The former President of Mexico, Benito Juarez’s statement, “El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz” [Respect for human rights brings peace] is a powerful message and an example of the intangible cultural heritage that has served the Latino community well for centuries. If not valued and infused into our schools, the wisdom of many of our communities will be forever lost. “En la unidad esta la fuerza” [In unity there is strength] is another strong message that, if heeded today, would contribute to a more peaceful and powerful nation. These messages, like others, have been cornerstones of Latino culture.
The erosion of wisdom and cultural heritage led to the creation of the United Nations 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, whose major responsibility is to safeguard and ensure respect for the “intangible cultural heritage of communities, groups and individuals” and to “raise awareness at the local, national and international levels of the importance of the intangible cultural heritage and of ensuring mutual appreciation.”
In an age of increasing isolation, pleas for homogeneity and English-only policies, there is a need to recognize and value the unique heritage of our diverse communities as a national treasure and a source of individual and collective strength. There is a need for our educational institutions to exercise their roles as transmitters of cultural values, to value diversity and benefit from the wisdom that emerges from these gems of cultural heritage that collectively have forged this country’s greatness.
This is especially true when xenophobia is consuming the energy of so many in this country. And given the fact that high school graduation is a national imperative, there is a special need for an established infrastructure in our schools that embraces diversity and cultural preservation, one that honors and recognizes cultural diversity as a human and national resource.
The United Nations Convention (2003) states: “‘Intangible cultural heritage’ means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills… that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.”
It continues: “’Safeguarding’ means measures aimed at ensuring the viability of the intangible cultural heritage, including the identification, documentation, research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement, transmission, particularly through formal and non-formal education, as well as the revitalization of the various aspects of such heritage” (UN, 2003).
Our public schools belong to the communities they serve and should reflect their communities, not exist in isolation from them. The ability of the school to meaningfully engage with parents and community is an indication of their strength to prepare leaders for the future.
Creating Culturally Relevant Curriculum
Here are some suggestions for educators and school personnel to consider in building culturally relevant curriculum.
- Educate yourself about the communities you serve.
- Honor and foster the infusion of intangible cultural heritage.
- Honor the pioneers and local sabios [wisdom] of the local elders.
- Eradicate stereotypes and dispel myths about each group.
- Honor the school’s local context.
- Recognize that there is no “one size fits all” approach.
- Include all generations and voices in the process of engagement and partnership, especially the perspectives of elders and youth, who are not often heard.
True parent engagement and community-school partnerships are mutually beneficial, each recognizes and builds upon the strengths of the other and are grounded in a common vision for student success (Rodríguez, et al., 2010). Schools need their diverse local communities and, conversely, communities need their local schools in order to prosper. As schools create an established infrastructure for cultural preservation in their curriculum and practice, they should check with regularity its vitality and engage in the following practices.
Culturally Proficient Mentoring and Coaching
Teachers can benefit from acquiring the skill of viewing their students through a valuing cultural lens, engaging students in the classroom and building on their strengths. Linguistically, this is beneficial for English learners as well as for all students because it recognizes innate language and expands upon existing vocabulary to gain proficiency in a second language. (Solís, 2010)
Cultural proficiency is based on valuing, respecting and honoring diverse backgrounds and ethnicities while looking deeply at one’s own beliefs. Culturally responsive coaching and mentoring boosts educators’ cultural confidence and consciousness, while honing mentoring coaching skills (Lindsey, et al., 2007).
Use of Delightful Children’s Literature that Reflects Cultural Identity
Stories that are linguistically appropriate and culturally relevant offer endless possibilities to think critically and creatively, contemplate new ideas, and delve into a world of fantasy, adventure, reality and mystery. A timeless story cleverly captures children’s emotions making their encounters with reading engaging. This opens opportunities to inspire and challenge children to learn, engage and interact with text. (García, 2009)
Use of Vernacular “Dichos” and Proverbs
Proverbs cleverly express the folk wisdom of diverse cultures in memorable ways. Many have grown up with proverbs taught to them by extended family members. These pithy bits of advice have helped many through life’s obstacles and adversities.
Teachers can use proverbs to teach students how to play with language and deal with life. Activities that draw upon the language arts we are all born with can help students appreciate their cultural heritage, strengthen linguistic skills, and improve ability to cope and thrive in our complex world.
Foster Robust Co-Curricular and Extracurricular Activities that Tap Community Resources
Research confirms the benefits of students participating in extracurricular activities. Students develop more positive attitudes toward school, better academic achievement and higher self-concepts. Students increase their overall school involvement, which leads to development of more positive attitudes toward school and learning (Peixoto, 2004).
Relationships with adult leaders provide social capital, such as knowledge, career awareness and valuable connections to community members. Adult leaders provide missing connections for youth as well as support for personal growth (Peixoto, 2004).
The basis of any sustainable culture is: (1) the people; (2) the linguistic and cultural expression of people through language, music, art and dance; and (3) opportunities to enjoy and appreciate these as we learn with and from one another. Our strength lies in honoring and incorporating diversity, not only as an educational imperative, but as an equity issue.
García, J.C. “Hickory, Dickory, Dock… Critical Thinking and an Old Clock – Cultivating Thought with a Timeless Children’s Story,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 2009).
Lindsey, D.B., & R.S. Martinez, R.B. Lindsey (eds). Culturally Proficient Coaching: Supporting Educators to Create Equitable Schools (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, 2007).
Peixoto, F. “What Kinds of Benefits Students Have from Participating in Extracurricular Activities?” paper presented at the Proceedings Third International Biennial SELF Research Conference (Berlin, Germany, July 3-7, 2004).
Rodríguez, R., and J. García, A. Villarreal. Community Engagement Series for Educators (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).
Solís, A. “Mentoring New Teachers for First-Day, First-Year Success,” in Robledo Montecel, M., & C.L. Goodman (Eds). Courage to Connect – A Quality Schools Action Framework (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).
United Nations. Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (Paris, UNESCO, October 17, 2003).
Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., is director of development at IDRA. Juanita C. Garcia, Ph.D., is an IDRA education associate. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at .
[©2010, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November-December 2010 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]