Michele Anciaux Aoki was invited to address the House Education
Committee on 12/1/2004
Questions to Address
Thank you very much for your agreement to participate in a
legislative work session for the House Education Committee on December
1, 2004. The subject of the work session is "Addressing the Achievement
Gap." The purpose of the work session is to provide policymakers with
data and information that illuminates the role of culture in academic
achievement. I am particularly interested in having expert testimony
about how children of color can meet rigorous academic standards when
the teaching methodology accommodates culturally diverse ways of seeing,
communicating, and knowing.
To help prepare you for the work session, I am proposing some key
questions that I hope you will address in your presentation:
1. What does it mean to be "culturally competent"? (Examples of
demonstrating "culturally competence")
2. Is "cultural competency" teachable? (Examples of teaching "cultural
3. How is "cultural competency" measured?
4. Why is "cultural competency" a desirable or necessary skill?
(Concrete examples of data and or information)
As a forewarning, the term "cultural competency" is perceived as a
"loaded" term; so is "diversity." So, if you have suggestions for
another term instead of "cultural competency" to describe the skills,
aptitudes, and attitudes one must acquire to operate smoothly and
successfully in a global and multicultural environment, I would
appreciate your feedback in advance of the work session.
In addition, Doreen Cato and I attended a brainstorming meeting to
discuss a plan of action for HB 2761, the so-called Multi-Ethnic Think
Tank bill (METT) which served as the impetus for this work session.
[Although it is in the process of being rewritten, I would commend the
document to your attention as a framework for our discussion.] When
Doreen asked if she should respond to all of these questions or to focus
on one of the questions, I suggested that we have an on-line "chat"
about your preferences. I have no preference as long as all of the
questions are addressed.
Finally, I would invite all of you to spend a minute or two of your
introduction describing the work with which you are currently occupied
that bears upon the subject at hand.
Thank you, again, for your participation in this important discussion.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or my
legislative assistant, Frances Youn, at (206) 587-5549. If you have any
logistical needs (e.g., equipment, etc.), you may contact Susan
Morrissey, Committee staff, at (360) 786-7111.
Sharon Tomiko Santos
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Michele Anciaux Aoki -- Testimony to the House Education Committee
Dear Members of the House Education Committee, and, in particular,
Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, thank you very much for this
opportunity to speak to your committee.
My name is Michele Anciaux Aoki. Since June, 2004, I have been
Director of Educational Programs - Global Classroom at the World Affairs
Council in Seattle, but my involvement in international education
extends a lifetime. I am here today representing the Washington State
Coalition for International Education, a grassroots alliance of over 200
individuals and organizations that support the goal of preparing all
students for today's interconnected world.
The Coalition was an outgrowth of the work of the team of four that
represented our state at the first States Institute on International
Education in Washington, DC, in November, 2002. Since that time the
Coalition has staged two very successful International Education
Summits, the first held at the University of Washington in Seattle in
September, 2003, and the second in Olympia on October 27, 2004. The
state has also sent teams back to the States Institute in 2003 and 2004.
I have been honored to be a member of those State Teams the past three
years, as well as grant writer, project director, and webmaster for the
Coalition. (Refer to:
One of the first questions that the International Education Coalition
tackled at our first focus group in March, 2003, was "What is
international education"? Our answer to that question will probably make
it clear why I was invited today to speak to the question of "cultural
Refer to handout:
http://internationaledwa.org/coalition/whatis.htm. You'll see that
for us, our vision of preparing all students for the world today
includes our belief that "Every child needs cultural competence."
The working definition of International Education that we have been
using is this:
International Education means learning the knowledge and skills needed
to understand and to function productively in today’s interconnected
Let me deconstruct that definition a bit. First, we believe there are
knowledge and skills that can be learned -- and can be taught.
Second, we believe that the world today is interconnected. It is no
longer enough to envision that the goal of education is to prepare
students to be citizens of the U.S. Our nation does not exist in
isolation. Our entire economy is highly dependent on trade throughout
the world. Our security depends on how we deal with global issues, such
as terrorism, and work together with other nations to solve challenges,
such as proliferation of nuclear weapons. Our health depends on knowing
about and responding to crises that span national borders, such as SARS,
Mad Cow Disease, and AIDS. Our citizens expect to contribute to making
the world a better place -- as evidenced by their generosity of time,
money, and sometimes their lives in their work throughout the world for
organizations, such as Mercy Corps, the Peace Corps, the Red Cross,
Doctors without Borders, and the US Military.
Third, we believe that students (and the entire education community)
need to understand that this interconnectedness is now. It's already
upon us; it is not some theoretical future that we can start thinking
about once all kids can read.
Fourth, we believe that Americans will be at a handicap -- they will
not be able to function productively -- in this interconnected world if
they can't understand and make use of the cultural connections within
our communities and beyond our borders.
Let me turn now to the questions you posed to us.
1. What does it mean to be "culturally competent"? (Examples of
demonstrating "culturally competence")
I am a well-traveled person and have lived in a variety of other
cultures both inside and outside the U.S. But, I will begin with an
example of my own cultural insensitivity. In a recent visit to the
Seattle Islamic School, I had met and shaken hands with several of the
female teachers while we toured the building. As we went into the
faculty room, someone stopped to introduce me to one of the male
teachers. I extended by hand, and he shook his head. I immediately
realized my faux-pas. It was not culturally appropriate for him to shake
Being "culturally competent" does not mean that you know or remember
every possible detail of etiquette from another culture. It does mean
that you do the best you can to respect another culture's etiquette, you
recognize when you have violated another culture's norms, you handle the
situation with sensitivity, and most important, you acknowledge that
culture's norms without judgment.
2. Is "cultural competence" teachable? (Examples of teaching
Cultural competence is difficult to "teach" except through
experience. But there are myriad ways to convey experience.
What is so powerful about learning another language or exploring a
different art form or creating a presentation on a challenging world
issue is that you can begin to actually see yourself in someone else's
shoes. The "competence" part comes when you have had enough different
experiences like this to make it possible to almost anticipate the
cultural differences. In this way, you're prepared for anything and
instead of focusing on your reaction to what is different ("that's
stupid or yucky or weird" etc.), you can actually take it in and begin
to see things as they are.
I would like to share the following comments from my good friend,
Professor Walter Parker at the University of Washington:
I don't doubt that cultural competence is learned, and I don't
doubt that it can be taught. Teaching requires both an "intended"
(planned) and an "enacted" (taught) curriculum, plus a "null" curriculum
(stuff that you're not going to even try to teach). There's always a gap
between the intended and enacted curricula, of course. But still,
children stand a much better chance of learning something if it's
planned and taught than if it's not planned or taught.
How best to enact an intended curriculum is always a contested
issue. Experientialists believe in that approach and doubt the
effectiveness of formal teaching; direct instruction advocates believe
in the other way. Both sides have evidence. I can imagine both kinds of
instruction on "cultural competence." In civic education, where I live
mostly, this debate is at least a century old and is normally referred
to as the knowledge-engagement tension, or the overt/covert curriculum
Can teachers develop their/our cultural competence? Sure. One
simple way is by learning about our students' cultures. I learned lots
about Hamilton International Middle School students today at the
8th-grade poster display. If these were my students, I'd study each
poster, then ask each student lots of follow-up questions. Teachers who
don't inquire about their culturally different (from themselves)
students know lots less than those who do. One of the 8th grade teachers
today told me what she had learned about some of her students through
the project. Meanwhile, at Cleveland [High School] I heard two seniors,
both immigrants, tell me their arrival story.
-- Walter Parker, personal communication
On this note, I would simply agree that taking the time to hear each
others' stories is a little-used, but oh, so valuable way to build the
road toward cultural competence. (Read, for example, the World Citizen
Essay Contest essays about refugees:
In my experience, one thing that has not worked is trying to
develop cultural competence by only looking inward. In our desire to
better understand the multicultural richness within our nation, our
states, and our cities and schools, we have too often placed the
majority culture in opposition to the minority culture. We look to the
single Japanese American student in our classroom to be the voice of
Japanese culture. We expect each African American child to represent
Africa (which is, of course, an entire continent of many nations,
cultures, and languages).
What is wonderful in schools with an international or global focus is
that the students within our classrooms are able to sit side by side as
they learn about peoples across the globe. As they build competency in
understanding the cultures beyond the classroom, they develop a
curiosity that extends into the classroom itself. This allows students
to see what they share in common even as they explore how they are
3. How is "cultural competence" measured?
One way that we have approached measuring or gaining insight into
cultural competence in the students at Hamilton International Middle
School in Seattle is through a student questionnaire that we developed
with the Center for Applied Linguistics. (See:
http://www.anciauxinternational.com/survey/hims_2004.htm.) We have
given the survey to students in the Japanese and Spanish language
programs and we hope to track the student responses over time. An
example question is:
Learning about other peoples and places will help me get along better
with people who are different from me.
[Strongly Agree] [Agree] [Disagree] [Strongly Disagree]
Will the multicultural and international experiences of the students
at Hamilton influence how the students think about learning about
different peoples and places?
We have some UW Education students doing statistical analysis of the
data from last spring. When we have the reports finished, I'd be happy
to share them with you.
I can think of another interesting way to assess cultural competence,
and that is to ask international visitors who go to our schools (which
is something we do in Global Classroom) to evaluate their experience.
Did the students (and teacher!) make you feel comfortable? Did the
students ask you questions that showed curiosity about your culture? Did
they seem to know some basic facts, such as where your country is
located, what language is spoken there, a little about your history or
current issues facing your country?
I hope we would never reduce measuring cultural competence to
something like a multiple choice test, such as
"Where do people eat tacos? (A) China (B) Mexico (C) France (D)
I have a work-study student this year who just returned from four years
teaching English in China. While in Beijing, she helped a friend open a
Mexican restaurant. So, I'm quite sure that there are people eating
tacos in China these days.
4. Why is "cultural competence" a desirable or necessary skill?
(Concrete examples of data and or information)
"Cultural competence" is a critical life skill in the 21st century.
Regardless of the education or career path our students take, they will
encounter diverse perspectives, from within our borders and beyond.
You have only to talk to our major state businesses, such as Boeing,
Microsoft, Starbucks, and the wine producers, to see that they "get it"
about cultural competence. They are looking for employees who will help
them grow their businesses internationally.
Talk to the political parties -- both Democrats and Republicans --
that made huge efforts to garner the Hispanic and African American vote
in the recent election. They need campaign volunteers who have the
cultural competence to reach out to the voting population, regardless of
their race or ethnic background.
Truly it is not worth spending another moment debating whether
cultural competence is a desirable or necessary skill. The question is
what will the Legislature do to ensure that our education system is
producing students who are culturally competent?
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Links to Handouts
Here are a few pages that I think would be helpful to the committee:
Washington State Coalition for International Education
About the Coalition:
What is International Education?
Shaping the Future of International Education:
National Coalition for International Education
International Studies Schools:
Principles of Learning:
NY Review of Books article that has insight into the achievement
"Must Schools Fail?" by Richard Rothstein
ASCD Educational Leadership article
"The Threat of Stereotype" by Joshua Aronson:
Report on the June 2002 Washington Center for Improving the
Quality of UndergraduateEducation
p. 11: "Link Global Studies with diversity in the U.S."
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What does it mean to be culturally competent?
It requires the ability to recognize that as an individual one works
within a mental framework, a framework that is only one framework of
countless in this world,
it requires the ability to reflect on one's words and behaviors and how
they affect others,
it requires the ability to identify one's assumptions and furthermore to
suspend one's assumptions,
it requires to communicate verbally in the language of the one you are
it requires the capacity for compassion and non-judgement,
it requires the ability for genuine, honest interaction with others
it requires specific skills, knowledge and experiences with people who
have have notably different skills, knowledge and experience then the
one's you have and this could include your neighbor or someone all the
way across the globe
-- Aysha Haq, Project Manager P-20 International
Education Summit: Building Global Relationships
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Gaining cross-cultural insights
“Important and unexpected new insights often come when
cross-cultural connections are made. The partnership between high school
students in South Africa and Roosevelt High School students is a case in
point. After a year of on-going correspondence between classrooms in the
two schools, several students and teachers from South Africa visited
Roosevelt students briefly as a way to further the learning
relationship. As the Roosevelt students explored the struggles with
racism in South Africa and the solutions black South Africans had
employed to reconcile the large societal splits along racial lines, the
South African students began to encourage the Roosevelt students to
explore racial splits in their own community. The Roosevelt students
(primarily Caucasian) were somewhat startled and surprised as they came
to the realization that some of the same kinds of racial splits existed
in their own community, noting the tensions between Roosevelt students
and Cleveland High School, a school with a very high percentage of
African-Americans. As a result, the Roosevelt students determined that
they would take a pro-active response to engaging in a series of face to
face discussions with Cleveland students to try to better understand the
barriers between the students that cut across racial lines, and employ
some of the same mediation and reconciliation methods the South African
students and community had used successfully. The Roosevelt students
have reported some very important lessons learned through this process,
not the least of which is that we have more in common across our borders
than we sometimes think.”
-- Greg Tuke, Director, Schools of the World
From the National Coalition on International Education
See Asia in the Schools, page 36. It is a description of
knowledge and attitudes that develop through international and
multicultural learning. It was in part adapted from a Washington State
OSPI document titled "International Education Curriculum Guidelines"
from 1988. If "attitude" is a base, then students can develop the
knowledge, skills that will lead to success in the 21st century.
See Asia in the Schools, page 14, call-out box. Peter Kiang, a
professor of education and multicultural studies at U Mass Boston,
prepared a short narrative example of what diversity is, which leads the
reader to ponder how complex and simultaneously basic/human cultural
competency is. In today's world, people aren't defined by simple
categories anymore. This lends to your opening statement of a porous
connection between international education and cultural competency.
Mavin Foundation has a statistic that in Washington State (and
Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawaii), after Caucasians, mixed race has
the highest birthrate than any other Census-classified ethnicity.
Highlight technology's role. Through school-to-school linkages,
students can learn with, not about the other. Several schools in
Washington (thanks to Kristi's good work) have been leaders in this type
of real-world application in cultural competency. Beyond cultural
competency, research shows that this type of learning builds leadership
skills as well as math and literacy skills.
Good question! I would stress that a research base is being developed
and then cite some early statistics from language immersion, public
opinion surveys, knowledge surveys, teacher prep surveys that point to
infusing international education, thus cultural competency, in schools.
See Vivien's testimony before Congress. (http://internationaled.org/congressionaltestimony.htm)
Different issue, but there are some collected stats that might perk up
Vivien's testimony also outlines some workforce and security issues.
One in six jobs is now tied to international trade (this number may be
higher in Washington). Education is our #5 export (which means
encouraging lots of international students to come to our schools).
Chinese will be the new primary language on the Internet in five years.
In order for our students to take advantage of these opportunities, we
must start now to develop culturally and linguistically competent
-- Grace Norman, the Asia Society
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To address question #4 from Rep. Tomiko Santos, my office put
together this information and data showing our state's international
economy and businesses require cultural competence to be successful:
http://www.cityofseattle.net/tda/pugetsoundtrade.htm. In particular,
please see the fact sheet and talking points. For example, 60% of
Microsoft's sales and 70% of Boeing's sales are international. Also, for
our state it is actually 1 in 3 jobs tied to international trade (1 in 6
is the national average).
No region in the United States is more tied to international
business and the international economy than the Puget Sound region.
Whether you are a banker, barista or barber you are part of the global
economy. If one in three jobs is tied to international business then one
in three customers of every barber earns his income because of
international trade. Our region's research institutions, universities,
small and medium sized businesses, ports and cultural organizations all
rely on international connections to remain competitive.
-- Lili Hein, Trade Development Alliance of Puget Sound
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Assessing Cultural Competency
[Excerpts of an email to Carey Moore]
Pennylyn Dykstra-Pruim, Lynne deBenedette, Monique Fecteau. "Cultural
Competence: Evaluating what our Students are Really Learning." ACTFL
Conference Presentation, 2004.
Though I work from a foreign language background, I am
very interested in cultural/culture education in education policy.
My first reaction to your questions is: in the realm of
education in the US, one could argue that there is distinction between
"cultural learning" and "intercultural learning". "Culture learning" is
developing a sense for the diversity in cultures and of oneself as being
part of a specific culture, sub-culture or culture blend. "Intercultural
learning" focuses more on learning how to interact satisfactorily with
or in other cultures.
There is a great deal of controversy about the terms
"intercultural competence" "intercultural competency" "cultural
competence" etc. The arguments rage. As I delineated in the session, I
prefer to look at culture learning in terms of specific, assessable
goals/skills and I work with my students toward those goals. Exactly
which overriding term gets used to categorize what my students can do
better at the end of my course...is somewhat less important to me
The trick in educational policy is striking a balance
between recognizing cultural diversity among our students (with the
different preferences for interpreting, communicating and demonstrating
achievement) and still obtaining comparable measures of success
(diachronically and synchronically).
While we continue to build skills necessary for success
in our society, there must be ways to eliminate from "the Achievement
Gap" the disparities resulting not from skill and ability as much as
from the measure used to test achievement.
Perhaps the answer lies in finding equivalent if not
equal measures, for fairness is not giving everyone the exact same thing
but giving each one within reason what she needs to do her best. We do
not adopt different standards for different students, but we can accept
different measures of success.
I should relish the chance to "inform" policymakers
about the role of culture in academic achievement (where sub-culture
clash, racism and ethnocentrism permeate) and in education policy. (It's
so much more than Kimonos and Sauerkraut and the Mexican Hat Dance!).
If you need some background/qualifications at least for
me: I have a Ph.D. in German-English Applied Linguistics, teach German
language and culture, am developing a new model for foreign language
learning at the university which adopts an intercultural approach to
language learning (the project is called Auf geht's! and was funded by a
FIPSE grant), and am the Chair of the American Association of Teachers
of German (AATG) National Task Force on Culture Learning.
*-Pennylyn Dykstra Pruim
-- shared by Carey Moore, Pacific Village Institute
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International Education - Models of Success
Press release from iEARN on assessment of global
Communications Reap Surprising Rewards (PDF)
International Education for Students in Washington
Rennebohm Franz's Report to the Legislature (PDF)
What educators in other countries think about
> Greetings to
Washington Educators (PDF)
Why is International Education important?
Now! Student Voices (PDF)
-- Kristi Rennebohm Franz, iEARN
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