ing tactics (Laosa, 1978). Work with Native American students, in contrast, has revealed children's belief that they should be responsible for their own learning. Highly directive teachers appear to undermine these beliefs and, in so doing, undermine their own authority in the eyes of these relatively autonomous children.


Culture plays a complex and ubiquitous role in shaping children's earliest learning opportunities and experiences in the home. Parent 's beliefs about when and how children learn school-related skills, their daily interactions with their children, and the social rules that guide these interactions combine in intricate ways to create what Luis Moll has termed “funds of knowledge” that are based in culture (Moll, Amanti, Neff, and Gonzalez, 1992). However, efforts to specify the specific mechanisms or dimensions of culture that carry its role in learning are in their infancy. The workshop participants defined culture as a term that encompasses economic, ethnic, racial, social structural, and other dimensions that constitute a constellation of influences on children's early learning opportunities. It is critical when examining the research evidence to take careful note of the investigator's definition of culture and its implications for the results from any particular study.

A persistent problem in much of this research is drawing inferences about noneconomic dimensions of culture when, in fact, social class may be the more influential variable. Are differences that are attributed to children's ethnic backgrounds or immigrant status, for example, more accurately ascribed to the educational backgrounds of their parents, as suggested by Laosa? Efforts to disentangle these differing definitions of culture are particularly difficult in the United States, given selective immigration patterns and persistent poverty among African American, Latino, and Native American populations.

Some culturally shaped early learning opportunities have been found to be more conducive than others to preparing children for success in schools, which are typically not designed with diverse configurations of students in mind. One of the challenges that this poses to early childhood educators, in particular, involves striking a balance between demonstrating respect for cultural differences and preparing children to participate successfully in formal school settings (Prince and Lawrence, 1993). A starting point for addressing this dilemma involves understanding how children's cultural backgrounds affect the skills, knowledge, and expectations that they bring to school.

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