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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development 3 The Challenge of Studying Culture Revolutionary advances in communications technology and increasing globalization have resulted in unprecedented access to the richness of human variation. In this context, as understanding of the dynamic interaction between nature and nurture continues to grow, the concept of culture offers a promising framework for thinking about the full meaning of nurture in the process of human development. Interest in the influence of culture on child development, particularly as it is mediated through early childrearing practices, extends across a range of scholarly disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and psychology. Building on the seminal contributions of Margaret Mead, to Murchison's Handbook of Child Psychology (Murchison, 1931), and Carmichael's Manual of Child Psychology (Carmichael, 1946), all of the leading authoritative volumes on child development research had incorporated a cross-cultural perspective by the middle of the 20th century (e.g., Greenfield and Suzuki in Damon et al., 1998; Whiting in Lindzey, 1954; Whiting and Whiting in Mussen, 1960), and specialized volumes on infancy began to appear (e.g., Mead and Macgregor, 1951; Whiting and Child, 1953). Notwithstanding this early establishment of a firm cross-cultural foundation for the science of early childhood development, the explosion of cognitive psychology in the 1960s paid relatively little attention to the effects of environmental influences on the emerging competencies of young
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development children. Dominated by the revolutionary thinking of Jean Piaget (1952) and Noam Chomsky (1965), this new generation of psychologists celebrated the role of young children as active agents in their own development and attributed early skill acquisition to the universal emergence of innate cognitive and linguistic structures that required relatively modest environmental guidance. In the early 1980s, following the publication of Mind in Society (Vygotsky, 1978) and The Ecology of Human Development (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), the pendulum swung back toward a greater appreciation of the extent to which all human development unfolds within a wide variety of cultural contexts. In his analysis of the child development research literature based largely on the findings of highly controlled laboratory experiments, Bronfenbrenner (1979:19) underscored the limitations of most empirically based developmental psychology, characterizing it as “the science of the strange behavior of children in strange situations with strange adults for the briefest possible periods of time.” Subsequently, in contrast to Piaget's image of the young child as a solitary scientist, a growing subgroup of child development researchers returned to the concept of human development as a socially embedded phenomenon, thereby emphasizing the importance of culture (e.g., Rogoff and Chavajay, 1995). Building on this evolving framework, the committee began its work with a strong conviction about the importance of culture as a highly salient influence on early childhood development. As our examination of the knowledge base progressed, we became increasingly appreciative of its complexity. In part, this complexity is related to the multidisciplinary nature of the field and its reliance on a wide array of qualitative and quantitative methods. Beyond methodological diversity, however, the committee was struck by the extent to which much of the research on the role of culture in child development is tied to values and personal beliefs. Thus, the task of assessing the science of culture was exceedingly more complicated than assessing the neurobiology of brain development. This complexity was particularly apparent when the committee attempted to define and disentangle the concepts of culture, ethnicity, and race, and to seek greater understanding of the effects of racism, discrimination, and minority status on the development of young children. Consequently, this report presents a more bounded analysis of culture than it does of neuroscience. It is important that this discrepancy not be interpreted as an indication of the relative importance of these two domains of study. Quite the contrary, it should be viewed as a strong message both about the significant challenges that face those who investigate the role of culture in early childhood development and the critical need for ongoing methodologically rigorous research in this area.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development THE SPECIAL CONTEXT OF THE EARLY CHILDHOOD PERIOD Most definitions of culture have focused on the intergenerational transmission of various combinations of symbolic (e.g., ideas, beliefs, and values) and behavioral (e.g., rituals and practices) inheritances (Shweder et al., 1998). In the realm of early childhood development, symbolic inheritances include (but are not limited to) parents' expectations, goals, and aspirations for their children; the values that govern differential approaches to discipline; gender roles; religious or spiritual values; and ideas and beliefs about health, illness, and disability. Behavioral inheritances, in turn, are embodied in the “scripts” that characterize everyday routines for such common activities as sleeping, feeding, and playing, among others, and the distinctive contexts that shape cognitive, linguistic, and social-emotional development and thereby influence the acquisition of specific skills or behaviors. Some observers have directed their attention preferentially to values and beliefs. Others have focused primarily on behaviors and practices. Shweder et al. (1998) emphasize the importance of integrating both —“the beliefs and doctrines that make it possible for a people to rationalize and make sense of the life they lead” and “patterns of behavior that are learned and passed on from generation to generation” (p. 867). One of the most extensively studied examples of contrasting developmental values is the difference between cultures that promote individualism (found predominantly in European and European-American societies) and those that favor interdependence (reflected most prominently in Asian, African, and Latin American societies) (Greenfield, 1994; Greenfield and Suzuki, 1998; Markus and Kitayama, 1991; Triandis, 1988). Although all cultures must find a balance between individual autonomy and shared interests, there is considerable variation in each society's location along the continuum. Those that place greater emphasis on the former socialize their children in a way that promotes a greater sense of independence and a strong orientation toward individual achievement and self-fulfillment. Those that favor the latter socialize their children to focus on the importance of their responsibilities to others and the value of viewing personal achievements in terms of their contribution to collective goals. Neither orientation is intrinsically more adaptive or more “normal” than the other. Each reflects the desire for a certain kind of society, with both benefits and costs. When greater emphasis is placed on interdependence, there is a stronger sense of connectedness, sharing, and solidarity, but there may be a real cost in the form of suppression of individual development. When greater autonomy and self-reliance are promoted, there is often a considerable level of material productivity and individual liberty, but there may be
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development a serious cost in the form of strained relationships and social alienation (Kim, 1987). Central to the process of intergenerational culture transmission during the early childhood years is the translation of cultural belief systems (“parental ethnotheories”) into parenting practices (Goodnow and Collins, 1990; Harkness and Super, 1992; Sigel et al., 1992). Whiting and Child (1953) noted both similarities and differences in approaches to childrearing in different cultures, and identified distinctive parenting practices as important reasons for the variations in child outcomes found across diverse populations. LeVine (1977:20) proposed a hierarchy of three universal goals that all parents have for their children: (1) physical survival and health, (2) development of the capacity for economic self-maintenance, and (3) development of the “behavioral capacities for maximizing other cultural values—e.g., morality, prestige, wealth, religious piety, intellectual achievement, personal satisfaction, self-realization—as formulated and symbolically elaborated in culturally distinctive beliefs, norms, and ideologies.” In a society in which threats to physical survival are significant, caregiving is focused primarily on protection. When survival is assumed, childrearing practices reveal a process of socialization that reflects the values of the culture and the aspirations of parents for their children. Miller and Goodnow (1995) defined cultural practices as “actions that are repeated, shared with others in a social group, and invested with normative expectations and with meanings or significances that go beyond the immediate goals of the action” (p. 7). They further noted their appeal as “a construct that will both contextualize development and provide a way of bringing together what are often described under the separate labels of thinking, doing, feeling, and becoming” (p. 7). Thus, according to Miller and Goodnow, their value for child development researchers is reflected in the way cultural practices: (1) provide a vehicle for studying developmentin-context, without separating child and context and without separating development into a variety of separate domains; (2) reflect a particular social and moral order; (3) serve as a route by which children come to participate in a culture, allowing the culture to be reproduced or transformed within each child; (4) have a history and a relation to both supporting and competing practices; and (5) have consequences based on the nature of participation in a given practice. One of the most extensively studied cultural practices in early childhood is the routine sleeping arrangements that are made for babies and young children (see Chapter 5). In the United States, where autonomy and independence are highly valued traits, most children sleep alone in a separate room away from their parents (Abbott, 1992; Lozoff et al., 1984; Morelli et al., 1992). In most of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, where interdependence and solidarity are preferred, children routinely sleep with
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development one or more of their parents or siblings, even when separate rooms are available (Caudill and Plath, 1966; Konner and Worthman, 1980; Shweder et al., 1995). In two-thirds of the cultures surveyed in one international study, mothers routinely slept in the same bed with their infants, and the percentage was even higher when sleeping in the same room was included (Barry and Paxon, 1971; Burton and Whiting, 1961). This pattern was found not only in developing nations, but also in highly industrialized societies such as Japan, where children typically sleep with their parents until age 5 or 6 years (Caudill and Plath, 1966). Despite the relatively unusual nature of typical U.S. sleeping practices compared with the rest of the world, there is also considerable subgroup variability within the country. In a Cleveland, Ohio, study, only 3 percent of babies in white, urban, middle-class, two-parent families slept in their parents' bedroom under one year of age, and only 1 percent did so in the second year. In contrast, parent-child cosleeping was reported for black children in the same urban area at a rate of 55 percent for children in the first year and 25 percent between 1 and 5 years of age (Litt, 1981). A subsequent study in a predominantly white, blue-collar community in Appalachian Kentucky found cosleeping among 71 percent of children between 2 months and 2 years of age, and 47 percent between 2 and 4 years (Abbott, 1992). Lozoff et al. (1984) found that babies in white, middleclass families are more likely to sleep with their parents when they are ill, when the family moves, or when there is marital conflict. Both cosleeping with a parent or sleeping alone appear to be adaptive in a variety of cultural contexts. For example, !Kung children have been observed to be more independent than their counterparts in the United States, notwithstanding their early cosleeping experiences (Klein, 1995; Konner, 1982). It is of interest to note, however, that parental concerns about sleep problems in young children are common in the United States, less frequent in Japan (Nugent, 1994), and nonexistent in Kenya (Super and Harkness, 1982). It is not clear whether these differences reflect parent perceptions or actual sleep disturbances. Moreover, although the Japanese mother-child relationship remains relatively strong into adulthood, the husband-wife bond is typically less close than in the United States (Lebra, 1994). In short, cultural differences in early childhood sleeping arrangements are neither better nor worse; they simply reflect contrasting preferences and differential trade-offs. Differences in early caregiver-child interaction patterns and communication styles further illustrate alternative childrearing strategies, as well as the futility of searching for universally normative or optimal practices. Mothers of Gusii toddlers in Africa and Zinacantecan toddlers in Central America, who use a great deal of imperatives when they speak to their offspring, generally have children who grow up to be relatively obedient
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development and nonquestioning (Greenfield et al., 1989; LeVine et al., 1994). Toddlers in the United States, whose mothers typically speak with them using interrogatives, often grow up to be more questioning and self-assertive (LeVine et al., 1994). Americans would judge Gusii parents as excessively authoritarian and punitive, and their toddlers as passive. The Gusii would view American parents as overindulgent, and their toddlers as undisciplined (LeVine et al., 1994). In a study of mother-infant dyads playing with toys, Fernald and Morikawa (1993) observed that American mothers tended to name the objects, in contrast to Japanese mothers, who produced soft, easily imitated sounds and encouraged positive feeling toward the toys. Greenfield and Suzuki (1998) characterized these differences as a behavioral manifestation of the American value preference for cognitive stimulation (i.e., “technological intelligence”) versus the greater Japanese interest in interpersonal relationships (i.e., “social intelligence”). The take-home message from this evolving literature is clear. Cultural practices related to early childrearing are highly variable and lead to different developmental outcomes. Many of those who embrace a particular practice typically do so because they believe in its relative superiority, although there is generally scant evidence to support the conclusion that one practice is inherently better than others. Yet this message does not mean that any and all beliefs and practices are equivalent in the extent to which they promote the health and development of young children. Some differences are trivial, some are matters of preference or style, and some have important consequences that may be particularly helpful or destructive to individuals or to society. Indeed, some practices can pose significant threats to children's physical or emotional well-being (e.g., binding the feet of young girls, using severe physical punishment to enforce obedience to authority, or imposing highly restricted diets that result in malnutrition). Ethnocentric arrogance leads to the firm belief that one's way is “the only right way.” Sound scientific thinking asks how and why cultural practices differ and assesses their differential developmental consequences, in both the short and long term. It is therefore essential that the full range of possible effects of contrasting childrearing practices be evaluated objectively. CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN THE UNITED STATES Although much can be (and has been) learned about the relation between culture and child development from cross-national studies, there is also much to be learned from the rich diversity of childrearing beliefs and practices exhibited by families in the United States. A great deal of that variability can be found in that part of the population whose ancestors emigrated from Europe. Significantly more resides among those whose
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development ancestral origins can be traced to various countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia and who continue to be self-identified or socially identified with those origins. In fact, except for the contributions of the Native American population, most aspects of mainstream culture in the United States have been transported from another society. As such, American culture is modified and reshaped by each newly arrived group, as well as by each successive generation. In this respect, like most open societies in the world today, the United States is a nation whose culture remains a continuous work in progress. The complex amalgam of cultures that encompass the contemporary U.S. population includes the contributions of a variety of groups whose initial arrival reflected a mixture of circumstances, including voluntary immigrants, involuntary slaves, grateful refugees, and conquered indigenous peoples. Some communities reflect more than two centuries of acculturation since the original departure from their homeland; others can measure their date of arrival in months. Some experience a sense of genuine welcome; others bear the burdens of hostility and overt discrimination. Some blend more easily into the mainstream; others feel more isolated at its fringes. Within this multilayered context, research on the role of culture in the development of young children in the United States is exceedingly complex and challenging. Central to greater understanding is the need to identify the diverse and frequently overlapping elements of ethnicity, which include national origin, race, minority status, language, and religion. Ethnicity can be an amalgam of any or all of these, and the task of defining it is not an easy one. Helms (1990:293) defined ethnicity as “a social identity based on the culture of one's ancestors' national or tribal groups and modified by the demands of the larger culture or society in which one currently resides.” Entwisle and Astone (1994) proposed ethnic categories for research purposes based on race and place of origin. García Coll and Magnuson (2000) described ethnicity as a group status defined by a common nationality, culture, or language. Phinney (1996) noted that the boundaries of ethnicity are blurred and flexible, and that its implications vary widely across individuals. Consequently, she suggested that it be treated not as a categorical variable but as a dynamic aspect of human experience (Goodchilds, 1991). Three dimensions of difference that vary within and across groups, as well as within individuals over time, are suggested for examination—ethnicity as culture, ethnicity as identity, and ethnicity as minority status (Phinney, 1996). Equating ethnic status with distinctive cultural characteristics is highly problematic. Central to the problem is the common finding of significant variation within ethnic groups in values, beliefs, and practices—variations that can often exceed the magnitude of differences between groups. Most attempts to describe the culture of different ethnic groups in the United
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development States typically begin with the general characteristics of their native region (e.g., Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America). This is usually followed by the identification of distinguishing features related to their specific country of origin, the generation and timing of immigration, the region of settlement in the United States, religious affiliation and practice, current community structure, and current socioeconomic status. Different members of a given ethnic group generally demonstrate varying degrees of adherence to its identifiable values, beliefs, and practices, thereby making it virtually impossible to characterize “the culture” of the group. Individuals can claim ethnicity as an identity, independent of the extent of one's adherence to its cultural values and practices, which has been characterized as “symbolic ethnicity” or “ethnic loyalty” (Keefe, 1992; Keefe and Padilla, 1987). Embedded in this construct is a sense of membership in an ethnic group and a positive feeling about the affiliation (Bernal and Knight, 1993; Phinney, 1990, 1996). Like culture, ethnic identity is a complex phenomenon that varies among the members of a group, as well as in individuals over time. Its psychological correlates also vary, depending on the quality of the identity (Phinney, 1996) and whether it is the result of self-labeling or labeling by others. Some ethnic groups are characterized as minority groups. This characterization implies a position of relative disadvantage with respect to power and status, often accompanied by previous or ongoing experience with racism or other forms of prejudice and discrimination (Phinney, 1996). It too varies among individuals and over time. In selected cases, it may be correlated with any of a variety of historical experiences that differentiate specific groups, such as slavery, internment, relocation, and refugee or immigrant status. The concept of race can be especially difficult to define. García Coll and Magnuson (2000) defined race as a term used in the United States to describe a group of people who are defined mainly by physical characteristics, such as skin color, hair type, and other features. In reality, a significant proportion of the U.S. population is of mixed racial descent, and many individuals only marginally resemble the physical prototype of a distinctive race. Although preschool children do not have well-formulated ideas about race, it is among their earliest emerging social categories. By the time they are 4 years old, children appear to realize that race is an enduring feature that is inherited from parents and established at birth. They also seem to be aware that race is a dimension along which humans are arranged hierarchically, but they do not have a very clear idea about who belongs to which category. Unlike gender, race is not a particularly salient or important dimension by which preschoolers spontaneously categorize people, especially when it comes to choosing playmates. The translation of racial
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development categories into racially based behavior appears to occur after the preschool years (Hirschfeld, 1994). The early development of perceptions and attitudes about race (both one's own and that of others) is a highly sensitive concern in a pluralistic society. This critical issue, which was not addressed by the committee, demands extensive, multidisciplinary investigation. DEMOGRAPHIC CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES Notwithstanding the absence of clear definitions of race and ethnicity, they persist as prominent demographic markers for categorizing children and families, even as the blending of cultures increases and the racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. population grows. Over the past two decades, the proportions of Asian and Hispanic children in the United States have increased while the young black population has remained stable and the percentage of whites has declined. Much of this growing diversity of young children is the result of increased immigration and higher birth rates among immigrants and their descendants, who represent more than 100 different ethnic and linguistic groups (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1998a). These trends are projected to continue, if not accelerate, through the early decades of the 21st century, such that current notions of majority and minority groups will become less meaningful for children and, as they age, for adults as well. By the year 2030, children in families of European origin will make up less than 50 percent of the population under age 5 (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1998a). These demographic realities suggest both promising opportunities and potentially sobering challenges. The opportunities offered by a multicultural society that is cohesive and inclusive are virtually limitless—including the richness that comes from a broad diversity of skills and talents, and the vitality that is fueled by a range of interests and perspectives. The challenges posed by a multicultural society that is fragmented and exclusive are daunting—including the wasted human capital that is undermined by prejudice and discrimination, and the threat of civil disorder precipitated by bigotry and hatred. The changing demographics of the early childhood population in the United States present both the opportunity and the challenge of a great social experiment. The outcome of this experiment will be influenced to a large extent by how human diversity is addressed in the rearing of children. The foundations of relationships and the fundamentals of socialization are culturally embedded and established during the early childhood years (see Chapter 9). Consequently, further research on how young children learn about and develop attitudes toward human differences will help to elucidate both the roots of categorical discrimination and the origins of social inclusion.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development CULTURALLY COMPETENT POLICIES AND SERVICE DELIVERY As the population of young children in the United States becomes increasingly diverse, policy makers and service providers face the complex task of tailoring their efforts to build on the strengths and address the needs of a wide variety of constituencies. Central to this challenge is a recognition that significant cultural distance between providers and recipients of health and human services can make it difficult to build and sustain the kinds of relationships that often determine the short-term acceptability and ultimate success of an early childhood intervention or family support program. In an effort to respond to these new and growing challenges, the concept of “cultural competence” has been formulated to guide and evaluate professional performance in a broad range of service settings. Despite its intuitive appeal and theoretical validity, however, this concept has not been investigated empirically. Multiple terms have been used to address the need for responsiveness to diversity, including “cultural sensitivity,” “cultural relevance,” and “cultural awareness,” among others. Unlike these alternatives, cultural competence has been popularized as a knowledge base and set of skills that go beyond the realm of simple respect and sensitivity. A culturally competent professional is defined as one who is able to facilitate mutually rewarding interactions and meaningful relationships in the delivery of effective services for children and families whose cultural heritage differs from his or her own (American Medical Association, 1994; Roberts, 1989). Notwithstanding its current salience in the domains of policy and practice, however, there is little scientific evidence to support this definition. Beyond the level of individual practice, notions of cultural competence have also been applied to systems and programs that deliver responsive and accessible services to culturally diverse populations. Once again, although the following characteristics have not been evaluated systematically, a culturally competent service system: (1) monitors assessment procedures and evaluation instruments to assure their appropriateness and validity for the children and families who will be assessed; (2) identifies groups that are underserved and eliminates cultural barriers that interfere with service provision; (3) facilitates policy planning, staff training, and community participation in order to ensure the development, delivery, and maintenance of culturally competent services; (4) defines the location, size, characteristics, resources, needs, and ethnography of culturally diverse populations within its service area; (5) builds cross-cultural communication skills; and (6) helps a broad diversity of communities organize themselves to enhance the availability and utilization of needed services. In a culturally competent system of care, the family, as defined by the cultural
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development perspective of the target population(s), becomes the principal vehicle for support and the preferred agent of intervention (Coates and Vietze, 1996). In a health care setting, cultural competence is demonstrated further by the inclusion of cultural considerations in history taking and the formulation of differential diagnoses, and by adapting communication patterns in response to different cultural beliefs, practices, or traditional roles (Oosterwal, 1994). This framework can be used successfully for bicultural as well as multicultural families. Isaacs and Benjamin (1991) suggested five additional traits that mark a culturally competent service system or institution: (1) the ability to express an appreciation for diversity; (2) the capacity for cultural self-assessment; (3) awareness of the dynamics that occur when cultures interact; (4) the availability of institutionalized cultural knowledge; and (5) availability of adaptive practices, such as the appropriate use of interpreters and sensitivity to cultural celebrations. Proposed guidelines for implementing such practices are available from a variety of sources (Bernard, 1991; Cross et al., 1989; Isaacs, 1986; Isaacs and Benjamin, 1991; Mason, 1989; Orlandi, 1992; Rider and Mason, 1990; Roberts, 1989). The true sign of a culturally competent system of service delivery is its capacity to recognize the fine line between sensitivity to group differences and the danger of stereotypic or paternalistic approaches in the service of greater individualization. To this end, the ultimate goal should not be a society that develops different policies for different ethnic or racial groups, but a society that takes a families' cultural values and practices into account when it acts on their behalf. At the present time, this perspective is shaped by values and personal beliefs. The underlying science remains to be developed. EVOLVING PERSPECTIVES ON THE STUDY OF CULTURE AND DEVELOPMENT One of the fundamental choices facing those who study the complex relation between culture and child development is the need to find an appropriate balance between the identification of universals and the task of cataloging its variations (Cocking, 1994). As noted by Kessen (1991), “No psychologist can ignore the eternal tension between the Search for Uniform Being, on one hand, and the Celebration of Diversity, on the other” (p. 188). Early pioneers in cross-cultural psychology identified and described differences among societies. Investigators at the cutting edge of contemporary cultural psychology recognize that culture can be studied within a single group, and seek greater understanding of the dynamic interaction between individuals and their contexts in a diverse array of settings
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development (Greenfield, 1997; Jahoda and Krewer, 1997; Miller, 1997; Poortinga, 1997). Among the most important tensions that arise in the study of cultural diversity is the struggle between those who view differences as advantages or deficits versus those who adopt a more “situated” and less ethnocentric perspective on human variability (Cole and Bruner, 1971; Ogbu, 1994). Central to the latter approach is a recognition that development is largely adaptive in nature and therefore must be viewed within the context in which it takes place and within which it evolves over time. That is to say, “2-year-old skills” and “3-year-old behaviors” are best understood by taking into account the learning opportunities and expectations that are embedded in the important social interactions in the child's typical environment. Thus, the development of cognitive-linguistic abilities and the achievement of emotional well-being are linked to a child's everyday experiences, which are embedded in the cultural practices or “scripts” of his or her family and society. Closely related to the movement away from a focus on deficits toward an interest in assets is the emergence of a new subfield of cross-cultural research known as “indigenous psychology” (Berry, 1995). The defining feature of this emerging field is the study of specific cultural traditions by investigators whose personal background matches the cultural group that is the subject of study. CONCLUSIONS Similar to the evolving understanding of the reciprocal interaction between nature and nurture, researchers who study human development and culture are developing a greater appreciation for their interdependence as well. That is to say, as children grow up, they are not simply passive products of the culture in which they are reared. Quite the contrary, they are active agents who pick and choose selectively from among the influences to which they are exposed, thereby shaping their own distinctive cultural context over time (Miller and Goodnow, 1995). Fundamental to this concept is the increasing recognition that cultures themselves are also dynamic and continually modified by the people who experience them. This phenomenon is most obvious in the acculturation of immigrant children, as they navigate the borders between their native and adopted cultures. It is also highly visible in any society during times of social change, as individuals adjust their practices and scripts to the pressures of newly prescribed values and behaviors. The significant social and economic transformations that have affected U.S. society over the past few decades (see Chapter 1) provide vivid examples of such powerful influences on the lives of children and families. Increases in maternal employment and
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development greater utilization of nonparental child care, for example, have dramatically altered the daily life experiences of infants and toddlers by introducing a greater variety of adult relationships and earlier exposure to organized peer group activities, particularly with same-age playmates. The proliferation of early childhood enrichment activities and intense competition for admission to prestigious preschool programs for children from affluent families have increased performance demands within a relatively narrow range of competencies at increasingly younger ages; and the considerable amount of time that toddlers and preschoolers spend watching television and playing with video games have transformed the nature of imagination and play during the preschool years. The lessons from these examples are clear. Culture is not a static phenomenon. It is sustained, challenged, or modified over time. Culture is also not a neutral construct. It draws much of its influence from the conviction that its values and practices are inherently right and preferable to those of others. In a pluralistic and rapidly changing society like the United States, culture is a highly charged and constantly moving target that is difficult to investigate in an objective manner. Numerous examples of its influence on early childhood development are included throughout this report, but much further work remains to be done. However, unlike research in the neurobiology of early childhood development, studies of the relation between competence and culture are heavily infused with values and personal beliefs. The extent to which both the capacity and the resolve to learn more about this critical relation are strengthened will determine the ability to understand the rich diversity of human cognitive, social, emotional, and moral development, beginning in the earliest years of life.
Representative terms from entire chapter: