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Australia is a multicultural country. Our story is one of migration and our country holds many cultural stories. Our original stories are from Australia’s first people. Aboriginal people have been in Australia for over 60,000 years. European migration and settlement of Australian land only began little more than 225 years ago.
The many cultures that make up our country are all a part of our national identity, our history and our character. Australia’s multicultural policy speaks of fairness and inclusion, allowing all those who choose to call Australia home the right to practice and share their cultural traditions and languages within the law and free from discrimination.
This module explores an understanding of culture and how it impacts upon the way we interact with young children and their families.
Culture is the shared and learned behaviours that exist within a group of people. This shared and learned behaviour develops through socialisation. We learn it from our family, our social groups, our schools and the media. Culture develops over periods of time. It develops when groups of people reach an agreement about how they see the world, how they behave and how they interact with each other. Normally these agreements are unstated. We learn the rules as part of growing up and they become taken for granted, for example ‘it’s just the way it is’.
“things, customs, beliefs and values. Culture can be thought of in terms of the concrete items and objects we see, hold, and use. Items such as clothing, artwork, food and dance are tangible symbols of a person’s culture. Culture is also experienced in how people live out their lives as well as what they believe and what values they hold dear. Family roles, child rearing patterns communication styles and holiday traditions are ways in which culture influences how we as individuals live our daily lives. Peoples’ goals in life and their beliefs about human nature and humanity are invisible but ever present aspects of culture ... Culture is a powerful force that shapes our lives. Culture is who we are on the inside. It is the set of values, beliefs and behaviours shared by a group of people. Culture gives us roots. Cultural traditions give our lives meaning, stability and security.” (York, 2003 p 60)
Culture, ethnicity and race
Sometimes there is confusion between culture and ethnicity and race. So what is the difference?
Ethnicity describes a way of categorising a group of people through their shared common heritage, language, religion and ideologies. It’s a way of categorising via a shared or presumed ancestry.
Race is different to ethnicity because race defines us according to biological traits as opposed to ethnicity which uses things such as language and religion.
Our cultural identity comes from a sense of belonging and knowing who you are within your groups. It’s connected to race, nationality, ethnicity, tribe, sexuality and religion.
Does everyone have culture?
All people everywhere have culture. Although some people may not be aware of the culture they live in. This is often the case when a person’s lived experience is similar to those of the people around them. If you ask them about their culture they may respond with “What culture? We don’t have any culture here.” They may find it difficult to articulate or see their culture because it isn’t obvious to them. They may only be aware of culture when it is different but may not understand why or what these differences are.
There is significant diversity within cultural groups. This diversity occurs because our culture is influenced by our participation in the various subcultures in which we operate. For example, we operate simultaneously within a number of subcultures such as our family, women’s or men’s groups, sporting clubs and professional associations. We also operate within our own generation, for example, we categorise people as baby boomers, x, y or z generations.
Early Childhood Australia’s professional learning series (2012), Have you thought about...? takes us around Australia in search of ways we can think about implementing the EYLF and approaching the National Quality Standard. The following video from the series, How do we understand cultural identity? explores understandings of cultural identity. Watch the video and consider your own cultural identity, then answer the reflection questions that follow.
“Culture is dynamic and alive and it changes slowly over time. Culture is transmitted through families from one generation to the next.” (York, 2003 p 60)
As early childhood educators working with and supporting the cultural identity of children it’s important to understanding the changing dynamic of culture and cultural practices within families. For example not all families from the same cultural grouping have the same values beliefs and opinions. There is no one size fits all recipe for working with culturally diverse families.
Families in Australia will interact with mainstream Australian culture differently depending on:
how many generations the family has been living in Australia
how much of their ‘home’ cultural practices they have chosen to retain
their unique journey to Australia.
Read more about the elements of cultural identity below, and then reflect on what this means for your family.
An important step in developing your own cultural awareness and competence is to begin reflecting on yourself and your own culture. Self awareness is the core underlying process that allows cultural competency to occur.
“Educators need to be aware that they pass on their own personal values to the children in many ways, including through the curriculum choices such as topics, language, activities, materials, celebrations, displays and in their interactions with others. Omissions can be just as destructive as stereotypes and inaccurate information. Therefore educators need to firstly consider their own values, beliefs and attitudes relating to diversity and acknowledge and address any bias they may hold” (EYLF Educators Guide 2010)
Watch the following video on creating self awareness and building knowledge from the EMBRACE team at the Queensland Council of Social Service and then answer the following reflective questions on self-awareness.
Worldview is a term used to describe how a person ‘views’ the world through the lens of their own personal experiences. It is their collection of beliefs about life and the universe. Our worldview is learnt through socialisation from childhood through to adulthood and it is constantly reinforced by the cultures in which we live. It can be a taken for granted assumption that it is ‘just the way it is’: unquestioned and invisible. To understand our own worldview we must spend time exploring our own beliefs, the belief systems in which we operate and the social values contained within each of these.
It is important to incorporate the sensory elements such as sight, sound, smell, taste and touch from other worldviews into your practice.
Each of the following videos explores one aspect of your own worldview. Watch the videos and then reflect on your own personal experience in the respective forum. As you reflect on the questions also consider also how your worldview may affect the way you interact with others and what you could do to become more aware of your own worldview. You can also comment (respectfully) on the posts made by others.
Worldview: meal times
Watch the following clip about meal times, produced by the EMBRACE team at the Queensland Council of Social Service, and reflect on your thoughts in the forum below.
Once you begin to appreciate the range of worldviews that exist based on each person's cultural background, you can incorporate some of the enriching aspects of these different worldviews into your practice.
In the following activity, you will watch a short clip about the Tokelau Early Childhood Education Centre in New Zealand.
After you watch the clip, consider the reflective questions around how you could incorporate a child with this type of worldview in your service.
A metaphor of a person’s cultural behaviours will be illustrated using the idea of an iceberg. This model was originally used by Edward T. Hall in 1976.
An iceberg floating in the water appears to be small in size. Imagine this iceberg is a person. It represents the things that you immediately perceive about that person. It represents the way they appear, their behaviours, their actions, their words and how they express their emotions. These things are related to the senses. You can see, hear, touch, feel or taste them.
In relation to a person’s cultural practices these can be observed for example through sport, language, food, music, dance, adornments, ceremonies, dress, body language, mannerisms and gestures.
As humans we make judgements about people based on what we observe on the surface. Often this is done with little understanding about the parts of a person that are hidden from view.
An iceberg however is more than just what you can see floating above the water. There is still a further ninety per cent of this iceberg floating deep below the surface, hidden from sight.
The things that you can see above the surface are like the part of the iceberg that is visible to the eye. But these things are deeply influenced and have been developed by the huge mass that lies below the surface. Feelings, thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and values lie below the surface. These things represent cultural beliefs and values that have been shaped, moulded, impacted, imprinted and developed by culture. Like the ocean and all the elements within the ocean in which this iceberg is floating.
It is not easy to understand or know about a person’s feelings, thoughts, attitudes and beliefs unless you take the time to learn about that person and develop an understanding about them. This might involve deep sea diving to be able to explore what lies below the surface.
Conflict and misunderstanding happens when we judge a person according to what we observe above the surface. But we do not know what is below the surface for that person. Sometimes we judge others according to our own worldview and systems of belief.
To view more information on culture using the metaphor of an iceberg watch this YouTube clip. This is Part 3 in the Talking Culture series of videos by Sebastian Loppolo. In this video Sebastian uses the iceberg as a metaphor to explain the different elements of culture.
Because of the globalised nature of our world it is important for children to develop high levels of cultural literacy to assist them to interact with people from many cultural groups. The cultural norms and protocols some children follow at home will differ significantly from cultural norms and protocols within their new community. For example, within their mainstream Australian kindergarten or early childhood program. Early childhood educators can perform an important role in beginning to help children from diverse cultural backgrounds to learn how to navigate their home culture and the mainstream Australian cultural practices. Some educators will have a good working knowledge of the mainstream culture. Not all people from culturally diverse backgrounds will have this. This puts the educator in the position of being able to become a great resource to families who are struggling to navigate between two cultures.