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In this article, Lilia Bartolome argues that the current focus on finding the right "methods" to improve the academic achievement of students who have historically been oppressed hides the less visible but more important reasons for their performance: the asymmetrical power relations of society that are reproduced in the schools, and the deficit view of minority students that school personnel uncritically, and often unknowingly, hold. Bartolome argues instead for a humanizing pedagogy that respects and uses the reality, history, and perspectives of students as an integral part of educational practice. Discussing two approaches in particular that show promise when implemented within a humanizing pedagogical framework — culturally responsive education and strategic teaching — Bartolome emphasizes the need for teachers' evolving political awareness of their relationship with students as knowers and active participants in their own learning.
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Beyond the methods fetish: Toward a humanizing pedagogy
Bartolome, Lilia I. Harvard Educational Review. Cambridge: Summer 1994.Vol.64, Iss. 2; pg. 173, 22 pgs
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Subjects: Students, Social research, Academic achievement
Author(s): Bartolome, Lilia I
Document types: Feature
Publication title: Harvard Educational Review. Cambridge: Summer 1994. Vol. 64, Iss. 2; pg. 173, 22 pgs
Source type: Periodical
ISSN/ISBN: 00178055
ProQuest document ID: 1660116
Text Word Count 10335
Document URL: http://proquest.umi.com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/pqdweb?
did=1660116&sid=2&Fmt=3&clientId=17822&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Abstract (Document Summary)
The current focus on finding the right "methods" to improve the academic achievement of students who have
historically been oppressed hides the less visible but more important reasons for their poor performance.
Full Text (10335 words)
Copyright Harvard Educational Review Summer 1994
Much of the current debate regarding the improvement of minority student academic achievement occurs at a level
that treats education as a primarily technical issue (Giroux, 1992).(1) For example, the historical and present day
academic underachievement of certain culturally and linguistically subordinated student populations in the United
States (e.g., Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans) is often explained as resulting from the lack of
cognitively, culturally, and/or linguistically appropriate teaching methods and educational programs.(2) As such, the
solution to the problem of academic underachievement tends to be constructed in primarily methodological and
mechanistic terms dislodged from the sociocultural reality that shapes it. That is, the solution to the current
underachievement of students from subordinated cultures is often reduced to finding the "right" teaching methods,
strategies, or prepackaged curricula that will work with students who do not respond to so-called "regular" or
"normal" instruction.
Recent research studies have begun to identify educational programs found to be successful in working with
culturally and linguistically subordinated minority student populations (Carter & Chatfield, 1986; Lucas, Henze, &
Donato, 1990; Tikunoff, 1985; Webb, 1987). In addition, there has been specific interest in identifying teaching
strategies that more effectively teach culturally and linguistically "different" students and other "disadvantaged" and
"at-risk" students (Knapp & Shields, 1990; McLeod, in press; Means & Knapp, 1991; Tinajero & Ada, 1993).
Although it is important to identify useful and promising instructional programs and strategies, it is erroneous to
assume that blind replication of instructional programs or teacher mastery of particular teaching methods, in and of
themselves, will guarantee successful student learning, especially when we are discussing populations that
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historically have been mistreated and miseducated by the schools.
This focus on methods as solutions in the current literature coincides with many of my graduate students' beliefs
regarding linguistic minority education improvement. As a Chicana professor who has taught anti-racist multicultural
education courses at various institutions, I am consistently confronted at the beginning of each semester by
students who are anxious to learn the latest teaching methods -- methods that they hope will somehow magically
work on minority students.(3) Although my students are well-intentioned individuals who sincerely wish to create
positive learning environments for culturally and linguistically subordinated students, they arrive with the
expectation that I will provide them with easy answers in the form of specific instructional methods. That is, since
they (implicitly) perceive the academic underachievement of subordinated students as a technical issue, the
solutions they require are also expected to be technical in nature (e.g., specific teaching methods, instructional
curricula and materials). They usually assume that: 1) they, as teachers, are fine and do not need to identify,
interrogate, and change their biased beliefs and fragmented views about subordinated students; 2) schools, as
institutions, are basically fair and democratic sites where all students are provided with similar, if not equal,
treatment and learning conditions; and s) children who experience academic difficulties (especially those from
culturally and linguistically low-status groups) require some form of "special" instruction since they obviously have
not been able to succeed under "regular" or "normal" instructional conditions. Consequently, if nothing is basically
wrong with teachers and schools, they often conclude, then linguistic minority academic underachievement is best
dealt with by providing teachers with specific teaching methods that promise to be effective with culturally and
linguistically subordinated students. To further complicate matters, many of my students seek generic teaching
methods that will work with a variety of minority student populations, and they grow anxious and impatient when
reminded that instruction for any group of students needs to be tailored or individualized to some extent. Some of
my students appear to be seeking what Maria de la Luz Reyes (1992) defines as a "one size fits all" instructional
recipe. Reyes explains that the term refers to the assumption that instructional methods that are deemed effective
for mainstream populations will benefit all students, no matter what their backgrounds may be.(4) She explains that
the assumption is
similar to the "one size fits all" marketing concept that would have buyers believe that there is an average or ideal
size among men and women.... Those who market "one size fits all" products suggest that if the article of clothing is
not a good fit, the fault is not with the design of the garment, but those who are too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short,
or too high-waisted. (p. 435)
I have found that many of my students similarly believe that teaching approaches that work with one minority
population should also fit another (see Vogt, Jordan, & Tharp, 1987, for an example of this tendency). Reyes
argues that educators often make this "one size fits all" assumption when discussing instructional approaches, such
as process writing. For example, as Lisa Delpit (1988) has convincingly argued, the process writing approach that
has been blindly embraced by mostly White liberal teachers often produces a negative result with African-American
students. Delpit cites one Black student:
I didn't feel she was teaching us anything. She wanted us to correct each other's papers and we were there to learn
from her. She didn't teach anything, absolutely nothing.
Maybe they're trying to learn what Black folks knew all the time. We understand how to improvise, how to express
ourselves creatively. When I'm in a classroom, I'm not looking for that, I'm looking for structure, the more formal
language.
Now my buddy was in a Black teacher's class. And that lady was very good. She went through and explained and
defined each part of the structure. This
White
teacher didn't get along with that Black teacher. She said she didn't agree with her methods. But I don't think that
White teacher had any methods. (1988, p. 287)
The above quote is a glaring testimony that a "one size fits all" approach often does not work with the same level of
effectiveness with all students across the board. Such assumptions reinforce a disarticulation between the
embraced method and the sociocultural realities within which each method is implemented. I find that this "one size
fits all" assumption is also held by many of my students about a number of teaching methods currently in vogue,
such as cooperative learning and whole language instruction. The students imbue the "new" methods with almost
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magical properties that render them, in and of themselves, capable of improving students' academic standing.
One of my greatest challenges throughout the years has been to help students to understand that a myopic focus
on methodology often serves to obfuscate the real question -- which is why in our society, subordinated students do
not generally succeed academically in schools. In fact, schools often reproduce the existing asymmetrical power
relations among cultural groups (Anyon, 1988; Gibson & Ogbu, 1991; Giroux, 1992; Freire, 1985). I believe that by
taking a sociohistorical view of present-day conditions and concerns that inform the lived experiences of socially
perceived minority students, prospective teachers are better able to comprehend the quasi-colonial nature of
minority education. By engaging in this critical sociohistorical analysis of subordinated students' academic
performance, most of my graduate students (teachers and prospective teachers) are better situated to reinterpret
and reframe current educational concerns so as to develop pedagogical structures that speak to the day-to-day
reality, struggles, concerns, and dreams of these students. By understanding the historical specificities of
marginalized students, these teachers and prospective teachers come to realize that an uncritical focus on methods
makes invisible the historical role that schools and their personnel have played (and continue to play), not only in
discriminating against many culturally different groups, but also in denying their humanity. By robbing students of
their culture, language, history, and values, schools often reduce these students to the status of subhumans who
need to be rescued from their "savage" selves. The end result of this cultural and linguistic eradication represents,
in my view, a form of dehumanization. Therefore, any discussion having to do with the improvement of
subordinated students' academic standing is incomplete if it does not address those discriminatory school practices
that lead to dehumanization.
In this article, I argue that a necessary first step in reevaluating the failure or success of particular instructional
methods used with subordinated students calls for a shift in perspective -- a shift from a narrow and mechanistic
view of instruction to one that is broader in scope and takes into consideration the sociohistorical and political
dimensions of education. I discuss why effective methods are needed for these students, and why certain
strategies are deemed effective or ineffective in a given sociocultural context. My discussion will include a section
that addresses the significance of teachers' understanding of the political nature of education, the reproductive
nature of schools, and the schools' continued (yet unspoken) deficit views of subordinated students. By conducting
a critical analysis of the sociocultural realities in which subordinated students find themselves at school, the implicit
and explicit antagonistic relations between students and teachers (and other school representatives) take on focal
importance.
As a Chicana and a former classroom elementary and middle school teacher who encountered negative race
relations that ranged from teachers' outright rejection of subordinated students to their condescending pity, fear,
indifference, and apathy when confronted by the challenges of minority student education, I find it surprising that
little minority education literature deals explicitly with the very real issue of antagonistic race relations between
subordinated students and White school personnel (see Ogbu, 1987, and Giroux, 1992, for an in-depth discussion
of this phenomenon.
For this reason, I also include in this article a section that discusses two instructional methods and approaches
identified as effective in current education literature: culturally responsive education and strategic teaching. I
examine the methods for pedagogical underpinnings that - under the critical use of politically clear teachers -- have
the potential to challenge students academically and intellectually while treating them with dignity and respect.
More importantly, I examine the pedagogical foundations that serve to humanize the educational process and
enable both students and teachers to work toward breaking away from their unspoken antagonism and negative
beliefs about each other and get on with the business of sharing and creating knowledge. I argue that the informed
way in which a teacher implements a method can serve to offset potentially unequal relations and discriminatory
structures and practices in the class, room and, in doing so, improve the quality of the instructional process for both
student and teacher. In other words, politically informed teacher use of methods can create conditions that enable
subordinated students to move from their usual passive position to one of active and critical engagement. I am
convinced that creating pedagogical spaces that enable students to move from object to subject position produces
more far-reaching, positive effects than the implementation of a particular teaching methodology, regardless of how
technically advanced and promising it may be.
The final section of this article will explore and suggest the implementation of what Donaldo Macedo (1994)
designates as an
anti-methods pedagogy that refuses to be enslaved by the rigidity of models and methodological paradigms. An
anti-methods pedagogy should be informed by a critical understanding of the sociocultural context that guides our
practices so as to free us from the beaten path of methodological certainties and specialisms. (p. 8)
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Simply put, it is important that educators not blindly reject teaching methods across the board, but that they reject
uncritical appropriation of methods, materials, curricula, etc. Educators need to reject the present methods fetish so
as to create learning environments informed by both action and reflection. In freeing themselves from the blind
adoption of so-called effective (and sometimes "teacher-proof") strategies, teachers can begin the reflective
process, which allows them to recreate and reinvent teaching methods and materials by always taking into
consideration the sociocultural realities that can either limit or expand the possibilities to humanize education. It is
important that teachers keep in mind that methods are social constructions that grow out of and reflect ideologies
that often prevent teachers from understanding the pedagogical implications of asymmetrical power relations
among different cultural groups.
The Significance of Teacher Political Clarity(5)
In his letter to North American educators, Paulo Freire (1987) argues that technical expertise and mastery of
content area and methodology are insufficient to ensure effective instruction of students from subordinated cultures.
Freire contends that, in addition to possessing content area knowledge, teachers must possess political clarity so
as to be able to effectively create, adopt, and modify teaching strategies that simultaneously respect and challenge
learners from diverse cultural groups in a variety of learning environments.
Teachers working on improving their political clarity recognize that teaching is not a politically neutral undertaking.
They understand that educational institutions are socializing institutions that mirror the greater society's culture,
values, and norms. Schools reflect both the positive and negative aspects of a society. Thus, the unequal power
relations among various social and cultural groups at the societal level are usually reproduced at the school and
classroom level, unless concerted efforts are made to prevent their reproduction. Teachers working toward political
clarity understand that they can either maintain the status quo, or they can work to transform the sociocultural
reality at the classroom and school level so that the culture at this micro-level does not reflect macro-level
inequalities, such as asymmetrical power relations that relegate certain cultural groups to a subordinate status.
Teachers can support positive social change in the classroom in a variety of ways. One possible intervention can
consist of the creation of heterogeneous learning groups for the purpose of modifying low-status roles of individuals
or groups of children.(6) Elizabeth Cohen (1986) demonstrates that when teachers create learning conditions
where students, especially those perceived as low status (e.g., limited English speakers in a classroom where
English is the dominant language, students with academic difficulties, or those perceived by their peers for a variety
of reasons as less able), can demonstrate their possession of knowledge and expertise, they are then able to see
themselves, and be seen by others, as capable and competent. As a result, contexts are created in which peers
can learn from each other as well.
A teacher's political clarity will not necessarily compensate for structural inequalities that students face outside the
classroom; however, teachers can, to the best of their ability, help their students deal with injustices encountered
inside and outside the classroom. A number of possibilities exist for preparing students to deal with the greater
society's unfairness and inequality that range from engaging in explicit discussions with students about their
experiences, to more indirect ways (that nevertheless require a teacher who is politically clear), such as creating
democratic learning environments where students become accustomed to being treated as competent and able
individuals. I believe that the students, once accustomed to the rights and responsibilities of full citizenship in the
classroom, will come to expect respectful treatment and authentic estimation in other contexts. Again, it is important
to point out that it is not the particular lesson or set of activities that prepares the student; rather, it is the teacher's
politically clear educational philosophy that underlies the varied methods and lessons/activities she or he employs
that make the difference.
Under ideal conditions, competent educators simultaneously translate theory into practice and consider the
population being served and the sociocultural reality in which learning is expected to take place. Let me reiterate
that command of a content area or specialization is necessary, but it is not sufficient for effectively working with
students. Just as critical is that teachers comprehend that their role as educators is a political act that is never
neutral (Freire, 1985, 1987, 1993; Freire & Macedo, 1987). In ignoring or negating the political nature of their work
with these students, teachers not only reproduce the status quo and their students' low status, but they also
inevitably legitimize schools' discriminatory practices. For example, teachers who uncritically follow school practices
that unintentionally or intentionally serve to promote tracking and segregation within school and classroom contexts
continue to reproduce the status quo. Conversely, teachers can become conscious of, and subsequently challenge,
the role of educational institutions and their own roles as educators in maintaining a system that often serves to
silence students from subordinated groups.
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Teachers must also remember that schools, similar to other institutions in society, are influenced by perceptions of
socioeconomic status (SES), race/ethnicity, language, and gender (Anyon, 1988; Bloom, 1991; Cummins, 1989;
Ogbu, 1987). They must begin to question how these perceptions influence classroom dynamics. An important step
in increasing teacher political clarity is recognizing that, despite current liberal rhetoric regarding the equal value of
all cultures, low SES and ethnic minority students have historically (and currently) been perceived as deficient. I
believe that the present methods-restricted discussion must be broadened to reveal the deeply entrenched deficit
orientation toward "difference" (i.e., non-Western European race/ethnicity, non-English language use, working-class
status, femaleness) that prevails in the schools in a deeply "cultural" ideology of White supremacy. As educators,
we must constantly be vigilant and ask how the deficit orientation has affected our perceptions concerning students
from subordinated populations and created rigid and mechanistic teacher-student relations (Cummins, 1989;
Flores, Cousin, & Diaz, 1991; Giroux & McLaren, 1986). Such a model often serves to create classroom conditions
in which there is very little opportunity for teachers and students to interact in meaningful ways, establish positive
and trusting working relations, and share knowledge.
Our Legacy: A Deficit View of Subordinated Students
As discussed earlier, teaching strategies are neither designed nor implemented in a vacuum. Design, selection, and
use of particular teaching approaches and strategies arise from perceptions about learning and learners. I contend
that the most pedagogically advanced strategies are sure to be ineffective in the hands of educators who implicitly
or explicitly subscribe to a belief system that renders ethnic, racial, and linguistic minority students at best culturally
disadvantaged and in need of fixing (if we could only identify the right recipe]), or, at worst, culturally or genetically
deficient and beyond fixing.(7) Despite the fact that various models have been proposed to explain the academic
failure of certain subordinated groups -- academic failure described as historical, pervasive, and disproportionate --
the fact remains that these views of difference are deficit-based and deeply imprinted in our individual and
collective psyches (Flores, 1982, 1993; Menchaca & Valencia, 1990; Valencia, 1986, 1991).
The deficit model has the longest history of any model discussed in the education literature. Richard Valencia
(1986) traces its evolution over three centuries:
Also known in the literature as the "social pathology" model or the "cultural deprivation" model, the deficit approach
explains disproportionate academic problems among low status students as largely being due to pathologies or
deficits in their sociocultural background (e.g., cognitive and linguistic deficiencies, low self-esteem, poor
motivation). ... To improve the educability of such students, programs such as compensatory education and parent-
child intervention have been proposed. (p. 3)
Barbara Flores (1982, 1993) documents the effect this deficit model has had on the schools' past and current
perceptions of Latino students. Her historical overview chronicles descriptions used to refer to Latino students over
the last century. The terms range from "mentally retarded," "linguistically handicapped," "culturally and linguistically
deprived," and "semilingual," to the current euphemism for Latino and other subordinated students: the "at-risk"
student.
Similarly, recent research continues to lay bare our deficit orientation and its links to discriminatory school practices
aimed at students from groups perceived as low status (Anyon, 1988; Bloom, 1991; Diaz, Moll, & Mehan, 1986;
Oaks, 1986). Findings range from teacher preference for Anglo students, to bilingual teachers' preference for lighter
skinned Latino students (Bloom, 1991), to teachers' negative perceptions of working-class parents as compared to
middle-class parents (Lareau, 1990), and, finally, to unequal teaching and testing practices in schools serving
working-class and ethnic minority students (Anyon, 1988; Diaz et al., 1986; Oaks, 1986; U.S. Commission on Civil
Rights, 1973). Especially indicative of our inability to consciously acknowledge the deficit orientation is the fact that
the teachers in these studies -- teachers from all ethnic groups -- were themselves unaware of the active role they
played in the differential and unequal treatment of their students.
The deficit view of subordinated students has been critiqued by numerous researchers as ethnocentric and invalid
(Boykin, 1983; Diaz et al., 1986; Flores, 1982; Flores et al., 1991; Sue & Padilla, 1986; Trueba, 1989; Walker,
1987). More recent research offers alternative models that shift the source of school failure away from the
characteristics of the individual child, their families, and their cultures, and toward the schooling process (Au &
Mason, 1983; Heath, 1983; Mehan, 1992; Philips, 1972). Unfortunately, I believe that many of these alternative
models often unwittingly give rise to a kinder and more liberal, yet more concealed version of the deficit model that
views subordinated students as being in need of "specialized" modes of instruction -- a type of instructional
"coddling" that mainstream students do not require in order to achieve in school. Despite the use of less overtly
ethnocentric models to explain the academic standing of subordinated students, I believe that the deficit orientation
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toward difference, especially as it relates to low socioeconomic and ethnic minority groups, is very deeply ingrained
in the ethos of our most prominent institutions, especially schools, and in the various educational programs in place
at these sites.
It is against this sociocultural backdrop that teachers can begin to seriously question the unspoken but prevalent
deficit orientation used to hide SES, racial/ethnic, linguistic, and gender inequities present in U.S. classrooms. And
it is against this sociocultural backdrop that I critically examine two teaching approaches identified by the
educational literature as effective with subordinated student populations.
Potentially Humanizing Pedagogy: Two Promising Teaching Approaches
Well-known approaches and strategies such as cooperative learning, language experience, process writing,
reciprocal teaching, and whole language activities can be used to create humanizing learning environments where
students cease to be treated as objects and yet receive academically rigorous instruction (Cohen, 1986; Edelsky,
Altwerger, & Flores, 1991; Palinscar & Brown, 1984; Perez & Torres-Guzman, 1992; Zamel, 1982). However, when
these approaches are implemented uncritically, they often produce negative results, as indicated by Lisa Delpit
(1986, 1988). Critical teacher applications of these approaches and strategies can contribute to discarding deficit
views of students from subordinated groups, so that they are treated with respect and viewed as active and capable
subjects in their own learning.
Academically rigorous, student-centered teaching strategies can take many forms. One may well ask, is it not
merely common sense to promote approaches and strategies that respect, recognize, utilize, and build on students'
existing knowledge bases? The answer would be, of course, yes, it is. However, it is important to recognize, as part
of our effort to increase our political clarity, that these practices have not typified classroom instruction for students
from marginalized populations. The practice of learning from and valuing student language and life experiences
often occurs in classrooms where students speak a language and possess cultural capital that more closely
matches that of the mainstream (Anyon, 1988; Lareau, 1990; Winfield, 1986).(8)
Jean Anyon's (1988) classic research suggests that teachers of affluent students are more like than teachers of
working-class students to utilize and incorporate student life experiences and knowledge into the curriculum. For
example, in Anyon's study, teachers of affluent students often designed creative and innovative lessons that tapped
students' existing knowledge bases; one math lesson, designed to teach students to find averages, asked them to
fill out a possession survey inquiring about the number of cars, television sets, refrigerators, and games owned at
home so as to teach students to average. Unfortunately, this practice of tapping students' already existing
knowledge and language bases is not commonly utilized with student populations traditionally perceived as
deficient. Anyon reports that teachers of working-class students viewed them as lacking the necessary cultural
capital, and therefore imposed content and behavioral standards with little consideration and respect for student
input. Although Anyon did not generalize beyond her sample, other studies suggest the validity of her findings for
ethnic minority student populations (Diaz et al., 1986; Moll, 1986; Oaks, 1986).
The creation of learning environments for low SES and ethnic minority students, similar to those for more affluent
and White populations, requires that teachers discard deficit notions and genuinely value and utilize students'
existing knowledge bases in their teaching. In order to do so, teachers must confront and challenge their own social
biases so as to honestly begin to perceive their students as capable learners. Furthermore, they must remain open
to the fact that they will also learn from their students. Learning is not a one-way undertaking.
It is important for educators to recognize that no language or set of life experiences is inherently superior, yet our
social values reflect our preferences for certain language and life experiences over others. Student-centered
teaching strategies such as cooperative learning, language experience, process writing, reciprocal teaching, and
whole language activities (if practiced consciously and critically) can help to offset or neutralize our deficit-based
failure and recognize subordinated student strengths. Our tendency to discount these strengths occurs whenever
we forget that learning only occurs when prior knowledge is accessed and linked to new information.
Beau Jones, Annemarie Palinscar, Donna Ogle, and Eileen Carr (1987) explain that learning is the act of linking
new information to prior knowledge. According to their framework, prior knowledge is stored in memory in the form
of knowledge frameworks. New information is understood and stored by calling up the appropriate knowledge
framework and then integrating the new information. Acknowledging and using existing student language and
knowledge makes good pedagogical sense, and it also constitutes a humanizing experience for students
traditionally dehumanized and disempowered in the schools. I believe that strategies identified as effective in the
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literature have the potential to offset reductive education in which "the. educator as the one who knows transfers
existing knowledge to the learner as the one who does not know" (Freire, 1985, p. 114, emphasis added). It is
important to repeat that mere implementation of a particular strategy or approach identified as effective does not
guarantee success, as the current debate in process writing attests (Delpit, 1986, 1988; Reyes, 1991, 1992).
Creating learning environments that incorporate student language and life experiences in no way negates teachers'
responsibility for providing students with particular academic content knowledge and skills. It is important not to link
teacher respect and use of student knowledge and language bases with a laissez-faire attitude toward teaching. It
is equally necessary not to confuse academic rigor with rigidity that stifles and silences students. The teacher is the
authority, with all the resulting responsibilities that entails; however, it is not necessary for the teacher to become
authoritarian in order to challenge students intellectually. Education can be a process in which teacher and students
mutually participate in the intellectually exciting undertaking we call learning. Students can become active subjects
in their own learning, instead of passive objects waiting to be filled with facts and figures by the teacher.
I would like to emphasize that teachers who work with subordinated populations have the responsibility to assist
them in appropriating knowledge bases and discourse styles deemed desirable by the greater society. However,
this process of appropriation must be additive, that is, the new concepts and new discourse skills must be added to,
not subtracted from, the students' existing background knowledge. In order to assume this additive stance,
teachers must discard deficit views so they can use and build on life experiences and language styles too often
viewed and labeled as "low class" and undesirable. Again, there are numerous teaching strategies and methods
that can be employed in this additive manner. For the purposes of illustration, I will briefly discuss two approaches
currently identified as promising for students from subordinated populations. The selected approaches are referred
to in the literature as culturally responsive instructional approaches and strategic teaching.
Culturally Responsive Instruction: The Potential to Equalize Power Relations
Culturally responsive instruction grows out of cultural difference theory, which attributes the academic difficulties of
students from subordinated groups to cultural incongruence or discontinuities between the learning, language use,
and behavioral practices found in the home and those expected by the schools. Ana Maria Villegas (1988, 1991)
defines culturally responsive instruction as attempts to create instructional situations where teachers use teaching
approaches and strategies that recognize and build on culturally different ways of learning, behaving, and using
language in the classroom.
A number of classic ethnographic studies document culturally incongruent communication practices in classrooms
where students and teachers may speak the same language but use it in different ways. This type of incongruence
is cited as a major source of academic difficulties for subordinated students and their teachers (see Au, 1980; Au &
Mason, 1983; Cazden, 1988; Erickson & Mohatt, 1982; Heath, 1983; Philips, 1972). For the purposes of this
analysis, one form of culturally responsive instruction, the Kamehameha Education Project reading program, will be
discussed.
The Kamehameha Education Project is a reading program developed as a response to the traditionally low
academic achievement of native Hawaiian students in Western schools. The reading program was a result of
several years of research that examined the language practices of native Hawaiian children in home and school
settings. Observations of native Hawaiian children showed them to be bright and capable learners; however, their
behavior in the classroom signaled communication difficulties between them and their non-Hawaiian teachers. For
example, Kathryn Hu-Pei Au (1979, 1980) reports that native Hawaiian children's language behavior in the
classroom was often misinterpreted by teachers as being unruly and without educational value. She found that the
children's preferred language style in the classroom was linked to a practice used by adults in their homes and
community called "talk story." She discusses the talk story phenomenon and describes it as a major speech event
in the Hawaiian community, where individuals speak almost simultaneously and where little attention is given to
turn taking. Au explains that this practice may inhibit students from speaking out as individuals because of their
familiarity with and preference for simultaneous group discussion.
Because the non-Hawaiian teachers were unfamiliar with talk story and failed to recognize its value, much class
time was spent either silencing the children or prodding unwilling individuals to speak. Needless to say, very little
class time was dedicated to other instruction. More important, the children were constrained and not allowed to
demonstrate their abilities as speakers and possessors of knowledge. Because the students did not exhibit their
skills in mainstream accepted ways (e.g., competing as individuals for the floor), they were prevented from
exhibiting knowledge via their culturally preferred style. However, once the children's interaction style was
incorporated into classroom lessons, time on task increased and, subsequently, students' performance on
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standardized reading tests improved. This study's findings conclude that educators can successfully employ the
students' culturally valued language practices while introducing the student to more conventional and academically
acceptable ways of using language.
It is interesting to note that many of the research studies that examine culturally congruent and incongruent
teaching approaches also inadvertently illustrate the equalization of previous asymmetrical power relations between
teachers and students. These studies describe classrooms where teachers initially imposed participation structures
upon students from subordinated linguistic minority groups and later learned to negotiate with them rules regarding
acceptable classroom behavior and language use (Au & Mason, 1983; Erickson & Mohatt, 1982; Heath, 1983;
Philips, 1972). Thus these studies, in essence, capture the successful negotiation of power relations, which
resulted in higher student academic achievement and increased teacher effectiveness. Yet there is little explicit
discussion in these studies of the greater sociocultural reality that renders it perfectly normal for teachers to
automatically disregard and disrespect subordinated students' preferences and to allow antagonistic relations to
foment until presented with empirical evidence that legitimizes the students' practices. Instead, the focus of most of
these studies rests entirely on the cultural congruence of the instruction and not on the humanizing effects of a
more democratic pedagogy. Villegas (1988) accurately critiques the cultural congruence literature when she states:
It is simplistic to claim that differences in languages used at home and in school are the root of the widespread
academic problems of minority children. Admittedly, differences do exist, and they can create communication
difficulties in the classroom for both teachers and students. Even so, those differences in language must be viewed
in the context of a broader struggle for power within a stratified society. (p. 260)
Despite the focus on the cultural versus the political dimensions of pedagogy, some effort is made to link culturally
congruent teaching practices with equalization of classroom power relations. For example, Kathryn Au and Jana
Mason (1983) explain that "one means of achieving cultural congruence in lessons may be to seek a balance
between the interactional rights of teachers and students, so that the children can participate in ways comfortable to
them" (p. 145, emphasis added). Their study compared two teachers and showed that the teacher who was willing
to negotiate with students either the topic of discussion or the appropriate participation structure was better able to
implement her lesson. Conversely, the teacher who attempted to impose both topic of discussion and appropriate
interactional rules was frequently diverted because of conflicts with students over one or the other.
Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, interpretations and practical applications of this body of research have focused
on the cultural congruence of the approaches. I emphasize the term cultural because in these studies the term
"culture" is used in a restricted sense devoid of its dynamic, ideological, and political dimensions. Instead, culture is
treated as synonymous with ethnic culture, rather than as "the representation of lived experiences, material artifacts
and practices forged within the unequal and dialectical relations that different groups establish in a given society at
a particular point in historical time" (Giroux, 1985, p. xxi, emphasis added). I use this definition of culture because,
without identifying the political dimensions of culture and subsequent unequal status attributed to members of
different ethnic groups, the reader may conclude that teaching methods simply need to be ethnically congruent to
be effective -- without recognizing that not all ethnic and linguistic cultural groups are viewed and treated as equally
legitimate in classrooms. Interestingly enough, there is little discussion of the various socially perceived minority
groups' subordinate status vis-a-vis White teachers and peers in these studies. All differences are treated as ethnic
cultural differences and not as responses of subordinated students to teachers from dominant groups, and vice
versa.
Given the sociocultural realities in the above studies, the specific teaching strategies may not be what made the
difference. Indeed, efforts to uncritically export the Kamehameha Education Project reading program to other
student populations resulted in failure (Vogt et al., 1987). It could well be that the teachers' effort to negotiate and
share power by treating students as equal participants in their own learning is whit made the difference in Hawaii.
Just as important is the teachers' willingness to critically interrogate their deficit views of subordinated students. By
employing a variety of strategies and techniques, the Kamehameha students were allowed to interact with teachers
in egalitarian and meaningful ways. More importantly, the teachers also learned to recognize, value, use, and build
upon students' previously acquired knowledge and skills. In essence, these strategies succeeded in creating a
comfort zone so students could exhibit their knowledge and skills and, ultimately, empower themselves to succeed
in an academic setting. Teachers also benefitted from using a variety of student-centered teaching strategies that
humanized their perceptions of treatment of students previously perceived as deficient. Ray McDermott's (1977)
classic research reminds us that numerous teaching approaches and strategies can be effective, so long as trusting
relations between teacher and students are established and power relations are mutually set and agreed upon.
Strategic Teaching: The Significance of Teacher-Student Interaction and Negotiation
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Strategic teaching refers to an instructional model that explicitly teaches students learning strategies that enable
them consciously to monitor their own learning. This is accomplished through the development of reflective
cognitive monitoring and metacognitive skills (Jones, Palinscar, Ogle, & Carr, 1987). The goal is to prepare
independent and metacognitively aware students. This teaching strategy makes explicit for students the structures
of various text types used in academic settings and assists students in identifying various strategies for effectively
comprehending the various genres. Although text structures and strategies for dissecting the particular structures
are presented by the teacher, a key component of these lessons is the elicitation of students' knowledge about text
types and their own strategies for making meaning before presenting them with more conventional academic
strategies.
Examples of learning strategies include teaching various text structures (i.e., stories and reports) through frames
and graphic organizers. Frames are sets of questions that help students understand a given topic. Readers monitor
their understanding of a text by asking questions, making predictions, and testing their predictions as they read.
Before reading, frames serve as an advance organizer to activate prior knowledge and facilitate understanding.
Frames can also be utilized during the reading process by the reader to monitor self-learning. Finally, frames can
be used after a reading lesson to summarize and integrate newly acquired information.
Graphic organizers are visual maps that represent text structures and organizational patterns used in texts and in
student writing. Ideally, graphic organizers reflect both the content and text structure. Graphic organizers include
semantic maps, chains, and concept hierarchies, and assist the student in visualizing the rhetorical structure of the
text. Beau Jones and colleagues (1987) explain that frames and graphic organizers can be "powerful tools to help
the student locate, select, sequence, integrate and restructure information -- both from the perspective of
understanding and from the perspective of producing information in written responses" (p. 38).
Although much of the research on strategic teaching focuses on English monolingual mainstream students, recent
efforts to study linguistic minority students' use of these strategies show similar success. This literature shows that
strategic teaching improved the students' reading comprehension, as well as their conscious use of effective
learning strategies in their native language (Avelar La Salle, 1991; Chamot, 1983; Hernandez, 1991; O'Malley &
Chamot, 1990; Reyes, 1987). Furthermore, these studies show that students, despite limited English proficiency,
were able to transfer or apply their knowledge of specific learning strategies and text structure to English reading
texts. For example, Jose Hernandez (1991) reports that sixth-grade limited English proficient students learned, in
the native language (Spanish), to generate hypotheses, summarize, and make predictions about readings. He
reports: Students were able to demonstrate use of comprehension strategies even when they could not decode the
English text aloud. When asked in
Spanish about English texts the students were able to generate questions, summarize stories, and predict future
events in Spanish. (p. 101)
Robin Avelar La Salle's (1991) study of third- and fourth-grade bilingual students shows that strategic teaching in
the native language of three expository text structures commonly found in elementary social studies and science
texts (topical net, matrix, and hierarchy) improved comprehension of these types of texts in both Spanish and
English.
Such explicit and strategic teaching is most important in the upper elementary grades, where students are expected
to focus on the development of more advanced English literacy skills. Beginning at about third grade, students face
literacy demands distinct from those encountered in earlier grades. Jeanne Chall (1983) describes the change in
literacy demands in terms of stages of readings.
She explains that at a stage three of reading, students cease to "learn to read" and begin "reading to learn."
Students in third and fourth grade are introduced to content area subjects such as social studies, science, and
health. In addition, students are introduced to expository texts (reports). This change in texts, text structures, and in
the functions of reading (reading for information) calls for teaching strategies that will prepare students to
comprehend various expository texts (e.g., cause/effect, compare/contrast) used across the curriculum.
Strategic teaching holds great promise for preparing linguistic minority students to face the new literacy challenges
in the upper grades. As discussed before, the primary goal of strategic instruction is to foster learner independence.
This goal in and of itself is laudable. However, the characteristics of strategic instruction that I find most promising
grow out of the premise that teachers and students must interact and negotiate meaning as equals in order to reach
a goal.
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Teachers, by permitting learners to speak from their own vantage points, create learning contexts in which students
are able to empower themselves throughout the strategic learning process. Before teachers attempt to instruct
students in new content or learning strategies, efforts are made by the teacher to access student prior knowledge
so as to link it with new information. In allowing students to present and discuss their prior knowledge and
experiences, the teacher legitimizes and treats as valuable student language and cultural experiences usually
ignored in classrooms. If students are encouraged to speak on what they know best, then they are, in a sense,
treated as experts -- experts who are expected to refine their knowledge bases with the additional new content and
strategy information presented by the teacher.
Teachers play a significant role in creating learning contexts in which students are able to empower themselves.
Teachers act as cultural mentors of sorts when they introduce students not only to the culture of the classroom, but
to particular subjects and discourse styles as well. In the process, teachers assist the students in appropriating the
skills (in an additive fashion) for themselves so as to enable them to behave as "insiders" in the particular subject or
discipline. Jim Gee (1989) reminds us that the social nature of teaching and learning must involve apprenticeship
into the subject's or discipline's discourse in order for students to do well in school. This apprenticeship includes
acquisition of particular content matter; ways of organizing content, and ways of using language (oral and written).
Gee adds that these discourses are not mastered solely through teacher-centered and directed instruction, but also
by "apprenticeship into social practices through scaffolded and supported interaction with people who have already
mastered the discourse" (p. 7). The apprenticeship notion can be immensely useful with subordinated students if it
facilitates the acceptance and valorization of students' prior knowledge through a mentoring process.
Models of instruction, such as strategic teaching, can promote such an apprenticeship. In the process of
apprenticing linguistic minority students, teachers must interact in meaningful ways with them. This human
interaction not only assists students in acquiring new knowledge and skills, but it also often familiarizes individuals
from different SES and racial/ethnic groups, and creates mutual respect instead of the antagonism that so
frequently occurs between teachers and their students from subordinated groups. In this learning environment,
teachers and students learn from each other. The strategies serve, then, not to "fix" the student, but to equalize
power relations and to humanize the teacher-student relationship. Ideally, teachers are forced to challenge implicitly
or explicitly held deficit attitudes and beliefs about their students and the cultural groups to which they belong.
Beyond Teaching Strategies: Towards a Humanizing Pedagogy
When I recall a special education teacher's experience related in a bilingualism and literacy course that I taught, I
am reminded of the humanizing effects of teaching strategies that, similar to culturally responsive instruction and
strategic teaching, allow teachers to listen, learn from, and mentor their students. This teacher, for most of her
career, had been required to assess her students through a variety of closed-ended instruments, and then to
remediate their diagnosed "weaknesses" with discrete skills instruction. The assessment instruments provided little
information to explain why the student answered a question either correctly or incorrectly, and they often confirmed
perceived student academic, linguistic, and cognitive weaknesses. This fragmented discrete skills approach to
instruction restricts the teacher's access to existing student knowledge and experiences not specifically elicited by
the academic tasks. Needless to say, this teacher knew very little about her students other than her deficit
descriptions of them.
As part of the requirements for my course, she was asked to focus on one Spanish-speaking, limited English
proficient special education student over the semester. She observed the student in a number of formal and
informal contexts, and she engaged him in a number of open-ended tasks. These tasks included allowing him to
write entire texts, such as stories and poems (despite diagnosed limited English proficiency), and to engage in
"think-alouds" during reading.(9) Through these open-ended activities, the teacher learned about her student's
English writing ability (both strengths and weaknesses), his life experiences and world views, and his meaning-
making strategies for reading. Consequently, the teacher constructed an instructional plan much better suited to her
student's academic needs and interests. And even more important, she underwent a humanizing process that
allowed her to recognize the varied and valuable life experiences and knowledge her student brought into the
classroom.
This teacher was admirably candid when she shared her initial negative and stereotypic views of the student and
her radical transformation. Despite this teacher's mastery of content area, her lack of political clarity blinded her to
the oppressive and dehumanizing nature of instruction offered to linguistic minority students. Initially, she had
formed an erroneous notion of her student's personality, worldview, academic ability, motivation, and academic
potential on the basis of his Puerto Rican ethnicity, low SES background, limited English proficiency, and
moderately learning-disabled label. Because of the restricted and closed nature of earlier assessment and
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instruction, the teacher had never received information about her student that challenged her negative perceptions.
Listening to her student and reading his poetry and stories, she discovered his loving and sunny personality,
learned his personal history, and identified academic strengths and weaknesses. In the process, she discovered
and challenged her deficit orientation. The following excerpt from this student's writing exemplifies the power of the
student voice for humanizing teachers:
My Father
I love my father very much. I will never forget what my father has done for me and my brothers and sisters. When
we first came from Puerto Rico we didn't have food to eat and we were very poor. My father had to work three jobs
to put food and milk on the table. Those were hard times and my father worked so hard that we hardly saw him. But
even when I didn't see him, I always knew he loved me very much. I will always be grateful to my father. We are not
so poor now and so he works only one job. But I will never forget what my father did for me. I will also work to help
my father have a better life when I grow up. I love my father very much.
The process of learning about her student's rich and multifaceted background enabled this teacher to move beyond
the rigid methodology that had required her to distance herself from the student and to confirm the deficit model to
which she unconsciously adhered. In this case, the meaningful teacher-student interaction served to equalize the
teacher-student power relations and to humanize instruction by expanding the horizons through which the student
demonstrated human qualities, dreams, desires, and capacities that closed-ended tests and instruction never
captured.
I believe that the specific teaching methods implemented by the teacher, in and of themselves, were not the
significant factors. The actual strengths of methods depend, first and foremost, on the degree to which they
embrace a humanizing pedagogy that values the students' background knowledge, culture, and life experiences,
and creates learning contexts where power is shared by students and teachers. Teaching methods are a means to
an end -- humanizing education to promote academic success for students historically under-served by the schools.
A teaching strategy is a vehicle to a greater goal. A number of vehicles exist that may or may not lead to a
humanizing pedagogy, depending on the sociocultural reality in which teachers and students operate.
The critical issue is the degree to which we hold the moral conviction that we must humanize the educational
experience of students from subordinated populations by eliminating the hostility that often confronts these
students. This process would require that we cease to be overly dependent on methods as technical instruments
and adopt a pedagogy that seeks to forge a cultural democracy where all students are treated with respect and
dignity. A true cultural democracy forces teachers to recognize that students' lack of familiarity with the dominant
values of the curriculum "does not mean ... that the lack of these experiences develop in these children a different
'nature' that determines their absolute incompetence" (Freire, 1993, p. 17).
Unless educational methods are situated in the students' cultural experiences, students will continue to show
difficulty in mastering content area that is not only alien to their reality, but is often antagonistic toward their culture
and lived experiences. Further, not only will these methods continue to fail students, particularly those from
subordinated groups, but they will never lead to the creation of schools as true cultural democratic sites. For this
reason, it is imperative that teachers problematize the prevalent notion of "magical" methods and incorporate what
Macedo (1993) calls an anti-methods pedagogy, a process through which teachers 1) critically deconstruct the
ideology that informs the methods fetish prevalent in education, 2) understand the intimate relationships between
methods and the theoretical underpinnings that inform these methods, and 3) evaluate the pedagogical
consequences of blindly and uncritically replicating methods without regard to students' subordinate status in terms
of cultural, class, gender, and linguistic difference. In short, we need
an anti-methods pedagogy that would reject the mechanization of intellectualism ...
and
challenge teachers to work toward reappropriation of endangered dignity and toward reclaiming our humanity. The
anti-methods pedagogy adheres to the eloquence of Antonio Machado's poem, "Caminante, no hay camino, se
hace camino al andar." (Traveler, there are no roads. The road is created as we walk it
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together
)." (Macedo, 1999, p. 8)
1 The term "technical" refers to the positivist tradition in education that presents teaching as a precise and scientific
undertaking and teachers as technicians responsible for carrying out (preselected) instructional programs and
strategies.
2 "Subordinated" refers to cultural groups that are politically socially, and economically subordinate in the greater
society. While individual members of these groups may not consider themselves subordinate in any manner to the
White "mainstream," they nevertheless are members of a greater collective that historically has been perceived and
treated as subordinate and inferior by the dominant society. Thus it is not entirely accurate to describe these
students as "minority" students, since the term connotes numerical minority rather than the general low status
(economic, political, and social) these groups have held and that I think is important to recognize when discussing
their historical academic underachievement.
3 "Chicana" refers to a woman of Mexican ancestry who was born and/or reared in the United States.
4 "Mainstream" refers to the U.S. macroculture that has its roots in Western European traditions. More specifically,
the major influence on the United States, particularly on its institutions, has been the culture and traditions of White,
Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASP) (Golnick & Chinn, 1986). Although the mainstream group is no longer composed
solely of WASPs, members of the middle-class have adopted traditionally WASP bodies of knowledge, language
use, values, norms, and beliefs.
5 "Political clarity" refers to the process by which individuals achieve a deepening awareness of the sociopolitical
and economic realities that shape their lives and their capacity to recreate them. In addition, it refers to the process
by which individuals come to better understand possible linkages between macro-level political, economic, and
social variables and subordinated groups' academic performance at the micro-level classroom. Thus, it invariably
requires linkages between sociocultural structures and schooling.
6 Elizabeth Cohen (1986) explains that in the society at large there are status distinctions made on the basis of
social class, ethnic group and gender. These status distinctions are often reproduced at the classroom level, unless
teachers make conscious efforts to prevent this reproduction.
7 For detailed discussions regarding various deficit views of subordinated students over time, see Flores, Cousin,
and Diaz, 1991; also see Sue and Padilla, 1986.
8 "Cultural capital" refers to Pierre Bourdieu's concept that certain forms of cultural knowledge are the equivalent of
symbolic wealth in that these forms of "high" culture are socially designated as worthy of being sought and
possessed. These cultural (and linguistic) knowledge bases and skills are socially inherited and are believed to
facilitate academic achievement. See Lamont and Lareau, 1988, for a more in-depth discussion regarding the
multiple meanings of cultural capital in the literature.
9 "Think-alouds" refers to an informal assessment procedure where readers verbalize all their thoughts during
reading and writing tasks. See J. A. Langer, 1986, for a more in-depth discussion of think-aloud procedures.
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Subjects: Students Social research Academic achievement
Author(s): Bartolome, Lilia I
Document types: Feature
Language: English
Publication title: Harvard Educational Review
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... well as how they perceive these lessons as meaningful to students' learning (Ball, 2012;Bartolome, 1994;Biesta, Priestley, & Robinson, 2015;Hargreaves, 1998;McDonnell & Elmore, 1987;Rogers, 2011;Stromquist & Monkman, 2014;Tetlock, 1985). While teachers appear to make decisions independently and professionally, other influences such as administrative directives and broader policy contexts (often situated far beyond the classroom walls) are also believed to play a role in their decisions (Au, 2007;Bartolome, 2004;Bien, 2013;Biesta et al., 2015;Mintrop & Sunderman, 2009;Spillane et al., 2011;Zeprun, 2014). ...
... This includes evidence of aspects of powerful federal education policy and accountability reforms that drive the work of schools and narrow teachers' decisions and actions around standardized pedagogical approaches. (Apple, 1979;Ball, 1995Ball, , 2003Bartolome, 1994;Berliner, 2009;Darling-Hammond, 2015;Hargraves, 1994;Ladson-Billings, 1995;Tharp & Gallimore, 1988;Windschitl, 2002;Wyatt, 2009). ...
... The standardization of curriculum and instruction needs to be considered against much maligned aspects within the historical, political, ideological foundations of federal education policy, including a very dubious perception of students (Apple, 2000;Bartolome, 2004;Burch, 2004;Cole, 1996;Gonzalez et al., 2006;Lipman 2009;McLaren, 2015;Pacheco, 2010;Prucha 1990;). Standardized mechanisms, founded on explicit but questionable ideas and enacted by teachers, have the potential to communicate these questionable values which may influence the solidification of social structures embedded at their foundations (Bartolome, 1994;Bernstein, 1991;Bennett & Frow, 2008;Burch, 2007Burch, , 2009Burch, , 2010Lipman, 2007). When the standardized mechanisms of accountability reform are operationalized in classrooms, they have the potential to narrow teachers' autonomy in choosing aspects of curriculum and instruction. ...
... Some chapters are the beginning steps of this work, while in other contexts, stakeholders have already taken action and begun to experience results, for instance, through new policy or practice. We invite readers to engage with each chapter as inspiration and aspiration, not as regulation; there is no one defined "recipe" for this work (Flores et al., 2021;Bartolomé, 1994). Context matters, and we encourage readers to consider what fits their contexts and how they might adapt the ideas therein for their 6 own situations. ...
... First, embracing a student who they are as a whole person is essential to humanizing the practice of accountability, which aligns with research on humanizing pedagogy highlighting the importance of trust, relations of reciprocity, and students' overall well-being (e.g., Bartolomé, 1994;Salazar, 2013). As education is about nurturing human beings, relational aspects of leadership cannot be disregarded in developing collective efforts to construct a culture of accountability. ...
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