The Importance of Action in Cultural Competence

As we discussed earlier in the quarter, cultural competence is a process, not a product (to tie us back in to my previous post). New challenges continue to find us, and as we work through these, we seek out other ways in which we can improve upon our current worldview. Just as with anything important, there is always room for improving, and in this case, increasing knowledge and views of the world.

While taking the self-analysis on cultural competence from Sue & Sue (2009), I noticed two important things about my own answers. First, that I didn’t mark “often” (or the equivalent) for a single question or topic. I marked myself generally around the middle. The second thing I noticed was that when it came to action, I marked “never” on almost every single one. While I am generally comfortable discussing class, race, and religion with others, I am not usually motivated to take action in order to make things more equal. This is partly from lack of opportunity, from lack of knowledge about what I can do, and also partly from an ingrained belief that there is nothing I can do. What can I, as a young female graduate student, do to help the millions of people who are treated unfairly? Changing this belief, I think, is one of my personal goals in my own journey of cultural competence. For myself, I think what is most important is first learning what I can about problems dealing with race, then follow it up with inquiring about steps I can take as an educator to help students in my own class. Once I am an educator, I will certainly have the power to make changes, even if they are just small ones. I think that it is important for me to start realizing this now, and work toward changing my own attitude toward race, especially with regards to education.

In order to promote some of the values from the self-assessment, I think the most important thing is to educate myself and others on what is happening in the country (and also the world) right now having to deal with race. For example, in Ferguson, Missouri, a young white cop shot a black youth, causing ripples of anger and hatred across the country. As teachers, this is something we need to be aware of, yet remain impartial to, in my opinion. Since all we know is what we hear from the media, and the opinions of those around us, it is hard to really know what happened that night. But children, especially young ones, form opinions based on what they hear from their parents. I’ve heard both sides of the coin on this matter; the officer was profiling the youth, who did nothing wrong, or the youth attacked the cop. Whichever is the case, students will be bringing these opinions to school, though they may not do so expressly. It is up to the teacher to take action within his or her classroom to ensure that these conflicting opinions do not bring about more inequality and anger.

Sue & Sue. (2009). What is cultural competence? Retrieved from https://bbweb-prod.spu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-970649-dt-content-rid-1852070_1/courses/EDU6133_10069201451/EDU6133_20328201232_ImportedContent_20130101084145/Cultural%20Competence%20Self-Asssessment.pdf

A Process or Product Educational View?

After reading the Ellis article this week, I think that I am more of an advocate of the “process” point of view when it comes to education and curriculum, though I will also argue that the “product” viewpoint has its place in education as well. The article spoke of Jerome Bruner, an advocate of the process approach. He claimed that “to instruct someone in these disciplines is not a matter of getting him to commit results to mind; rather, it is to teach him to participate in the process that makes possible the establishment of knowledge” (Ellis). In other words, memorization holds only so much importance in education. What really matters is that the students understand how to investigate, to come to conclusions, and to learn about learning. Because what use do we have for memorizing when we can use calculators, find something on Google, or ask Siri to tell us answers to questions we might have? Technology has really changed how we see and use information and facts. Once I finished with my undergrad, I found that practically none of the knowledge I had learned in school was useful to me. What I found useful in working was my previous job experience, volunteer experience, internship experience, and experiences in class that were hands-on or project-based (and also related to my job). When I was interviewing for preschool positions, often I did not know exactly what I needed. But I know how to find answers when I have questions, and I know how to get information I need, and that was what employers found more valuable.

However, memorization should not be discounted entirely. In the classes I tutor, I see kids use calculators to find answers to simple math problems such as 2/2, 4×10, and 28-9. In the Ellis article, Lynne Cheney argues that the process approach believes that “we can teach our children how to think without troubling them to learn anything worth thinking about…that we can teach them how to understand the world in which they live without conveying to them the events and ideas that have brought it into existence” (Ellis). Her argument is that we shouldn’t be teaching how to learn without giving them something to learn.

I believe that a combination of both, with an emphasis on the process approach, is an effective model for teaching. A later quote from Bruner mentioned that in order to help students remember those facts they are supposed to memorize, there needs to be some connection, some process that allows them to create that link. As teachers, I think it is important that we be able to help students organize these facts in their minds by giving them a toolkit for investigation and research, but at the same time ensure that they aren’t missing out on something vital. In a younger math class I tutor (4th grade), the teacher spends several days working on the process of a strategy, then spends several days helping students translate that to their paper. He gives them the language they need to be able to do this, and the kids love math. Plus, they’re pretty good at it. An example would be when they were learning how to multiply large numbers. They spent a few days working on arrays with square manipulatives (multiplying relatively small numbers), then they began drawing them on paper. After a few days, they then learned open arrays with much larger numbers. By the end of the unit, the students were all math wizards.

I do not believe there is one right way to educate kids. I think that pulling an idea from here, a philosophy from there, helps me to see that since no one way works for all students, then I need to find what works for students as individuals. The process and product approaches to curriculum are the same. When I am in charge of my own classroom, this is something I will certainly keep in mind when implementing curriculum.

Ellis, A. School curriculum. Educational Foundations. Retrieved from: http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-9-ellis-school-curriculum2.pdf

Teaching a Lesson Based on Principles of John Dewey

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This week, we discussed John Dewey’s contributions to American education. He was a big proponent of progressive change, and disagreed with tests of knowledge, high-stakes testing, and short-term learning (Scheuerman, 2014). According to Dewey, it was more important to build an appreciation on lifelong learning in students, instead allowing them to choose their own learning (Scheuerman, 2014). The teacher should let the natural curiosity of their students guide their teaching, and he supported experiential learning (Scheuerman, 2014). For this week’s blog post, I am writing ideas for a week-long project for a group of fourth grade students based on John Dewey’s ideas, with the topic of state geography and incorporating Common Core standards for reading informational text.

Fourth grade is generally the time when students start exploring more of the world around them, including the geography, history, and government of their home state. Assuming I am teaching in Washington state, my class will be learning about the Cascades, the Yakima Valley, the Ring of Fire (there are many options to choose from here), fault lines and tectonic plates, agriculture in Eastern Washington, the Puget Sound, the Olympic Peninsula, and a variety of other interesting and unique geological features. I am also assuming that throughout the year, we are moving through these topics individually, so currently, my class is discussing agriculture in Eastern Washington, including the Yakima Valley, and what makes it ideal for growing the fruit they are famous for. This unit will be about incorporating research from informational texts, analyzing and interpreting visual, oral, or quantitative information, and determining the sequence of events in an informational text.

At the beginning of the week, I would introduce the topic. Since Dewey didn’t think the teacher should be giving the children information, instead letting them experience knowledge on their own, my introduction would cover basics. This would be enough to give an overview of possible topics on Eastern Washington Agriculture, such as the rain shadow, the climate, the soil composition, or types of fruit that thrive in the region. During this time, I would also bring up our topic question: what makes Eastern Washington ideal for agriculture? Once my introduction is over, the students would then take a “field trip” to the library, where we would be able to use library resources (including computers, if they have them) to find articles, books, and other sources of information (approved by teacher or librarian) about one of the many subjects available to them involving agriculture. This gives the students the ability to choose their own learning, while at the same time they are aligning their choices with subjects that need to be taught in 4th grade. Each student would need to find at least two texts about their subject. This could be sped up by having the librarian help find specific books and articles before hand, or I could find them myself, but I also think it is important for the students to learn how to find the information for themselves.

The next few days will be spent working on reading and analyzing the texts that the students found. Common Core standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.9 states that students should be able to “integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably” (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2014). Students could discuss their subjects in groups, sharing their information as they find it, or they could journal about it. I would ask guiding questions, and in particular emphasize that we are learning about why their subject contributes to our overall theme (what makes Eastern Washington ideal for growing fruit). Students would search for key ideas and themes related to this question, and would be learning how to “explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text” (CCSSI, 2014), as stated by standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.3. They would also be spending time interpreting graphic information and statistics, which would then be incorporated into their final projects. This fulfills the standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.7, which states that students can “interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears” (CCSSI, 2014). If there is time, I would also include a short documentary video about agriculture in Eastern Washington. Afterward, we would (as a class), list some interesting facts that might help us in our project while practicing interpreting oral and visual information.

WS Agriculture

Example of visual media students may choose to analyze and interpret

During the final day of the project, students would present their findings to the class, including what they studied, why it makes Eastern Washington an ideal place for growing fruit. After listening to several students’ projects, as a class we would create a poster (or some other form of visual media) describing a variety of reasons for agriculture to be popular in Eastern Washington, again using several (secondary) sources to form knowledge about a specific subject.

I would like to point out that while John Dewey’s ideas of progressive change have recently hit a setback (Scheuerman, 2014), I don’t think that this means his ideas can’t be incorporated into the classroom. The Common Core standards can still be taught while allowing children the freedom of choice. During this unit, the class had a chance to choose the direction of their learning, all the while gaining valuable skills in analyzing texts and visuals, synthesizing their findings and sharing them, and look for key ideas within a text to answer a question they may have about a subject. I think if these kinds of processes are practiced throughout the year, students will have a pretty good grasp on them by the time they head to 5th grade. And while they may not remember exact facts about the rain shadow in the Yakima Valley, they will have at least gained some valuable skills.

Scheuerman, R. (2014). Progressivism and intellectual development [PDF document]. Retrieved from http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-8-progressivism1.pdf

Common Core State Standards Initiative (2014). English language arts standards: Reading: Informational text: Grade four. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RI/4/

Academic Language in the edTPA and Classroom

There is a clear emphasis in academic language in the edTPA (Teacher Performance Assessment), asking teacher candidates to share examples of students using academic language that were taught and written on their lesson plan. This means that their portfolio should include examples of student use of specialized vocabulary identified by the teacher candidate, language-related activities that are useful for classrooms (like expressing disagreement, discussing an issue, or asking for clarification), and for older students, field essays or lab reports (CWU, 2014). Rather than just students repeating definitions, these examples should show how the students understand the vocabulary and their ability to use key language function, which should be identified in the lesson plans (Stanford, 2014). In the video we watched and chapter we read this week, we learn about several strategies used in bilingual education, and why they are important in multicultural education. In the Coral Way Bilingual School, students are given many opportunities to improve their language ability in both English and Spanish. One of the teachers in the video claimed that “teaching ELL takes second language strategies that are just good teaching practice” (Checkley, 2004), and I agree. The teachers used visuals to help reinforce language aquisition, buddies to make their students more comfortable, lots of repetition (in the video, especially with regards to homophones and idioms, two concepts of the English language that can make it very difficult to learn as a second language), and used contextualized language to make the differences in the words more clear. For example, one teacher used a duster to dust her students’ heads as well as dusting powder to dust her students’ heads (Checkley, 2004). In this way, she acted out two different meanings for “dusting” (as exemplified in the Amelia Bedelia book they were reading) while also engaging her students in a humorous way. This would be useful to use as an example of teaching for the edTPA. It shows student understanding of the language, and also their ability to recognize the difference in the use of “dusting” based on context clues. Since the language we are familiar with and use “affects [our] perceptions of the world and of others” (Ovando and Gourd, 1996), it is especially important that students be able to effectively use and understand the language of both their community and the country. Teachers need to be able to show examples of student progress in this manner, and I think that many of the strategies shown in the video are helpful.

Other strategies the teachers used at Coral Way Bilingual School were to incorporate music into the classroom. One teacher started her day with a positive “we can” rap, with the lyrics printed out so the children could read and sing along. She also recorded her own voice reading Amelia Bedelia so that she could walk around and help students with her hands and eyes free. I liked this idea, and I think that it can be really beneficial to have the sound of their teacher’s voice reading them the story, but also have her able to move around and help as needed. It is something I think I would like to implement in my own classroom. I also think that anxiety reduction is important, especially in a classroom of all English-speakers with one or two ELL students. It can be really difficult for students to be singled out as different, so I want to reduce that as much as possible. In a different class, a girl told a story about her teacher who works with ELL students. She works with a class of them, so the application is a little different, but what she told them at the beginning of the class was that they do not have to speak until they are ready. This helped eliminate some of the discomfort and stress of being in an unfamiliar environment with an unfamiliar language, and by the time the class was half over, they were all talking. Maybe not well, but they were at least trying, and were more comfortable with it. In a classroom of mostly English-speakers, I think this could be useful, giving the student time to orient themselves and maybe gather their courage. In my own experience, I’ve found that it is also useful to learn a couple words in the child’s own language. I’ve had several students who spoke languages I knew nothing about (such as Tamil, Russian, Arabic, and Swiss-German), and in every case, the student responded more positively toward my class and to me when I knew at least how to say “hello” or “good morning”. Even better if I knew some silly words to make them feel more at ease.

Checkley, J. (Executive Producer), & Steinhorn, P. & Creed, B. (Producers). (2004). A visit to classrooms of English language learners [Motion picture]. United States. Retrieved from: http://www.schooltube.com/video/acaca0e86f20635ba97e/A%20Visit%20to%20Classrooms%20of%20English%20Language%20Learners

Ovando, C. J., and Gourd, K. (1996). Knowledge construction, language maintenance, revitalization, and empowerment. Banks, J., Multicultural education: Transformative knowledge & action (297-322). New York and London: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Horace Mann and his Contributions to Education

This week, we learned about Horace Mann’s contributions to society, and specifically his contributions to public education. He wrote that “teaching is the most difficult of all arts and the profoundest of all sciences” (Mann, 1838), bringing the attention of the public to education, and creating state-funded programs for teacher training. This, to me, was his most important contribution.

Prior to Mann’s influence in the early- to mid- 1800’s, there were no state laws making public education mandatory. In fact, if a child lived in a rural community, likely they didn’t have a school to attend, and learned everything from their parents, relatives, and community. It wasn’t seen as important to ensure that everyone received an education, but Mann put the problem in terms of economics. He said that “education is the lifeblood of commerce” (Scheuerman, 2014), and expressed to the readers of his first annual report why education was important to them as well as the children. He believed that if properly supported and provided for, public education could be the means of creating a better society. This is a belief that we have in common. I think that in order to create a better society for the US, providing a “better” and proper education for all its inhabitants is a requirement. However, I don’t think that that education must be a certain way. Mann believed in providing reading and language instruction, which I agree is important (especially in terms of communication). I also think that there is more to education than just your basic standards. Trade schools are becoming more popular of an option for students who have graduated high school, but what about younger students? While we are so focused on standards, we tend to ignore other areas such as art, physical sciences, and humanities. But these are just as important.

Another contribution from Mann that I believe is significant today is his emphasis on teacher training programs. There are many of these today, including the STARS training I went through as an early childhood educator. From personal experience, I can say that the STARS classes and the other trainings I went to while teaching preschool were not only helpful to me, they were beneficial to my students. As a future elementary teacher, I still think continued education for educators is highly important. It helps to keep teachers’ knowledge fresh while also providing a forum to share ideas, learn new methods, and bring about further positive changes in the classroom.

Mann, H. (1838). First annual report. Boston: Dutton and Wentworth.

Turkish Delight: A Conversation on Culture

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This week, I chose to have dinner at a Turkish restaurant with a few friends of mine for my visit and conversation. We each enjoyed a delicious Turkish meal, complemented by the spices that were our centerpiece, featured in Ottoman style dinnerware. After dinner, I had the chance to talk with the restaurant owner Gencer Gökeri, a native Turk who moved to Seattle in the 70’s, and who was very enthusiastic about Turkish culture and history. I learned much about the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, and he had more legends and religious stories than I could write down. My favorites were about the cats near Lake Van who have two different colored eyes, one brown, and one blue (and they’re real!). Another was that Cleopatra used the Pumakkale thermal pools as a bath, to keep her skin clear and beautiful. I also loved the Islamic story of Abraham, who was to be burned by Nimrod in the city of Ur (Sanliurfa, or Urfa). But when he was placed over the wood, God turned the wood into fish, and the fire into water, which then became the Halil-Ur Rahman Lake.

Most interesting, however, was Turkish history. The Ottoman Empire ruled over 110 different peoples, and was the center of the world. After its fall, “out of the ashes, 38 countries rose,” (Gökeri, G. Personal communication, November 15, 2014) none of which spoke Turkish or were Islamic. Within Turkey, the culture is very diverse. It was the “bridge” between countries, before we had air travel. Both the spice road and the silk road ran through Turkey, and along the way there are caravan souks (palaces) every 20 or 30 miles. These palaces housed 400-500 people at a time (and their camels!), were several stories, and were free for the travelers, so long as they were paying Turkish taxes and brought trade to Turkey. Early Christians, hiding from Roman oppressors, dug the caves of Cappadocia, creating miles of cave systems that were later controlled by the Ottoman empire. These caves have lasted centuries, and are still used today as hotels and homes, and tourist sites. Turkey (and the Ottoman Empire) also has a history of tolerance for other cultures. Gökeri mentioned that in his own hometown, there were four Christian churches, one synagogue, and one mosque, despite Turkey being an Islamic country. During WWII, Jews fleeing Europe used Turkey as an escape route (Turkey serving again as a “bridge”), and many wound up living there permanently.

Gencer also spoke about the Turkish community in Seattle. I learned that there are around 7 or 8,000 Turks in Seattle today. Many moved to Seattle in the 70’s and 80’s for Boeing and Microsoft jobs, along with many other cultures. There are several organizations supporting the Turkish community. The ACACIA foundation was formed by Turkish-Americans in Washington in 2002, with the idea to introduce Turkish culture into American society. The Turkish American Cultural Association of Washington (TACAWA) is responsible for many Turkish cultural events, such as the Seattle Turkish Film Festival (November 20-23rd!) and the Ahiska Turks Friendship Festival. According to Gökeri (2014), the Ahiska (or Meskhetian) Turks were oppressed for many years in the Ahiska region of Georgia, and were deported to central Asia. In 2005, about 65 or 66 thousand were brought to the United States as refugees, and about 2 or 3 thousand were brought to Seattle (bringing the total Seattle population up quite a bit!). Many of these Ahiska Turks were then given the opportunity for jobs and an educations, and several of them were actually employed at the restaurant we visited. According to Gökeri, they were more Turkish than he was, although they had never been to Turkey in their lives.

As a future educator, I felt that the biggest impact for me was the idea that even though Turkey is one country, there is actually a hugely diverse population there. Even more important, even within the Turkish community in Seattle, the people are widely different. Gökeri frequently talked about the continued tolerance of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, allowing many types of people to settle within its borders even when others would not. Teachers should be aware of these differences within cultures. Just because two people are from the same country (or the same community within our state), does not mean that they have the same beliefs and backgrounds. I think this only further emphasizes the need for educators to learn about their students as individuals, and not groups. Even within the US, our cultures are vastly different. My boyfriend and I come from two very different cultures (East Coast, West Coast), although we are both American. This idea can ring true for all groups, from all walks of life.

I really enjoyed talking with Gencer about Turkey. He was very excited and knew so much about history and Turkey that I couldn’t write down enough. He even had a wonderful map that he pulled out to share with me, and allowed me to take a photo to include (below). Also, here are some interesting facts about Turkey that he told me:

  • Turkey is the only peninsula to run east to west in the world
  • Istanbul is the only city in the world to sit on two continents (Asia and Europe)
  • About 88% of Turkey is in Asia, and 22% is in Europe (a rough estimate he gave me)
  • One of the more important souks is called Ishak Pasha Palace
  • Turkish poet Rumi was a prophet of Sufism, the mystical, inner dimension of Islam

If you are interested in some delicious Turkish food, head up to Fremont to Cafe Turko! There are all kinds of cool trinkets you can buy, and you can even purchase many of the spices and desserts to have later.

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Cultural Competence in Families and Teachers

Pick two or three of the areas of application below. If possible, make the applications specific to your subject area and grade level. What does culturally competent teaching look like when it pertains to: parents and families; expectations; context of culture; student-centered instruction; multiple perspectives; curriculum; teacher?

Since my discussion post this week was about the responsibilities of parents and teachers (and administrators) to provide resources for bilingual/bicultural children to succeed, I thought I would connect my blog post to that idea and discuss cultural competence as it pertains to teachers, parents, and families. As teachers-in-training (and probably often as teachers too), we hear a lot about cultural competence, what it means (also what it doesn’t mean), and how we can effectively incorporate it not just into our classrooms, but also our way of thinking. However, I think that both teachers and parents (or families) have a responsibility to “ask questions about their practice” in order to successfully educate, empower, and encourage their students (OSPI, 2014).

For a teacher, being culturally competent means many things. According to OSPI, being culturally competent is not just learning a list of facts about cultures and using them in teaching; it’s knowing the school’s community, teaching curricula in a way that is respectful to all, being aware of how culture affects how people act and react (including yourself), and examining how certain practices have an impact on the students (OSPI, 2014). In the fourth grade classroom I tutor, there is a student from Somalia who speaks Arabic as her first language and whose religion is Islamic. She dresses differently from the other kids (always skirts and a hijab), and sometimes has a difficult time understanding or making herself understood. She does not often ask for help or call attention to herself, but I noticed that if she is struggling, her teacher is aware and does what he can to help her. I think this is a good example of modeling cultural competence, since he doesn’t ever force her to call out answers if she seems to be unwilling, and doesn’t make her feel bad for needing help. Instead, he patiently encourages her to ask if she needs it, and also tries to warn her if he’s going to call on her (which he does for most of the students who are a little shy as well). I think that, most importantly, he is aware of this student and how her cultural background might be a little different from most of the other kids, and that her way of understanding something might be different because of the language barrier. But a teacher shouldn’t just be giving special attention to the one student from Somalia in his or her class. He should “acknowledge, honor, and respond to all cultures and types in a classroom,” (Sink, 2014), whether that be a Somalian student, a student from New York, a student from Seattle but with parents from Japan, or a student whose family roots are buried in Western Washington. This means being attuned to the different minds that come into your classroom.

On the discussion board this week, a few of my peers and I spoke of responsibility for providing learning resources. We all seemed to come to mostly the same conclusion; this responsibility, while ultimately falling to the parents, is a shared one between educators, families, and administrators alike. The National Center for Cultural Competence states that “cultural and linguistic competence requires shared power, reciprocal transfer of knowledge and skills, and respectful, trusting relationships with consumers, families, and communities,” (NCCC, 2014). I think it is vital for parents to be involved in their child’s learning. That might simply be asking questions and being interested in the student’s day at school, or as involved as becoming the PTA president. However, we also discussed that parents don’t always do this. Engaging families in a meaningful and culturally respective way is the job of the teachers and administrators who work with the students, promoting family-school partnerships that support their academic, social, emotional, cultural, and physical health (OSPI, 2014). For the teachers, I think it is most important for them to remain in constant communication with parents and families so that the families know what their child is learning. This might be a weekly newsletter or email, posters and signs in the classroom, or face-to-face communication. Through this communication, teachers can learn about the families and backgrounds of their students. Equally important, families can learn about the background and way of thinking of the teacher. Through a mutual understanding, the parents and teachers can work together to formulate a system that works best for each child. In this way it allows communities (and families) to determine their own needs, which is a guiding principle of cultural competence (NCCC, 2014).

I think that the best way for both families and educators to be culturally responsive, giving students the best possible education, is through communication. While it is important for teachers in particular to be aware of their students’ many different cultural backgrounds, it is also important for the parents to be aware of the classroom as well. By communicating to parents how they can help, a teacher is not only promoting cultural competence in herself, but also her students and their parents. She is promoting a better education for everyone.

Sink, C. (2014). Cultural competence, individual/collective cultures. [podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.screencast.com/t/isZzGVJlpJbO.

Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. (2014). Eliminating the gaps: Cultural competence. Retrieved from http://www.k12.wa.us/CISL/EliminatingtheGaps/CulturalCompetence/default.aspx.

National Center for Cultural Competence. (2014). The compelling need for cultural and linguistic competence. Retrieved from http://nccc.georgetown.edu/foundations/need.html.