BBeelliieeffss aanndd SSkkiillllss
Children are born with no preconceptions about the world.It’s only through their inter-
actions with people and the environment that they begin to develop beliefs about how
the world works.Loving people,plentiful food,and a peaceful environment surrounds
one child.Another is born into a life ofscarcity,surrounded by hunger,loneliness,pain,
and fear.Reality for each ofthese children is different.The first child experiences life as
a safe and happy adventure while for the second,every new experience carries the threat
of harm and trauma. These experiences form the child’s understanding of how the
world works.A young child’s beliefs about how the world works has a big influence on
how that child approaches life at school.Will past experiences set the child up to look at
school as an exciting adventure filled with potential new friends? Or, like Lizbeth, will
that child come into school believing that the world is an unpredictable place full of
people out to harm her?
Each child also brings to school a set of unique skills, traditions, and customs,
which they have learned by watching and listening to the people around them.Some of
these may come from socially unskilled models or from the media.Children may have
had the fortune to learn from others who are socially competent.Some ofthis training
is intentional, such as when a grandmother prompts her grandchild to say, “Thank
you.”Some ofit is unintentional,as when children pick up skills and habits by paying
attention to what works to get their needs met. Some children learn that smiles get
attention while others learn that whining or tantrums work to get what they need.
Home Culture/School Culture
Our interpretation of children’s behavior is based on our own,very personal philoso-
phy of “right and wrong.”These deeply ingrained beliefs evolve from the cultural
norms with which we were raised. Don’t confuse “cultural norms”with ethnicity.
Culture encompasses more than that.It includes where we grew up,our socioeconomic
status, our gender, our education, and many other variables. Because these cultural
norms are so deeply ingrained,they become invisible to us.They are just the way things
To do our best work with other people’s children,it is essential that we start to clar-
ify our own cultural assumptions and the beliefs of the families with which we work.
The better we understand the cultural beliefs ofour families,the better we can provide
a culturally responsive classroom.
One way of thinking about cultural differences is to envision a spectrum, with
independenceat one end and interdependenceat the other. Cultural ways of doing
Beyond Behavior Management22