering the ways that infant and mother or caregiver may be together most of the time.

Bird Claiborne, 2007

American individualism

For example, comparing children's rate of development is a cultural practice that has accompanied bureaucratic organisation of children's progress through compulsory schooling. This practice has developed over a little more than a century in the US and Europe.

Rogoff, 2007

Rather than focus on interconnections between people and collective aspects of culture... The focus [on the individual as an independent person] downplays the importance of wider social forces such as families and the ways that each person's achievements may be intertwined with the efforts of others ... John Dewey expressed worry about American individualism
in the 1920s.

Bird Claiborne, 2007

Classroom folk
children in classroom

All educators approach teaching equipped with 'folk psychologies' and 'folk pedagogies' (Bruner, 1996):

  • Folk psychologies are personal beliefs about how the mind learns and grows
  • Folk pedagogies are '... practices that emerge from deeply embedded cultural beliefs about how children learn and how teachers should teach...

Educators must understand their underlying folk theories about children's learning and development in order to make sense of and change their pedagogical practices.

Lee and Johnson, 2007

cultural perspectives
Active classroom

Perspectives on children's development have different focuses depending on culture:

  • Children as community members vs children as individuals;
  • Children prepared for later full community participation vs children fully involved in their community from birth;
  • Much learning takes place out of context (for example, in school) vs community life as the context for learning;
  • Family interdependence and reliance are highly valued vs personal independence, self-expression and autonomy.
(Rogoff, 2007; Hyunn, 1998)

Cultural relevance
Boy on ground playing with digger

Even defining child's play and a child's other activities differ depending on one's culture. For example, many families with Asian ethnic cultural influences tend to see play and academic activity separately. In contrast, in the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy, after WWII, a curriculum emphasising community and responsibility was based around the child's interests and conducted through exploration and discovery Many US educators and researchers with Euro-American perspectives strongly believe that child-initiated play and other experiences are already related to the child's development of later academic experiences.

Hyun, 1998

Cultural relevance
Children and teachers participating keenly

Cross-cultural explorations suggest the endpoint of child development is participation in their community, with participation being differently defined by culture (Rogoff, 2007). If the opportunities offered for participation (for example, learning experiences in educational settings) are not culturally relevant, the result is disenfranchisement of the child (Lee and Johnson, 2007).

Culture includes not only hereditary culture, but other cultural dynamics (for example, digital youth culture) (Lee and Johnson, 2007). Relevant cultural experiences stimulate children to observe keenly, 'pitch in', and collaborate (Rogoff, 2007).

Rogoff's sixth facet of learning

The goal of education is transformation of [children's] participation, which involves learning to collaborate, with appropriate demeanour and responsibility, as well as learning information and skills, to be responsible contributors belonging in the community.

Rogoff, 2011

Investigate the extent to which your setting is meeting the developmental needs of children within their cultural contexts. Based on this, write a short paper about how your school is transforming pupils' participation.

Find out more (1)

Bird Claiborne, L. (2007) Beyond readiness: new questions about cultural understandings and developmental appropriateness. In: J.L. Kincheloe and R.A. Horn (eds) (2007) The Praeger Handbook of Education and Psychology (vol. 2). Westport,
CT: Praeger Publishers.

Bruner, J. (1996) The Culture of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hyun, E. (1998) Making Sense of Developmentally and Culturally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Education. New York: Peter Lang.

Lee, K. and Johnson, A. S. (2007) Child development in cultural contexts: implications of cultural psychology for early childhood teacher education, Journal of Early Childhood Education, 35, 233-243.

Find out more (2)
Open book

Additional reading
Open book

McConachie, H., Colver, A.F., Forsyth, R.J., Jarvis, S.N. and Parkinson, K.N. (2006) Participation of disabled children: how should it be characterized and measured?, Disability and Rehabilitation, 28 (18), 1157-1164.

Rogoff, B. (2003). The Cultural Nature of Human Development. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.