Michigan Education Association

What is cultural competency?

A culturally competent curriculum recognizes, respects and responds to and celebrates cultural differences, offering full equitable access to education for all students from all cultures.

Cultural competency goes beyond cultural awareness. It denotes an individual’s ability to effectively interact with and among others whose values, behaviors and environments are different from your own.

Culture refers to the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, values and beliefs, institutions and all other human work and thought. In this context, the term competent means one is capable, qualified, adept and effective in interacting with others.

Culture plays a role not only in communicating and receiving information, but also in shaping the thinking process, behavior and existence of individuals and groups.

A culturally competent curriculum encompasses all aspects of teaching and learning and recognizes, respects and responds to and celebrates cultural differences. This offers full equitable access to education for all students from all cultures.

Being culturally responsive recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning.

As detailed in the book “Culturally Proficient Instruction: A Guide for People Who Teach,” cultural proficiency is a continuum with six steps. They are:

Cultural destructiveness:

The elimination of another cultural group or the suppression of the culture’s practices.

Cultural incapacity:

Treatment of members of nondominant groups based on stereotypes and with the belief that the dominant group is inherently superior.

Cultural blindness:

Failure to see or to acknowledge that differences between groups often make a difference to the groups and to the individuals who are members of those groups.

Cultural precompetence:

Behaviors or practices that seek to acknowledge cultural differences in healthy ways but that are not quite effective.

Cultural competence:

Effective interactions with individuals and groups of people from different ethnic and social cultures; use of the essential elements as the standards for individual behavior and organizational practice.

Cultural proficiency:

Practices that reflect knowing how to learn and teach about different groups; having the capacity to teach and to learn about differences in ways that acknowledge and honor all people and the groups they represent.


Updated: February 19, 2009 6:15 PM