Personal Background Story

Because I grew up in a predominantly white, middle-class town—a farming community near Mt. Rainier—I feel that several things occurred in me in terms of my worldview. One was that financial hardship was something I learned about later in life, and only was able to scratch the surface of, since I never truly experienced it for myself. It is something I can understand and sympathize with, but not truly something I can empathize with, since even now I know that if I need help, I will receive it. While my parents, both coming from families with seven children, grew up among financial hardship, neither I nor my siblings faced such challenges. And for the most part, neither did my classmates. Part of the separation from hardship I enjoyed was geographical. While my community was not entirely made up of middle-class European Americans, I went to an elementary school that was far from the “city” (which is in reality a small town, though I didn’t realize it then), so the students I was grouped with also lived on medium or large properties, and were from families of moderate wealth. When I reached middle school, I was closer to the town and therefore closer (geographically) to a larger variety of people. My town had a single mini-population of Mexican immigrants, which I didn’t even know existed until my middle school years. These students grew up in a mobile-home community. Though the students were American citizens from being born here and spoke English fluently, their parents often spoke no English and stuck to their own small community. It was a kind of shock to realize that not everybody in my country, or even my own community, spoke the same language as me. While I have never really considered myself to be a biased person, looking back on my childhood it is easy to see where my own ignorance of cultural disparities has influenced the way I look at and rationalize things. I’ve recently realized that when I see mobile homes, I don’t really consider that they could be populated by families other than Mexican immigrants, though logically I know that’s not sound.

Another building block in my worldview is something a little more subtle and fine-tuned than financial aspects. It has more to do with a “culture within a culture”, as I like to call it. One of the things I took note of while reading the Banks chapter was that he mentioned that teachers also bring their personal and cultural knowledge to the classroom. Although the majority of US teachers (as of 1996) are European American females, “there is enormous diversity among European Americans that is mirrored in the backgrounds of the teacher population, including diversity related to religion, social class, region, and ethnic origin” (Banks, 1996). This particularly stood out to me as I was reflecting on my experiences growing up. While the vast majority of my community was the “same” in terms of class and race, the reality of the matter is that even within this culture of middle-class families of European descent, there was a variety in power structure and family structure. As a result, I tend to see major differences among those who are in the same population categories as me. Part of this is due to family backgrounds; my family was very open and welcoming, they encouraged creativity and freedom while also not allowing us to neglect our work. My dad’s motto is “be happy, be responsible”. He claims that if you follow these two rules, then you can be successful in life. My parents provided support through college and beyond, always encouraging more learning and whatever endeavor I or my siblings chose to follow. However, even among my peers of the same race and class, there is much diversity. A close friend who is white, middle-class, and female, did not receive the same encouragement from her family as I did. When we were younger, we were very similar in personality and beliefs, but as we got older, we drifted apart because of differences in worldviews. Things I thought were important were not important to her and vice versa. Because of the way I was raised, I have found that I actually believe some methods for running day-to-day operations are wrong—though in fact, they are just different.

My experiences in teaching so far have taken me to classrooms that are also middle-class, though kids of European descent were actually a minority there. I think that this has only perpetuated my own beliefs about family dynamics, since much of what I had seen was very similar to my own upbringing in terms of finances and family. In the future, these biases may present a challenge to me as I encounter students from either a lower or higher socio-economic status. I think I tend to have a tiny amount of disdain for those who I perceive as more privileged than me, and sympathy for those who I believe are less so. While this seems to be a common theme among those of the white middle-class, I think it is also important that we realize our cultural biases and work to understand them so we don’t allow them to influence our perceptions of people.

Banks, J. A. (1996). Multicultural education, transformative knowledge, and action. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


One thought on “Personal Background Story

  1. I think empathy is just as you described it – we can feel for the person going through circumstances (but not pity) but never fully understand their struggles. Empathy is caring for that person the best we can and showing compassion and is an absolute necessity in a classroom teacher, I believe.
    I appreciate your mention of growing experiences as ‘building blocks’ and your thoughtful and honest response. Thank you for sharing.

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