Cultural and linguistic competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency or among professionals and enable that system, agency or those professions to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.
With the increasing diversity of the U.S. population, schools must be aware of cultural differences and how they influence learning styles, communication, and behavior. Schools must also be equipped to provide meaningful educational experience for all children regardless of race, ethnicity and culture. School staff must become culturally competent in order to provide a culturally responsive learning environment. When culture is ignored, students and their families are at risk of not getting the support they need, or worse yet, receiving assistance that is more harmful than helpful.
The cultural gap between students and their teachers very often can be a factor in students’ academic performance and contribute to achievement gaps among different student groups. Some 20 percent of public school students are Hispanic, with students of other ethnicities and multiracial students comprising another 22 percent of public school students. In addition, the number of children ages 5-17 who speak a language other than English at home has more than doubled between 1979 and 2005 to more than 10 million students.
These trends will continue as the nation and the school-age population become increasingly diverse and vulnerable. Overall, the dramatic diversification that is currently underway in the United States may someday result in cultural competence reaching a status comparable to computer literacy.
Cultural competence, as it relates to education, is having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and an understanding about differences, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families. It is the capability and capacity to understand the differences within a cultural and/or ethnic group that makes each student unique, while celebrating the variations between cultural and/or ethnic groups that make our country the unique “melting pot” that it has been characterized as being, although many prefer to describe it as a” salad bowl”. This understanding provides the basis for the creation of culturally responsive learning environments and teaching practices in the culturally competent educator’s classroom.
Cross, T., Bazron, B., Dennis, K., & Isaacs, M., (1989). Towards A Culturally Competent System of Care, Volume I. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Child Development Center, CASSP Technical Assistance Center.