Cultural Dissonance

In its simplest definition, dissonance means a fundamental lack of agreement. Differences between cultures are inherent. ‘Cultural dissonance’ is the term commonly used to describe a sense of discomfort, discord or disharmony arising from cultural differences or inconsistencies which are unexpected or unexplained and therefore difficult for individuals to negotiate. Dissonance can be experienced by all parties in the cultural interchange and attempts to resolve discordant issues can be bewildering or distressing.

Cultural psychologists maintain that where children in education systems experience cultural dissonance, they become vulnerable to educational disadvantage, thus cultural dissonance can have a profound and negative effect on academic achievement and the personal development of students. Cultural dissonance may provoke the tendency either to resort to ethnocentrism, or to abandon inherent cultural values and adopt those of the school culture, in order to achieve success. Cultural dissonance may also lead to erroneous interpretations of parent behaviours, creating misunderstandings between home and school

According to Gordon and Yowell (1999) one of the risk factors is the failure of the surrounding environment to support the person’s individual, culturally-influenced needs. Schools, within education systems are  generally seen as being embedded in the culture of society and, as such, act as agents in the transmission of the traditional and long held views and values of the society in which they are set. In order to minimise the effects of cultural dissonance, schools may need to review aspects of the formal and informal curriculum, including the attitudes of staff.  Merely providing culturally relevant materials will not eliminate dissonance; learning contexts must also allow for differences in the values, knowledge, skills, and learning styles that children bring to the classroom.  Tierney (1993) suggests a "border pedagogy" that helps students negotiate back and forth between cultures, teaching them cultural ‘savvy’ so that they can succeed in the predominate culture, but at the same time, honour and support their own cultural roots and traditions.

Gordon, E., & Yowell, C. (1999). Cultural dissonance as a risk factor in the development of students. In E. Gordon (Ed.), Education and justice: A view from the back of the bus (pp. 34-51). New York: Teachers College Press.

Tierney, W. (1993). Building communities of difference: Higher education in the twenty
first century.
Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey

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Early Years, Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 5, Middle, Primary, Secondary

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