Hofstede’s Intercultural Dimensions and their Effect on Classrooms

Exploring Hofstede’s website about cultural differences and “dimensions” was very interesting. Briefly, he describes four dimensions (power distance, individualism, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity) in which various cultures have strong beliefs, resulting in different behaviors. While I was reading the definitions of Hofstede’s dimensions, I made guesses about where the US scored. My guesses were as follows:

  • Power distance: I predicted that the US would be lower than halfway, but not lower than a quarter. This is because it seems that on the surface, the US does a lot to avoid emphasis on racial, class, sexual, and gender differences. However, we have also seen evidence of systematic, unacknowledged behavior and patterns that indicate this is not true. My guess for this dimension was correct.
  • Individualism: This one was easy—I predicted that the US would score very high on this scale, as we are a very egocentric society, especially when compared to sociocentric societies such as China or Bali. I was not surprised at all when the graph showed that the US scored a 91 on individualism.
  • Uncertainty Avoidance: This one I thought was a little harder to determine. My guess would actually be that the US scores higher on this scale (they have more rules) in more liberal states, but lower in more conservative states, though obviously this would depend on which “rules” and “fears of uncertainty” were being faced. I was a little surprised to find that the US scored fairly low on this scale, until I glanced through a few other countries. Iraq, for example, has a very high uncertainty avoidance score, meaning it has far more cultural rules and regulations. Based on what I know of Iraq and the Islamic faith, I realized it wasn’t too surprising. But without the context of other countries and their cultures, my beliefs were a little skewed.
  • Masculinity: I predicted a higher score for the US in terms of its masculinity, though I disagree with the terms “masculine society” and “feminine society”. The US is highly driven, competitive (especially in terms of education), and has a high desire for success. According to Hofstede, the US has a score of 62, which I found surprising in how low it was. As a whole, I would have expected society to be less nurturing, since it is very egocentric.
  • Pragmatism and Indulgence: Although these weren’t in the original descriptions of the cultural dimensions, I was surprised by the fact that the US was considered normative. I would have expected that the US was more driven toward acceptance of new and experimental things. I was less surprised to find that the US was fairly indulgent—that is, that they exert relatively weak control over personal desires and impulses. Again, this is because the US is a very egocentric society, and heavily emphasizes an individual’s own merits as an indicator of success.

In terms of how these dimensions present themselves in the classrooms, I think that deeply-ingrained beliefs and ideas can make appearances at young ages, especially with regards to race and socio-economic class. Both student and teacher perceptions of different students can have an effect on how the student is treated and whether or not they succeed. According to research by Robert J. Marzano, teacher expectations can be formed based on the student’s cumulative folder, their social class, their race, their socio-economic status, and physical attractiveness. These expectations, especially for low-expectancy students, can result in differential teacher behavior (Marzano, 2007). Having a culture that emphasizes individuality and success based on your own merits also works its way into a classroom. If a student succeeds, it is because of something he or she did. If a student is not successful, than it is at the fault of that one student. This may not be explicitly stated, but I think that it is an underlying belief in both the student, his or her peers, and the teacher, which can cause the student to struggle later in school because of a deep-seated belief that he or she is not successful.

American society highly emphasizes competition and a desire for success. We see this in our national desire to be “better”, to be the “land of the free”, and also in our more personal desires to be on top. Society, as a whole, emphasizes education reform because there is this feeling that we have slipped from the “top spot” in national education, and that we need to reclaim it. This effects individual classrooms by introducing new ways to measure education—standards, accountability, national tests. More recently, the Common Core standards, a national “standard” for education, are working their way into classrooms across the country. You could argue that these standards are for the benefit of each individual student, but there is a lot of evidence that suggests standards are actually increasing dropout rates in schools. So is it for individual students, or for the benefit of the country as a whole?

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

The Hofstede Centre. (2014). [Comparison of Cultural Dimensions by Country]. Hofstede’s Intercultural Dimensions. Retrieved from: http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html

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