The Education We Need:

Democratic, Diversified and Experiential

Mustafa Ozcan, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Department of Educational Studies
Rhode Island College


For a while I have been catching myself tremendously enjoying teaching certain topics, such as, democratic education, diversified teaching, power of culture, and learning by doing. During these joyful moments, I literally live what I am teaching, and forget about everything else. Indeed, my students seem to be enjoying it as well. At these moments, their minds, faces, and eyes turn on and our minds converge. Their look radiates the satisfaction and happiness of learning.

This paper has three sections. Section One, "A Journey within Cultures--Learning by Experience," is a synopsis of my experience in diverse cultures. The section includes various educative observations in Turkish, Cherkes, Kurdish, English, and American cultures. Section Two, "Democratic, Diversified, and Experiential Education," includes a summary of my view of education, schooling, and teaching. After years of experience, I have come to believe that education should be democratic, diversified, and experiential. Section Three, "Teaching the Nature and Power of Culture," is a brief sample from my teaching about culture.

Section 1: A Journey Within Cultures-Learning by Experience

Growing Up with Turkish Culture

I was born in a small town in Turkey, at the foot of a mountain. It is green all seasons and about ten miles away from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. My mother is an unschooled woman. Her parents, my maternal grandparents and her older sister were also unschooled [1]. However, her younger five siblings were schooled at various levels and one graduated from college. My maternal grandfather was a hard-working farmer. My grandmother was a typical farmer's wife, in charge of everything at home. She lived long and died in her 90's.

My father was a graduate of a five-year elementary school. He was a small business owner but during the last ten years of his life he did not own any business, and worked for others. He was born in 1920 as the eldest of three siblings, and lost his father when he was four years old. He began to work and take care of his mother and siblings from his early teen-years and kept working as much as he could until the last years of his life. My paternal grandfather was schooled during the Ottoman Empire, but not at higher levels. Since he died before I was born, I never knew him, but learned about him by listening to older relatives. I was named after him and, during my childhood years, I listened to stories about how brave, intelligent, handsome, and powerful he was. I warmly remember his wife, my paternal grandmother. She was a caring and respected woman.

Doing Homework with an Unschooled Mother

One of my very earliest memories of my schooling is of my mom checking my homework when I was in the first grade. In those years there was no kindergarten in the town and I began to attend the first grade when I was six years old. My teacher was a very organized, knowledgeable, and loving woman. She first began teaching how to draw straight lines and then the letters in the Turkish alphabet. I remember my mom sitting next to me whenever I did my homework. For my mom, any crooked line, any letter not looking like the ones printed in the alphabet or any dirty spot in the notebook was unacceptable. I had to finish the homework before evening because there was no electricity in our house. The house was wired and had electricity later when I was in third grade. My mom could write her name but hardly knew all the letters of the alphabet and all the numbers. Her knowledge of school curriculum was very limited. Despite this she helped me with my homework until the end of third grade. One day when I was in the third grade, I was writing an essay as a response to the question of why we love the house we live in. In my essay, I used one of her statements, "Our house keeps our secrets." I was uncomfortable about it because the Turkish vocabulary of the statement was beyond my level. I still remember the smile on my teacher's face when she looked at the essay in class.

A Father's Way of Teaching with Real Life Experience

My father lost his father when he was a child and took heavy responsibilities as the oldest son of a widow, and brother of two siblings. He served in the army for four years, worked until the last years of his life, and died of cancer in 1980. As a man of rich life experiences he had well-rounded perspectives on social, economic, and political issues. I remember him using both the new Turkish alphabet, based on the Latin alphabet, and the old Turkish alphabet, based on the Arabic alphabet, in his short business notes. When he started school in the 1920's, the old alphabet was still in use in Turkey. However, in 1928, when he was in the middle of his elementary education, the Turkish government decided to abolish the Arabic alphabet and adopt the new alphabet [2]. He knew them both but mostly used the new one.

My father's view of education affected me more than any other influence he had on me. He developed a view of education in which real life experience was at the core. By using relevant occasions he emphasized that a child should be "cooked" within real life. In his vocabulary, "being cooked" meant being matured as a result of social, affective, and cognitive experiences. Being "cooked" was the opposite of being "raw" and "inexperienced." In Turkish, there are some sayings in which "being cooked" means being educated and matured through real life experiences. For my father, it was the best way, and he applied it in every occasion possible.

My father ran a coffee house and I had to work with him during the summer vacations. Though he paid me for my help, his real goal was to provide me with life opportunities to interact with real people in real contexts. I was given responsibilities to serve the customers, to buy and sell goods, and make decisions on issues. I was not successful every time, but he believed that it was the right way for learning about life-skills and understanding people. I still remember some of the responsibilities assigned to me. There was a customer who owed some money to my father but did not pay it on time. My father asked me to find that person and collect the money. I was just 13 years old and that man was in his 50s. I found him and asked for the money. He was embarrassed and said that he wished to pay it, but did not have the money. He then asked me to come back three days later. In our second meeting he said similar things. The third meeting was the same. I believed he was trying to show me that there was no hope for my getting the money. I did not give up pursuing my goal. In our fifth meeting he agreed to make a payment plan.

Becoming Aware of Cultural Differences

My learning about diverse cultures began in my childhood years. In our neighborhood, there were some "Kurd" and "Arab" families, but they were like us; they were Muslim and spoke Turkish. However, I remember some other Kurdish people who were bilingual and spoke Turkish with an accent. Among themselves, they used to speak Kurdish, which I did not understand. They were seasonal workers, who came during the winter from the cities in the eastern part of Turkey, working mostly in landscaping jobs, and returning to their hometowns before summer. Our houses were within the gardens, with orange and many other kinds of trees. I remember the Kurdish people working in the gardens, trimming the trees and digging holes for new plants. Whenever they worked for us, my mom gave them food and sometimes made tea for them. They were honest, hard working people. There were some other groups in the town such as the "Abdal" and gypsies. The Abdals are members of a semi-nomadic tribe in Anatolia and Central Asia who make their living by playing music at weddings, etc. (New Redhouse Dictionary, 1988). The other group was like gypsies around the world. Their main vocation was to play musical instruments.

My further learning about the Kurdish people and other ethnic and cultural groups began when I became a student in an elementary teacher education school. It was a boarding school, in a larger city on the shore of the Mediterranean. There were many students at the school from different parts of the Mediterranean region and from diverse cultural backgrounds. During my three years in this boarding school my best friend was a Kurdish youth. His religious sect was also different; I was Sunni, he was Shafi. On several occasions he came to my town and stayed with us. I do not remember anything said or implied by my parents, neighbors, and other friends regarding his Kurdish or Shafi background. There were other Kurdish students in the school. We were all just friends. Another group of students was of Arabic background. They were mostly from the cities close to the Syrian border. Some had an accent and darker skin. For various reasons we visited each other's towns and families. It was obvious that our families were somewhat different, but we did not mind these differences. There were many more things making us similar. In those years, we were not ethnically conscious at all. The Turkish education system taught the ideals of a unitary nation state, such as, one nation, one flag, one language, and one culture. We were just Turks, or at least, that was my perception.

Immersion in Cherkes Culture

My first in-depth learning experience with another culture began when I was an elementary school teacher in a culturally diverse community. In the central region of Turkey there are approximately 80 villages and small towns inhabited by the Cherkeses (Circassions), a white Muslim community. The Cherkeses had immigrated to Turkey during the Ottoman Empire. They are mostly educated, middle class, and live a bi-cultural life.

I began teaching in the one-room elementary school in one of those Cherkes villages and lived there for two years. I had just graduated from the elementary teacher education school and was appointed by the Ministry of Education to this position[3]. I had become a teacher without knowing that I would work in a culturally diverse community. I had had some Cherkes friends in school, but did not know much about their social and cultural characteristics. I was ready to teach, but not sure how to teach bilingual students. I think I was a good example of those who are prepared to teach village students, and even to "lead" and "enlighten" the villagers, without knowing about the conditions of a real village and real villagers, and without knowing about their language, traditions, and values.

Bilingual Villagers

I grew up on the Mediterranean rim, finished a school of elementary teacher education in a city by the Mediterranean, but was going to teach in a village in the central part of Turkey where the demographics, culture, and physical environment were radically different. I arrived in the village in a mid-afternoon and asked the first person for the location of the house of the "muhtar," the elected head of the village. It was a small village of 20 -25 buildings. I found the house and introduced myself to the women working in the yard of the house as the teacher of the village school. Neither the "muhtar" nor any other man was at the house. It was the end of the summer and all of them were working in the fields. They welcomed me and took me to the guest house, which was a one-room building next to the main building. I carried my two large pieces of luggage into the room and began to wait.

Around sundown the muhtar came to the room, and after a welcoming conversation, invited me to the house for dinner. There were three other men in their living room; they were the muhtar's father and two brothers. They were very nice and welcoming. The muhtar's father was a retired tax-collector. His older brother was a farmer and the younger one a college student. The muhtar also had two sisters; one of them was an elementary school teacher in the city. The female members of the household did not sit with us but quietly prepared the dinner table in an invisible manner. When the dinner was ready, we (, the men) began to eat. The living room was in the middle of the house and surrounded by four other rooms. The women stood watching us from the doorways to see if we needed anything. After we finished, they set the dinner table for themselves.

My first encounter with the Cherkes Turks was very pleasing. They were speaking Turkish, polite and welcoming. However, at the dinner table, several times they forgot about me and began talking in their own language. Those moments were pretty difficult. I did not know what they were saying to each other, but tried to guess the content of the conversation. In school, my foreign language was French, which was not helping, at all. It was hard to be a monolingual among bilinguals. Sometimes one of them briefly translated the content of the conversation for me. My not knowing their language was an obvious weakness. The impact of the first day's culture shock led me to decide to learn the language of the community.

I had always been a member of majority group member in Turkey, but for the first time in my life I became a minority in this village. In my one-room school, there were 15 students unevenly distributed from the first to the fifth grade. The ratio of male and female students was close to equal. Thirteen students out of 15 were from Cherkes families and bilingual. There were only two siblings speaking Turkish and their family was from one of the neighboring "Avsar" (a Turkish tribe) villages.

I spent two years of my life in this Cherkes community, happily immersed myself into their social and cultural life and learned their language. My use of Cherkes language was not sufficient for teaching, but it was enough for interpersonal communication (Ovando 2005). From the first to the last day, I really enjoyed my two years of teaching and social life in this small Cherkes village.

Immersion in Kurdish Culture

My first cultural immersion experience in the Cherkes community was followed by others. After two years of teaching and living, I left the Cherkes community to join the Turkish army to complete my two years of compulsory military service[4]. After completing two months basic training, the army assigned me to a teaching position to teach illiterate soldiers. The students were unschooled adults, mostly of Kurdish background, and they were in the army to complete their military service. Although they were bilingual, speaking both Turkish and Kurdish, they were unschooled and did not know how to read and write. The army was schooling them and each cohort of soldiers was attending the school for four months. I worked in this school for one year, teaching the soldiers basic skills of reading and writing in Turkish.

After one year of teaching the illiterate soldiers, I was assigned again as an elementary school teacher to complete the rest of my military service. The job was in a Kurdish village in the Hatay province located in the southern part of Turkey. The village was just two miles away from the Syrian border. All of the members of the village community were Turkish citizens of Kurdish background. They were all bilingual, and some of them were even trilingual, speaking Arabic. This Kurdish village was within two hours driving distance of my hometown.

I went to the village a week earlier than the opening day in September, to get ready for the upcoming year, and make myself familiar with the conditions and culture of the community. The village was on a hill looking down at large cotton fields. The climate was very mild and the natural environment was green all seasons. The community was very friendly and welcoming. The school building, teacher's house[5], and playground needed a lot of cleaning and repair. I moved into the teacher's house and, with the help of villagers, prepared the school. There were three teachers in the school. Both of the other two teachers were female and were from the neighboring towns. I taught the first grade and also served as the principal of the school.

For a year, I was immersed in the social and cultural life of this Kurdish community. However, my immersion into their life was somewhat less intense than my previous immersion into the life of the Cherkes community. Since my hometown was just two hours away, almost every weekend I went to see my parents and friends. Also, the village was closer to the city, transportation was relatively easy, and instead of staying in the village, going out of the village was more appealing. Despite this, I was part of community life. I joined them in their wedding ceremonies and danced with them, attended their funerals at home and at the mosque, and of course accepted all dinner invitations. I organized a soccer team with the youth in the village and played soccer games against the youth of neighboring villages. I visited the regional school superintendent and other administrators several times for the improvement of the school building, village road, and solutions of similar problems. At the end of the year, my military service ended and I resigned to continue my education in Istanbul[6].

Immersion in English Culture

After I resigned from the elementary school teaching, I continued my studies and finished a Master's degree in Social Foundations of Education. I worked for a while as an instructor in the schools of teacher education, and also as an assistant superintendent in Adiyaman, one of the southern provinces of Turkey. Eventually, in 1982, I became a Ph.D. student in Social Foundations of Education at the University of Ankara, and also began to work for the university as a research assistant, which was a full time and permanent position. Having an office at a college of education in a big university, taking Ph.D. courses, and interacting with faculty members as a colleague affected me in many ways. Doing good research for my dissertation, going abroad and improving my English became my new dreams.

My immersion into English culture is somewhat limited if compared with my previous immersion experiences. I went to England for approximately two months in the summer of 1984. The plan was to stay with an English family in Exeter, a small city in southwestern England, attend an English summer school, and participate in a history of education conference for a week in Oxford. It was my first trip abroad. I took a bus from Istanbul to Paris. The bus was cheaper than flying and also I wanted to see other places in Europe. After passing through Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, and Yugoslavia, and spending some days and nights in these countries we reached Paris, and eventually arrived in London. I went to Exeter, because I had already registered in a language school in that city, and rented a room to stay with a family.

An English Family

I arrived in Exeter in the afternoon and first found the house where I would live with an English family. My host was a retired elderly woman, a nice lady. Her husband had died a long time ago in Africa. Three of their five children were female with college degrees. The two youngest ones were male, had just finished high school and were living with her. The lady and her sons were very friendly. They sincerely took time to teach me the English culture as much as they could. The lady took me to social gatherings, village theaters, museums, churches, farms, shopping malls and so on. The boys introduced me to their friends, took me to the unique, old time restaurants and pubs, picnics, beaches, and many other places. I learned more from this family than I learned in the English course. Later, I spent five days in Oxford to attend a Foundations of Education conference, and stayed in London for two weeks to learn about the city. The British Museum was the most impressive. When returning to Turkey, I went back to Paris and stayed there for a week.

Learning about Different Perspectives

In this trip abroad, in which I visited several European countries, I had a chance to see my native country and culture from outside and through the eyes of foreigners. For example, one day my host family in Exeter invited a couple to dinner. The woman was an English teacher and the man taught social studies. After dinner we talked about various issues including politics. The man, a social studies teacher, asked me: "Who is the king in Turkey now?" I was shocked because there was no king or "Padishah" in Turkey since the 1920s. The Turkish presidents were being elected by a popularly elected parliament.

Also in England, there were upsetting questions about "hashish." While socializing, several people asked me about hashish, assuming that I knew about it. Specifically, the sons of the host family and their friends seriously questioned me about hashish in Turkey. One day they took me to a picnic with some of their friends. They were very polite and friendly. In particular, their consciousness about the environment impressed me. We had a picnic in a valley where there was a spring. It was a far away location and there was nobody else around. After the picnic was done they collected every piece of garbage and carried it back to the car. It was an impressive and educationaleducative behavior for me. Everything was nice except their questions about the hashish. They seriously assumed that I knew about it and even thought that I might have some with me. But I had never even tried hashish. Observations like these showed me that my own image of Turkey was quite different from the image of Turkey in the minds of some Europeans.

An Ethno-Centric Education and European Contrasts

One of the educative aspects of my trip to Europe was becoming aware of the impressive histories of other nations. One of the influential impressions occurred in Oxford. I was there for the conference, but I had enough time to visit some interesting and historical places. In the city, especially at the center, everything was historical, which created the impression that you were living in the past. I had never seen so much history in one location. For example, when I visited the Oxford University I saw the historical church at the center of campus, which was the original location of the university and was still in use. The university has evolved around this church during the last 900 years. History was alive and impressive around the modern colleges surrounding the church. Since I knew history of Turkish education, comparing what I saw in England with what I knew in Turkey was inevitable. As John Ogbu says, I have a double frame of reference (Ogbu 2003) and I have to compare.

Visiting museums in London and Paris was also an educationaleducative experience, which changed my cultural outlook. Specifically, the British Museum was impressive. How huge, how full it was. Of course it is not about English history alone. It displays artifacts collected from all over the world, so in a sense it is a museum of world history and cultures. Again, I compared what I saw there with what I knew about the Turkish museums. Turkey also has impressive museums of world history and Turkish history. However, looking at only what you have, and then thinking you are best is wrong and self-destructive in many ways. Once you began to believe that your culture is the best, you inevitably and probably unconsciously reason that there is no sense in learning about other cultures. In fact, cultural challenge and interaction is the dynamic of individual and national development (Toynbee 1932).

Immersion in American Culture

Both my wife and I were studying for Ph.D.'s, and also working as research assistants in different universities in Turkey. In 1988 we earned scholarships to continue our studies abroad, came to the United States and became Ph.D. students at the University of Iowa. We were in the same college, but majored in different fields. My major area was the Sociology of Education, and hers washer's the Psychology of Education. I finished the Ph.D. in 1993, but before that, in 1992, I had become a fulltime instructor in a Catholic college, teaching Foundations courses.

My experience in America is different from my previous immersion experiences. First of all, it has become the longest. I have lived in the US for 18 years. Also, it is not only my individual immersion any more, but the immersion of a family with two children. It is also different in terms of its dimensions. I have been immersed not only in the social and cultural life of America, but also deeply immersed in the culture of American schooling as a graduate student, and as a professor for almost 14 years. This immersion began in Iowa and now continues in Rhode Island. As a family, we are immersed in every aspect of American life. After 18 years we are now bilingual and bicultural, and maintain a bicultural life.

"We Like Black People"

When my wife and I began to study for our Ph.D.'s at the University of Iowa, we rented an apartment from the university's housing office. There were hundreds of graduate students from all over the world living in the same apartment complex. We were in a two-floor building, and there were two Koreans, one Chinese, and four white American families in the same building. The first year we were on the second floor with one Korean, and two American families. One of the American families on the floor had a two-year old son. While our children would play on the playground, we socialized together. They were a nice young couple. In our occasional socializing conversations something caught our attention. They kept telling us that they liked black people. After hearing the statement "We like black people" many times for no apparent reason at all, my wife and I began to discuss this. Eventually, we learned that they saw us as black, and were trying to tell us that they liked us. In the following years we became good friends with them.

Daddy, Why Are They Looking at Us?

We were still new in the US. It was our fourth year, and that summer we decided to visit Niagara Falls. We were four people in the car, my wife, our five-year old daughter, and my brother in law, a professional ballet dancer who was in the US for a year-long professional development program at the University of Iowa. It was a long trip from Iowa to Buffalo. We stayed in hotels along the way, and eventually reached Buffalo. Niagara Falls was amazing.

While returning to Iowa we experienced rejection and discrimination in a restaurant that we still remember. It was in Pennsylvania. I stopped at a gas station and there was a restaurant near to it. It was not a fast food restaurant, but there was no place else to eat and so we went in. We were seated and after a long wait the waiter came and we ordered our meals. We waited but the orders did not come. We grew anxious and impatient. In addition, something else made us embarrassed and angry. Literally everybody was looking at us. We first tried to ignore it but they were really staring us. When our five-year old daughter asked, "Daddy, why are they looking at us?" I was already confused and upset enough. Eventually, the meals were served and we quickly ate. I asked for the bill and handed over my credit card. The waiter came back and said that the card was unacceptable. I asked for the reason, but there was no explanation. I gave them a traveler's check, which I had taken from the AAA, but they would not accept that either. Writing a personal check was out of the question. The waiter said, "Only cash please." Since it was a long way to Iowa, I was planning not to use cash as long as possible. I insisted on the acceptance of my traveler's check or credit card, but they would not take either. The tension was getting high. They started talking about calling the police. I paid in cash and we left the restaurant.

Section 2: Democratic, Diversified and Experiential Education

My view of education has evolved since the early years of my schooling and is still evolving. I believe that education, specifically schooling and teaching, should be democratic, diversified, and experiential to provide equal access, diversified teaching, and equal outcomes.

Democratic Education

Democratic education requires the provision of equal access to schooling, equal resources, treatment and expectations throughout schooling, and equal outcomes from schooling.

Equal Access

Education, formal or informal, is the most significant intervention to enable children to unfold and optimize their potential. Although, education may occur in any place at any time, informal-accidental education or a mediocre schooling is not enough for the optimization of human potential. Socially complex, culturally diverse, and technologically advanced modern society requires formal education, which is planned from design to assessment and implemented in schools. The quality of schooling is a strong determinant of the degree of the optimization of human potential and of the well being of individuals and society. Democracy and democratic education requirerequires the provision of equal access to not any kind of schooling, but quality schooling for all citizens regardless of their race, culture, gender, wealth, assumed ability level, and sexual orientation. Although in the U.S. today, there is no legal obstacle preventing equal access to schools, socio-economic inequalities and a trend of re-segregation prevents equal access (Harvard University Report, 2004).

Equal Schooling

Democratic education is only possible with equal schooling, which requires at least the provision an equal curriculum, and equal treatment for all students regardless of who they are. Equal curriculum can be provided through free and equal access to all educational programs. Reducing the amount and quality of the curriculum, or limiting the entry to it on the basis of race, social class, and assumed ability level is against democratic equality. Tracking in the form of differentiated curriculum, or in the form of teaching the same course at different levels with differentiated contents, or in any other form is not compatible with democratic ideals. Likewise, special education through exclusion in special classes, and through teaching reduced content is anti-democratic. Since it is not exactly possible to know who has how much potential to be unfolded, or when, where, and under which influences the given potential will be unfolded, all students deserve the challenge of equal curriculum and expectations.

Democratic-equal schooling also requires equal treatment for all students, which calls for equal welcoming, expectations, and support by teachers, peers, and entire school personnel. A democratic school community is necessary to provide all students with equal opportunities to optimize their potential in a prejudice free, bullying free, exclusion free, and non-discriminatory environment. The well-being of any society requires the provision of equal schooling for all citizens without exclusion on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, religion, wealth, assumed intelligence, disability, sexual preferences, life styles, physical disability, heredity, or whatever else humans are able to think up as bases for discrimination (Goodlad, Mantle-Bromley, and Goodlad, 2004; Orrill 1997; Gutmann 1999; Dewey 1916/1944).

Equal Outcomes

In education everything is done for the sake of learning, which is the outcome of schooling, and the essence of education. Children come to school from diverse racial, cultural and social class backgrounds, and with different levels of knowledge, skills, and readiness. In modern democratic society, it is expected that school will equalize them by providing an equal learning through a common experience, so that, they become similar and can equally compete for the rewards they need. If schools, for any reason, such as race, gender, wealth, predicted ability, and so on, reduce the curriculum and lower the expectations, then they it cannot equalize; they reinforce , but reinforces their inequalities.

Provision of equal educational outcomes can be thought at two levels: Equality of educational achievement among groups, and equality of achievement among individuals within each group. First level is the provision of equality in the educational achievement among all racial, ethnic, social and cultural groups. This can be realized if the average educational achievements are the same for all groups, such as Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans, and also for social classes, ability groups, and so on[7]. Realization of this goal will close the achievement gap among groups and make them able to equally compete for the sources they need to survive and prosper[8]. Reaching the goal of average equal outcomes at group level does not mean that individuals within each group are equal in their learning. There will be a range of achievement differences among individuals. The second level is the provision of equal educational outcomes among individuals. Ideally, it can be realized if all individuals within each group achieve at the same level or within a range of predetermined norms, or at least meet the educational standards considered sufficient to be a productive and democratic citizen.

Diversified Education

The history of education teaches us that providing equal schooling does not produce equal educational outcomes. Research shows that "equal schooling," mostly serves "equal students," who are mostly middle class, white, and similar to one another. Students are so different from one another that the provision of equal schooling is necessary but not enough to produce equal learning. Even in rare places where both majority and minority parents are middle class and schooling is of high quality, the same schooling does not produce equal achievement (Ogbu 2003). Schooling must be diversified to enable all students to learn and achieve. Diversified schooling can be provided through the accommodation of differences among students[9].

Accommodation of Individual Differences

There are physical, psychological, and social differences among individuals. Each individual is a unique formation. Students who are different from one another in their preparation to learn should not be taught in the same way. Providing the same education for different individuals is neither efficient nor fair. To facilitate the learning of different students in the classroom, the content and method of teaching should be equitably diversified according to the students' differences. Students should be provided with the education they need, not with the same education. Individual differences should not be seen as deficits, but respectfully recognized, and accommodated (Grant and Gilette 2006; Banks 2006). Individualized Education Program (IEP) in special education, and Personal Literacy Plan (PLP) in Rhode Island are the examples of trends in this direction.

Accommodation of Cultural Diversity

Culture is a human creation, yet once created, it becomes a maker of human beings. Social, cultural, and democratic values are created by human beings, but after creation they begin molding the behaviors of humans in many aspects of life, including education. The role of culture as a powerful variable molding human beliefs, behaviors, and educational processes cannot be ignored, but must be accommodated in school and classrooms (Spinder 1997; Ogbu 2003; Banks 2003; Hollins 1996).

Teaching about Diverse Cultures

Although a purpose of public school is to teach children the culture of the national community, in modern democratic society, school curriculum should also include other cultures. Teaching about other cultures is necessary for several reasons. One reason is that each culture is a complex and comprehensive program to survive and prosper, and is a pool of solutions for human problems. Knowledge of and experience with diverse cultures is the dynamic of social development. It gives an opportunity for individuals and societies to compare their cultural creations with those of other societies and inspire them to create better ones. Since each culture provides alternative solutions for the same kind of human problems, on any day, anybody, from any community, may need one of those alternative solutions (Banks 2003; Spring 2000).

Another reason for learning about other cultures is that learning about only the majority culture may create a false sense of superiority among the members of the majority in a nation. On the other hand, the knowledge of and interaction with diverse peoples and cultures helps individuals to develop a realistic view of self, and eliminate the ethnocentric notion of "we are the best." Once a nation or group starts believing that they are superior, they will naturally reason that there is no need to learn about others. This notion is, indeed, self-destructive and leads to the formation of a closed, narrow-minded community. Respect for others can be better gained by learning about their cultures. Of course, one cannot be forced to learn and love other cultures and people. However, if one wants to be respected by others then one has to show respect for them. Learning about others is the starting point for the development of this mutual respect.

A condition of domestic and international peace is the recognition of and respect for diverse cultures, regardless of how big or small they are (Kymlicka 1995; Naylor 1997; Friesen 1993; Juan 2002).

Teaching about diverse cultures in the classroom gives a message to culturally diverse students that their cultures are recognized and respected. Multicultural curriculum prevents their alienation, facilitates their identification with the national community, and motivates them to learn the curriculum. A culturally diversified, inclusive curriculum should fairly reflect the cultural diversity of the nation and world (Banks 2003; Spring 2000; Boutte 2002).

Teaching the Culturally Diverse

Each culture creates its own "culture of education." In any democratic society, the culture of the majority, which is almost always the culture of the middle class, dominates the public institutions, including schools. It is the natural outcome of traditional, "majority rule" democracy. In the U.S., white middle-class Americans are is the majority of the nation and their culture determines the norms of institutions including schools. In a sense, education-relevant norms, and behaviors of white, middle-class families continue in school. However, there are many children growing up in minority families who do not know education relevant middle class norms. Most importantly they speak more than one language and their English is not like the English of white, middle-class Americans.

Members of each cultural group have somewhat different ideas about the value of schooling, importance of homework, content of curriculum, respect for teachers, parental involvement, and high GPA (Ogbu 2003). Children of racial and ethnic minorities, and the children of lower socioeconomic classes might experience a cultural discontinuity when they come to school. Educators must be aware of the impacts of cultural discontinuity for the students and their parents, whose cultures are different from the culture prevailing in school. For example,Specifically language minority students (whose first language is not English) are heavily challenged by the educational materials (Ogbu 2003; Miller 1995; Gonzalez-Mena 2001; Martin 2002).

Accommodation of Socioeconomic Differences

Social class is a strong determinant of the kind of social life and education that individuals experience. People from the same racial, ethnic, and cultural background are differentiated in their life and achievement by their social class characteristics. Two significant indicators that are used to classify individuals into social classes are income and education. Since the 1960s, research has demonstrated that there is a strong correlation between parents' social class and their children's achievement (Coleman 1964; Miller 1995). Generally, the larger the parental income, the higher the student achievement. Likewise, the higher the parental education, the higher the student achievement (Miller 1995). Students from different parental backgrounds achieve at different levels, because the resources needed for their learning are not the same. Students from low income and low education parents almost always have fewerless resources than their middle class peers in nutrition and health, in culture, language, technology, and many other education relevant resources. The level of preparation of lower class students to learn in school is lower than their middle class peers.. Providing students from different socioeconomic classes with similar and equitable resources the same kind of equal resources will not be enough to close the achievement gap amongbetween them. The provision of equal resources can even increase their achievement gap.

Students from the middle class can better utilize the resources provided by a school system dominated by the middle class norms and expectations (Coleman 1966). Research shows that the achievement gap among students from different social classes is getting larger from elementary through high school (NAEP 2004). Without providing students from lower socioeconomic classes with equitable resources, asking them to meet the achievement standards set for the middle class students is neither possible nor fair. To give a fair chance to these students to succeed in school, either their family income and education must be improved, or schools must compensate for whatever they are missing at home by redesigning schools and providing resources according to their needs.

Experiential Education

Learning is facilitated by the contributions of various materials, individuals, and institutions, but in the final analysis, it is an individual experience. This experience involves multiple senses and stimuli and can occur in different ways, under different conditions. Someone can teach another or one can learn, while reading, watching, listening, thinking and/or doing something. We know through personal observations and scientific research that the quality of learning improves if one learns by experience. Learning through an active experience, specifically learning by doing real life tasks, and constructing knowledge through this experience is more efficient, better reinforced, and lasts longer. Teaching should be designed to provide real life opportunities for students to learn by experience wherever possible. The notions of experiential teaching and learning are advocated, and are part of various theories in education, such as, experience and education, active learning, hands on learning, expeditionary learning, service learning, and so on (Silberman 1996; Hergenhahn and Olson 2001; Arends 1988; Dewey 1938/1963; Wadsworth 2004). One of the experiential learning strategies, service learning, which I use at college level, can be used at all levels of schooling.

Service Learning

Each course can provide different opportunities for learning by doing. In Foundations of Education courses, I use various assignments to provide students with opportunities for learning by doing. One of these assignments, a significant component of my Schooling in a Democratic Society class, is a service learning project[10]. The purpose of the project is to prepare prospective teachers to teach in diverse educational settings, and also to improve knowledge and skills of challenged K-12 students. The prospective teachers are assigned to the classrooms by a collaborating non-profit organization. They are provided service learning guidelines, an assessment rubric, and are trained for tutoring techniques. The assignment requires 15 to 25 hours of teaching a subject to students and interacting with them, in a diverse, urban classroom. The assignment also requires doing research about the demographic characteristics of the assigned school and its neighborhood, discussion of observations and experiences, writing a journal for each tutoring session, and writing a final paper based on the service learning experience and relevant written sources (Heffernan 2001; Chen and Winter 2004; Enos 2004; Erickson and Anderson 1997; Ogrady 2000; Boyle Baise 2002).

Section 3: Teaching the Nature and Power of Culture

Culture and Identity

When teaching about culture and cultural diversity, I use various examples to explain the molding power of culture in the formation of human identity, and in the identity of students coming from diverse cultures. I also ask various questions to open a class discussion. I know by experience that some students are familiar with the "nature versus nurture" debate and have already made up their minds on this matter. I encourage students to share their relevant perceptions and raise questions. Many times I have observed that students are somewhat reluctant to share their opinions on this issue. There is a tendency on their part to emphasize the role of nature in human personality and behavior. The question, "What makes you an American?" usually leads to a class discussion. Many times I hold back for a while because students explain their ideas by taking turns and the discussion carries on by itself. To add fuel to the discussion I may ask some other questions, such as, "What makes a person racist or anti-racist?" an "What makes a person liberal or conservative?" As can be imagined, it is hardly possible to respond to these questions by using the rhetoric of "nature," "race," or "genes."

Twin Sisters: One French, Other American

Another example that I use to explain and reinforce the importance of culture as a maker of identity is a story of twin sisters, Jacqueline and Laura. According to the story, a white, middle class American family had two six month old daughters who were identical twins. On a summer vacation in France in 1985, there was an unfortunate traffic accident where the parents were killed and one of their infant daughters was lost. When police arrived at the location of the accident they found a baby girl and gave her to the American Embassy in Paris. She was later adopted by a middle class American family living in Boston. According to the police report, there were two child seats in the car, but no second child around. However, it was reported that some people saw a car that had briefly stopped at the location of the accident. After 19 years, in June 2004, the French media reported that a young woman, Jacqueline, was looking for her relatives possibly living in America. She had been rescued by a French family as the only survivor of a deadly car accident in June 1985. Her parents were killed in the accident and they were possibly Americans. The happy ending was that the two families, one that raised Jacqueline in Paris and the other that raised Laura in Boston, eventually met and the twin sisters joined one another. Their story was inon the media for several days. After telling the story, I ask students to think about Jacqueline's language, manner, eating habits, clothing, music, dance, dating, and so on, to answer the question: "Is Jacqueline an American or French woman?" We conclude this discussion by saying that we are the outcome of our education, and the identities of individuals are formed by the content of their learning, which is based on their culture.

Best Shepherd's IQ

Some students relate the issue of "culture as a maker of human beings" to the IQ debate and challenge the rhetoric emphasizing the significance of environment and culture, that usually dominates our class discussions. Understanding the role of IQ in human life is a difficult issue. I believe that most of the students have already made up their mind on the role of IQ before they come to my class. They think that if you have it you can make it. On the other hand, my understanding is that we unfold and utilize our intellectual potential as much as we can, according to the richness and conduciveness of the environment. If the resources available for us from mother's womb to adulthood years are not sufficient to unfold our potential, it does not matter what is coded in the genes.

To facilitate students' understanding of the role of environment on the unfolding of inborn IQ potential, I use various examples. One of them is an anecdote from my schooling years that I call "the best shepherd story." The story is briefly as follows: I was a student in an elementary teacher education school. One day in our General Psychology class we discussed the concept of IQ. The presentation of the instructor was very stimulating. When the class was over, there were still many questions on our minds. As a group of "concerned students" we began to discuss the role of IQ and environment. I do not remember why we were using a shepherd metaphor, but the question that we discussed was, If a child with the highest possible IQ is born to a poor, unschooled shepherd family in a village with no school and in the middle of nowhere, could that child be an astronaut? I think, because of the trip of Apollo-11 to the moon in those years, the astronaut held the highest status in our minds. We could not solve the problem and decided to ask the instructor. During the lunch recess we found him in the schoolyard watching the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. After a short time of thinking he said: "That child can be the best shepherd in the region." In addition to this anecdote or a similar one I also use relevant research findings, such as, the importance of nutrition for the development of IQ during the early years. We usually conclude the discussion by saying that the unfolding of our IQ potential, as well as the rest of our entire potential, is largely dependent on the appropriateness of the cultural environment.


I consider myself a democratic, inclusive, and experiential instructor working to provide equal access, diversified teaching, and equal outcomes. I consider myself a democratic instructor, because doing democracy in the classroom and educating the democratic mind are my overarching goals. I consider myself an inclusive instructor, because my mind, heart, and classroom are open to all, regardless of their inborn or learned differences; regardless of their race, ethnicity, social class, gender, age, disability, and sexual orientation. My classroom door is open to all regardless of who they are, as a door of hope, to change, grow, and become better. I consider myself as an experiential instructor, because over the years I have come to believe that the best learning occurs by doing within real life. Teaching should be an experiential, doing-centered process, performed by doing, and providing opportunities for learning by experience. Teachers at all levels should design the instruction to provide real life experiences, so that, students can perform real life tasks with real life responsibilities under the guidance of the instructor.

Works Cited

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Banks, James. (2006). Cultural diversity and education: Foundations, curriculum, and teaching, 5th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Barber, Benjamin R. and Battistoni, Richard M. (1999). Education for democracy: Citizenship, community, service. Iowa: Kendal / Hunt publishing.

Boutte, Gloria Swindler. (2002). Resounding voices: School experiences of people from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Boyle-Baise, Marilynne. (2000). Multicultural service learning: Educating teachers in diverse communities. New York: Teachers College Press.

Brislin, Richard. (1993). Understanding culture's influence on behavior. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Pub.

Chen, Dora W. (Winter 2004). The multiple benefits of service learning projects in pre-service teacher education. The Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 70(2), pp. 31-36.

Dewey, John. (1938/1997). Experience and education. New York: Touchstone Pub.

____. (1916/1944). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: The free Press.

Earley, P. Christropher and Ang, Soon. (2003). Cultural intelligence: Individual interactions across cultures. CA: Stanford University Press.

Enos, Sandra. (2004). Service-learning on American campuses: challenges for pedagogy and practice. Issues in Teaching and Learning, 1(2). Available at Http://

Goodlad, J. I., Mantle-Bromley, C., and Goodlad, Stephen J. (2004). Education for everyone: Agenda for education in a democracy. California: Jossey-Bass

Grant, Carl and Gilette, Maureen. (2006). Learning to teach everyone's children: Equity, empowerment, and education that is multicultural. Thomson Wadsworth Pub.

Gutmann, Amy. (1999). Democratic education. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Heffernan, Kerissa. (2001). Fundamentals of service learning course construction. Providence: Campus Compact pub.

Hollins, Etta R. (1996). Culture in school learning: Revealing the deep meaning. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Pub.

Juan, E. San. (2002). Racism and cultural studies: Critiques of multiculturalist ideology and the politics of difference. Durham: Duke University Press.

Kymlicka, Will. (1997). The rights of minority cultures. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

McDowall, David. (2004). A modern history of the Kurds, 3rd ed., London: I.B. Tauris.

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New Redhouse Turkish-English Dictionary. 10th edition, Istanbul: 1988.

Ogrady, Carolyn R. (Ed.) (2000). Integrating service learning and multicultural education in colleges and universities. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Pub.

Ogbu, John (2003). Black American students in an affluent suburb: A study of academic disengagement New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Pub.

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Pai, Young, Adler, Susan A. and Shadiow, Linda K. (2006). Cultural foundations of education, 4th ed., New Jersey: Pearson-Merrill Prentice Hall.

Parker, Walter C. (2003). Teaching democracy: Unity and diversity in public life. Multicultural Education Series. New York: Teachers College Press.

Silberman, Mel. (1996). Active learning: 101 strategies to teach any subject. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Spring, Joel. (2000). The intersection of cultures, 2nd. Ed. New York: McGraw Hill.

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1. Many Turkish people who grew up during the last years of the Ottoman Empire, which collapsed in the end of the First World War, and during the early years of the Turkish Republic, which was established in 1920 did not have the opportunity to go to school. The nation was at war at many fronts for more than a decade. Return to paragraph

2. Turkish people have changed their alphabet several times throughout their history. Historically, in central Asia they used the "Gokturk" and "Uygur" alphabets. When they were moving toward the West, to the Asia Minor, and Europe, which took several hundred years (and it is still going on) they met with Muslim Arabs on the road and converted to Islam as large masses mostly in the 9th century. After they converted to Islam, they began to use the Arabic alphabet to better understand the Islam, because the Koran, the holy book of Islam and the "hadis," the sayings of Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam, were written in Arabic. They used the Arabic alphabet with some minor modifications to write the Turkish language for almost one thousand years. However, in 1928 the Republic of Turkey adopted the Latin alphabet with some modifications as a new Turkish alphabet. This time the reason was to better understand the Western culture and civilization and to accelerate the modernization of Turkey. Return to paragraph

3. In Turkey, the procedure to find a teaching job is different from that of the US. The Turkish education system is centralized. The Ministry of National Education is responsible for the K-12 public schools in the country. The graduates of teacher education schools or colleges, who hold the required credentials and want to teach in a public school, apply to the Ministry of National Education. The ministry asks them to write the names of three provinces out of 80 and appoints them either to a school in a city in one of those provinces, or appoints them to a province and the public education agency in that province reappoints them to a school according to the needs of the province. Those who receive scholarship from government or graduategraduates from a boarding school, have to serve wherever they are sent by the ministry for a while. For example, if they graduate from a three year boarding school, they have to serve three years in a place appointed by the government or have to pay back the money spent for them in the boarding school. Return to paragraph

4. In Turkey, military service is mandatory for all men Return to paragraph.

5. In Turkey, all public school buildings and their premises are the property of the government. Since finding rental houses in small communities is difficult, the government builds houses for teachers around the school buildings. Return to paragraph

6. After I left teaching in the Kurdish community, specifically between 1984 and 1999, Turkey experienced a Kurdish insurrection.resurrection. A group of Kurdish guerrillasguerillas started fighting against the Turkish government to establish an independent Kurdish state in the eastern part of Turkey. In those years, some of the neighboring countries such as Iraq and Syria supported them, and in 15 years, about 30 thousand people (including guerrillas, the guerillas, Turkish security forces and citizens) were killed as a result of terrorist attacks and conflict amongbetween the parties. The leader of the rebellion was arrested in 1999 and sentenced for a life long prison term. During the last 10 years, the Turkish government has changed the constitution and laws to provide minority groups with cultural rights available for the minorities in the European Union countries. Today, as the minorities in European countries, Kurdish people can use their language and culture as they wish except for the instruction in public schools. Return to paragraph

7. A list of legally recognized groups can be seen in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Return to paragraph

8. Currently in the U.S., there is a large achievement gap among racial, ethnic groups and social classes. Return to paragraph

9. According to the Census 2000 data, 40% of the school population came from racially and culturally diverse groups. According to the projections, "children of color" will constitute the majority of the student population by 2035 and account for 57% by 2050. Return to paragraph

10. The Praise of Education Conference, organized by the Institute for Educational Inquiry under the leadership of John GoodladGoodlad's (June 18-19, 1998. Bellevue, Washington) inspired me to integrate service learning into my courses. Dr. Goodlad and his colleagues had invited successful presenters of educational reform projects to the conference. The projects providing opportunities for learning by doing got my attention more than others, and after returning to my college, I designed a service learning-tutoring project for my teacher education students. Over the years I have further developed the project, and it works much more successfully now. Return to paragraph

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