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A. Problem Statement

This study proposes to look at the question of to what degree a school can instill a secondary cultural proficiency. This topic comes at a time when many schools in the United States face either cultural change or attempt to define their own school culture, which Charles Glenn terms their "distinctive character" (Glenn, 1996). Further, the appearance of this dissertation occurs when international schools, a category to which Al-Dharra Madressor at least partially belongs, find themselves increasingly filled with host-country nationals (Broman, 1996) who may find their culture in contrast with that of the British or American educators.

Further, one can claim that the United States currently seems undecided on the questions of both the extent and the desirability of multiple cultural influences. In particular, the World Trade Center bombing and the subsequent tightening of visa requirements for Arab, male entry into the country highlight a particular concern regarding Arab-Western cultural interaction, the subject of this study.

If, indeed, a school can through design instill a secondary cultural proficiency, even biculturality, in its graduates this holds the potential to alleviate problems around the world. The school, after all, remains an important instrument of socialization. For example, think of the advantages to Latino-Americans if they could attend a school that, in the end, leaves them an integral part of their community and yet more comfortably able to participate in the Anglo-dominated greater society. In the Detroit area, with its large Arab population, if the schools could somehow make Arab students better able to understand and interact with the greater Western society or Anglo students to better understand and interact with minority Arab culture, this could alleviate social tensions and decrease the rising number of racially motivated acts of violence directed against Arabs (Amnesty International, 2002).

This study holds further promise in that it concerns two subjects little studied in English-language educational literature, international students (Brown, 1996; Broman, 1996) and Arab students. In this context, the international setting may work to the advantage of the school achieving a secondary cultural orientation because an international school director works in a relatively non-bureaucratic environment that allows lots of discretion (Brown, 1996; Fruit & Naspo, 1998) in achieving school goals and altering school design.

Some of the potential value of this study stems from its unique setting and some factors that seem to show community agreement as to the desirability of children obtaining a reasonably high Western secondary cultural influence, which this analysis terms "cultural proficiency," as explained below. Parents choosing this school, Al-Dharra Madressor, pay high costs both in terms of dollars (ECIS: Dharra, 2001) and in terms of their children’s time (Al-Khansa, 2002), meaning that the school tends to draw committed parents. Further, students and parents, due to the bilingual/multi-cultural nature of Asil business society explored in chapter five, hold both cultures, Arab and American (Western), in relatively high esteem, a necessary prerequisite for bilingual/bicultural success (Blanc & Hameers, 1991). Also, the school hires natives-speaking teachers from the two cultures, so each group comes well prepared to present its particular culture to the students. This plethora of positive features makes Al-Dharra a relatively ideal place in which to measure the ability of a school to instill a secondary cultural proficiency. Hence, this study seeks to determine:

To what degree can a school foster a secondary cultural proficiency?

On the other hand, the very uniqueness of this situation somewhat limits the applicability of its findings. If Al-Dharra Madressor encourages greater Arab facility with the West, then those who want to achieve a similar cultural proficiency at another school may need to incite a similar level of commitment or settle for a lesser degree of success. Moreover, if Dharra does not encourage this secondary Western cultural proficiency, this may suggest, as some maintain, that for individuals as well as schools, inevitably one culture emerges as the stronger, to the general subversion of the other (Farquharson 1988; 1989), and that programs such as Al-Dharra’s might even have destructive impacts, leading to anomie and a loss of cultural identity. A failure on the part of ADM may even suggest the essential correctness of scholars such as Bernard Lewis (1994) who believe the Western and Arab worlds essentially beyond reconciliation. Once more, though, the relative uniqueness of ADM may argue against the strength of these conclusions as well.

Whereas the earlier part of this dissertation created a general model which suggests some of the differences between Asil Western culture and that of the West, this portion will seek to measure to what degree the simultaneous exposure of students to both cultures results in their proficiency in both cultures. To understand the school situation fully requires a brief reconsideration of the school setting.

B. Introduction to the School Setting

Due to the length of this dissertation, this section will repeat some of the information in chapters one and eight. This allows for summarizing and re-emphasizing some important information already brought forward; this also allows for reading the first and second portions of the dissertation in isolation.

Founded in 1978, Al-Dharra Madressor functions as a unique part of the Kuwaiti educational system, in and of itself (ADM 1, 1998) a bilingual system. It exists with the explicit aim of creating bilingual students able to function in Western and Arab cultural situations (ADM 1, 1998):

Al-Dharra Madressor (ADM), established 1977, is an independent, non-profit, bilingual (Arabic-English) university preparatory educational institution whose aim is to help young Kuwait men and women as well as students of other nationalities living in Kuwait, to acquire the ethical values, intellectual qualities, and positive attitudes required for effective participation in the overall development of Kuwait and the rapidly changing world. (emphasis added)

The founder of the school, as explained in chapter eight, herself did not make an easy transition between the two worlds, Asil Kuwaiti Arab and Western, and one can consider the school’s design as attempting to build a school that would enable students to do what she found a challenge, to retain their Arab identity while functioning in bicultural or Western environments. This dissertation terms this ability to function in Western cultural situations as Western "cultural proficiency."

To achieve this end, the school takes many steps. It hires native-speakers of Arabic and English not only to teach classes in their respective English and Arabic but also to teach the other subjects, social studies, math, etc., on an approximately equal time basis. In a single day, a student may end up switching between languages and cultural expectations four or five times. Even school activities and assemblies involve speakers and expectations of both languages and cultures. As explained in chapter eight, while students may enter the school via examination at almost any age, the majority spend their entire Kuwait educational career at Al-Dharra, i.e., thirteen years, a serious commitment to the school. When students graduate they actually graduate not from one national school system but three, American, international, and Kuwaiti (ADM 2, 1998):

Al-Dharra is accredited by the European Council of International Schools (ECIS) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). The school’s Science Branch and International Branch Diplomas [i.e. all diplomas] are accredited by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education. This ensures that the school’s programs of study are recognized in the Middle East, Europe, North America and throughout the world as equivalent to the accreditation standards for schools in their regions.

The long list of college admissions, seems, prima facie, to imply that Al-Dharra reaches its goal regarding creating students proficient in two cultures (ADM 1, 1998):

After the re-establishment of our school after the Gulf War our graduates have been accepted to the following: Carnegie Mellon, Tufts, University of Colorado-Boulder, MIT, Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, Boston College, Boston University, Suffolk University, Simmons College, Virginia Poly, Rhode Island School of Design, Babson College, Florida Tech, Cornell, Syracuse, Miami, Vermont, Rhode Island, Kuwait U, Northeastern, Emerson College, Drake, American, American University of Beirut, Marquette, Penn, Penn State, Lebanese American University, Cairo University, Toronto, Cal-Berkeley, UCLA, University of California-San Diego, Chicago, Arizona State University, Washington State, and McGill.

It seems relevant to emphasize an important point for those unacquainted with the Arab world: the Arab universities on this list equal the quality of the American schools. While this list as a whole seems heavily American dominated, the chart below shows a more balanced assessment as to the probable college destination for Al-Dharra graduates.

On a surface level, it appears that Al-Dharra already reaches its goals regarding cultural proficiency; students go off to these varied national universities and graduate. However, more consideration shows the relative weakness of this argument. First, while the numbers above seem to suggest Western cultural proficiency, many students from Arab countries attend foreign universities, and these students change relatively little (Abu-Hilal, 1986; Al-Sawad, 1991), a subject considered in the literature review in chapter ten. They travel as Arabs, "accommodate" the changed environment, and may well go home essentially unchanged. Thus the fact that students attend Arab and Western universities does not, by itself, indicate cultural proficiency.

Further, the figures above could suggest a school split along cultural lines. For example, one group of students, albeit Kuwaiti, might heavily identify with American culture and, therefore, go to college in the United States; another group of students might retain an Arab cultural identity and go to Arab universities. Chapter eight emphasizes that parents who enroll their children at ADM often do so because they fear their students becoming "pseudo-Americans," their perception as to what happens to students who attend Americanized schools such as KAS, Kuwait American School.

In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that many students do switch from one university system to another. In other words, students go to Kuwait University for a year and then transfer abroad to an American school and the reverse. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that relatively few students switch schools for reasons of cultural incompatibility, but no one yet attempted a systematic study of these college students, though the school promises to eventually do this. Nor, again, does simple college survival necessarily indicate cultural proficiency.

This second part of the dissertation will, therefore, attempt to make a more systematic determination as to the amount of Western cultural proficiency achieved by Al-Dharra Madressor.

C. Research Question

Given the relative uniqueness of ADM, the results in this study can probably do no more than suggest answers to the more general question. Thus, the research question needs a more narrow focus on the specific school setting than the general question regarding cultural proficiency.

Further, ADM students, with a few exceptions, come from Kuwaiti homes. Most students, then, as research findings in chapter twelve seem to support, enroll in ADM with a strong Kuwaiti Asil cultural identity. Indeed, chapter eight suggests that preserving this identity often underlies parents’ enrollment decision. Therefore, this analysis will typically concentrate on examining to what degree students show a secondary American cultural proficiency. Finally, as chapters four, five, and eight indicate, life in Kuwait exposes students to continuing cultural influences beyond that supplied by the school. Thus, one cannot necessarily equate a Western cultural proficient among ADM students to attending Al-Dharra Madressor.

Therefore, the question necessarily becomes more narrow and specific to ADM.

Do ADM students emerge as culturally proficient in American (Western) culture?

Having said this requires, of course, finding an acceptable definition of the terms "cultural proficiency," "culturally proficient," and "biculturality."

D. A Working Definition of Biculturality, Cultural Proficiency, Culturally Proficient

In the first chapter, this dissertation gave a definition for a culturally proficient person:

Culturally proficient: able to behave within accepted cultural norms, capable of completing business and educational transactions with members of this culture, and expressing a degree of comfort and familiarity with the norms and thought patterns of this culture.

To use the term "culturally proficient" implies a certain level of "cultural adhesion," "cultural orientation," terms used to refer to quantity of the quality defined above as well as some agreed-upon standard, like that generally supplied for the term "bicultural." This means, as stated before, that design instruments must set some "minimum scores" for cultural proficiency. Further, measuring if students achieve proficiency relies upon observable behaviors, not thought patterns or emotional states. This necessarily qualifies any conclusions drawn since cultural identity, as the next chapter will suggest, constitutes an extremely complex concept.

Another important factor in terms of definitions concerns the effect of secondary cultural acquisition on the primary one. As the next chapter will explore further, some scholars maintain that the acquisition of a secondary cultural proficiency necessarily means a lessening of primary cultural identity. This view derives from the perspective that a person basically either belongs to one culture or another.

The first half of this dissertation provides an analysis and geneology for attributes identified with Arab culture in general and Asil Kuwaiti culture in particular. Basically, these attributes develop along the lines outlined in Hofstede’s (1991) model of cultural differentiation in which he groups cultures on two axes, communitarian versus independent and risk-taking versus risk-avoiding. American culture tends to show high attributes of risk-taking and independent-mindedness.

On the other hand, Arab culture tends towards communitarianism and risk-avoidance. Patai (1973) and Al-Thakeb (1985) add other attributes to this general model of Arab culture as communitarian or tribal. Individuals in a tribal culture sacrifice their individualism in return for the rewards of group membership and adhere to the values of the group. In the particular case of the Asil Arabs, the "heritage" or "long established" Kuwaitis, considered in chapter five, these values reflect a conservatism in comparison to most Western societies, with social rank heavily dependent upon family, age, nationality, and gender. The sheikocracy model (Ali, 1991) and its extension, the sheikly bureau, arise as natural institutions of a modern tribal society and as the two dominant institutions in Asil Kuwait. Asil society exhibits deference to elders, a high value placed on personal relations, and general social conservatism (Al-Thakeb, 1985; Ghabra, 1999) augmented by some relative economic and political liberalism.

The very oppositional alignment of the two cultures, American and Asil Kuwaiti, naturally seems to conform to the first model of negative cultural acquisition, in which adding to one culture subtracts from the other, as show below:

Figure Two: Secondary Cultural Acquisition Viewed as Negative

Other scholars, also considered in chapter ten, conceive of cultural acquisition in more positive terms (Saravia-Shore & Arvizu, 1992). A person may conceivably retain a firm allegiance to one culture while becoming more at home in another. This creates another logical possibility, though, i.e., an individual having no strong cultural orientation at all, sometimes termed as "negative biculturalism" or Durkheim’s "anomie" (Durkheim, 1883), the feeling of loss of identity and normlessness. This creates a two-dimensional grid like that below which measures cultural orientation on two different axes:

Figure Three: Secondary Cultural Acquisition Viewed as Potentially Positive

Individuals can, thus, fall into four categories. Those who experience "negative biculturalism," dual low levels of cultural adhesion, "anomie," have no adherence to any culture. In contrast, individuals in the Arab-dominant and American-dominant quadrants, while possibly holding some affinity with a second culture, maintain a strong primary allegiance to one culture or the other. Finally, those having positive biculturalism function very well in both cultures. A close reading of chapter eight suggests that ADM as an institution strongly believes in this more positive definition of cultural acquisition; parents would likely withdraw their students if they seriously believed that enrollment at ADM meant their children might become "less Kuwaiti." However, the parents might not accurately assess the true situation at the school.

The second model, while it agrees with the idea behind the school, seems to conflict with that of Hofstede, his apparently bipolar model, and the earlier part of this analysis in chapters three and four. How can a person become more American, by risk-taking, without giving up some of his Arab risk-avoidance? How can a person become more independent and at the same time follow group norms? Choosing either model would seem to over-simplify the kinds of problems that an individual would experience in trying to function in both cultures.

In fact, the two models do not always contradict one another. Rather one can think of them as potentially complementary. To put this into a concrete example, consider Abdullah as a "bicultural;" one very well aware of the norms, values, and behaviors of American and Kuwaiti cultures. He attends Kuwait University for a year. During that time, he sits in segregated classrooms, does not talk to strange women, watches Arabic television, and follows his father’s advice on most issues. When he transfers to NYU, his behavior changes. He attends mixed classes, talks to young women, attends rock concerts, and makes more of his own decisions. This seems to argue the correctness of the latter model of cultural acquisition.

However, one can easily think of situations that would test this and, indeed, test Abdullah. Imagine that Abdullah’s father calls from Kuwait telling Abdullah to change his major. Does he argue with his father (American-style) or simply agree (Kuwaiti-style)? In this case, the former model, after Hofstede, would better explain the problem Abdullah faces or, more positively, the opportunity, since he can now choose from two different sets of cultural expectations.

This discussion, above, suggests that the assumptions about cultural acquisition underlie definitions of biculturality and cultural acquisition. This dissertation will not, by any means, claim to make a definitive ruling on whether persons who become more culturally proficient in a second culture lose some of their adherence to the first. However, this does argue the need for instruments that draw from both schools of thought to measure this phenomenon as accurately as possible because this introduces the possibility that design instruments from the two different models might produce very different results.

Finally, the above discussion should show the real complexity of putting even cultural proficiency into meaningful, let alone measurable, terms.

E. Conceptual Framework

This study proposes that Western and Arab educators’ actions presumably make students at ADM change their cultural adhesion. More particularly, since one can assume that Palestinian and Arab educators mainly serve to enhance or preserve an Arab Asil Kuwaiti cultural student identity, the ADM process moves students towards a Western cultural proficiency. For a small minority of students with Kuwaiti fathers and Western mothers, the reverse would hold true. To show this on a two-axis model:

Thus, while students should not lose their Arab identity, they should also show more willingness to listen to American ideas and acquire the knowledge of how to participate in American society. Not all would reach biculturality, but all should move in the same direction and many should reach cultural proficiency. To show this on a one-axis model:

In this model students, as a result of their ADM education, should emerge as bigger risk-takers than their parents and the Arab staff. Further, one would expect a more individualistic orientation among the students than among either their parents or their Arab teachers. These would form general descriptions of the students: more adventurous and more independent than their parents but not as independent or risk-taking as their Western teachers.

This creates a challenge to measure since it includes abstract categorizes of qualities and nothing concrete. However, the characteristics of risk-avoidance and communitarianism make up the single quality of tribalism, in which individuals endeavor to persevere and advance via the community, as referred to in chapter three.

Hence, again, one must define the values of that community, that tribe, as done in chapter five. This analysis proposes that one can describe a distinctive set of characteristics present in Asil Kuwaiti society. The first set form general descriptors, not social attributes, and the rest social attributes shown below:

To obtain Western cultural proficiency, Asil students should come to resemble the American staff to a greater degree. Thus, for example, the social pressure to cheat should decrease, students’ comfort with American values should increase, and paternal authority, or resistance to new ideas should decrease. However, one would not expect the students totally to match the Western educators in these measures.

F. Researcher’s Framework

The general reason for this paper lay in this author’s belief that some of Al-Dharra’s school problems stemmed from cultural, not academic or administrative, causes. From historical and sociological research, he emerged with a model of Asil Kuwaiti culture. Through looking at the school world through this model, he began to see such perennial school problems as lateness, "wastah," and misbehavior as possibly having their roots in cultural differences rather than in a conscious flouting of the school’s generally American-made rules. He hypothesized, then, that he and many of his American and even Arab colleagues mistakenly assumed that as students acquire English, they also acquired American values. To what extent, he wondered, did students acquire any real understanding or affinity for Western culture?

In this context, it seems fair to add that no school lacks problems. Indeed, many school teachers and administrators would love to have the kinds of problems faced by ADM, cheating, smoking, and cultural misunderstanding, in preference to those they face daily. Still, it occurred to this author that it makes perfect sense to explore the origins of these problems to see which problems do not result from cultural issues as well as which do. For the school need not spend any time on problems that ultimately it cannot cure.

It makes sense to detail some of the experiences of this author both prior to and during his tenure in Kuwait. The remainder of this section, like the school-setting section above, repeats some of the information offered in chapter one. It does so, in part, because it emphasizes some considerations relevant to discussing the research design, and it also allows consideration of the second half of the dissertation by itself.

This author, a veteran teacher, worked and lived at Al-Dharra Madressor in Kuwait for over four years in the period starting in 1998 and ending in 2003. Initially hired on as a 9th-grade English teacher, he later became a humanities teacher and, eventually, the Head of Department for Humanities, a position equivalent to that of a master teacher in the United States. Further, he served as the PTA representative. These experiences gave him exposure to the staff and parents at Al-Dharra, though admittedly his experiences with older students and their parents predominate.

Prior to coming to this school, he worked in two schools with very different school cultures, Tusitala Junior High School in East Los Angeles, a classic "immigrant school"; and Samurai High School, a Department of Defense School for military dependents, i.e., "military brats" (Fruit, 1991; 1997). In each case, he could trace some of the problems at the school to cultural clashes: at Tusitala due to a heavily Hispanic population and administration working with non-Hispanic teachers and at SHS due to some clashes between the culture of the military and that of the school. So one might term cultural contrast and clash a leitmotif of his own educational journey.

At Al-Dharra, in addition to teaching, he coached the school’s debate team, national champions 2000-2001, headed its Model United Nations (MUN) program, and hosted the KFSAC (Kuwait) Forensics competition. As MUN Director, he took top-level students on two or three trips per year, a chance to observe students and even some parents outside of their own country and culture. He organized and ran the Kuwait Debate League, one of the few school activities to include both Indian and international schools. These extra-curricular activities gave him ample opportunity to talk with teachers from other schools and solicit their input on a number of topics explored in this paper. These experiences also form the core of the observations offered in chapter fourteen.

Further, this author stayed in Kuwait working for AMS (American School) in the summers of 2000 and 2001. In AMS classes, he taught students and adults, primarily Kuwaiti, who came from the public school system. He became one of the few Westerners to spend a summer in Kuwait, a time in which very few of the Asil remain in the country. Also this gave him another opportunity to speak with teachers who either worked in other international schools or who had quit these schools.

Finally, this author lived in Kuwait. In this context, it bears mention that, initially, all teachers lived in Abu Halifa, a suburb far from the city and predominantly Bedouin, and later in Salmiya, a much older and more diverse suburb that one might describe as the "liberal" center of Kuwait.

This variety of experiences forms the background for a lot of the anecdotal evidence provided to develop this picture of Kuwait and Arab culture. In this context, though, he would differentiate himself as usually an observer of Kuwait society, more seldom as a participant-observer.

The construction of the design instruments, in particular, draws heavily upon this writer’s research into Arabic culture as well as his personal experiences with Kuwaitis and Arabs. Hence, this makes for a fundamental source of error in this analysis. The more distorted his picture of Arab culture presented, the more distorted the instruments for measurement, and hence, the weaker the reliability of the conclusions.

G. Research Methodology

The second half of this study uses the qualitative research methodology as outlined in Patton (1990). Specifically it employs the techniques of participatory action research which The Handbook of Action Research (Bradbury & Reason, 2001) states employ "clinical analysis, interviews, questionnaires, diaries, journals, self-report and introspection" (p. 581). The goals of the qualitative research may include analysis of a phenomenon, interpretation, or evaluation.

In this case, however, the particular goal entails measurement of a phenomena or the extent of the phenomenon. That phenomenon, of course, refers to cultural proficiency.

Historically, action research, and, indeed, qualitative research in general, has fallen under criticism as lacking objectivity, method, and validity. Specifically, the place of the researcher in action research often leads to some question as to whether such research yields objective data or merely conclusions drawn upon personal whims or unreplicable experience (Bradbury & Reason, 2001).

This analysis attempts to overcome some of these limitations of action research through two distinctly different means. First, the research consciously uses a variety of tools which, while each suffers from inherent weaknesses, together form a more comprehensive picture, i.e., "triangulation," or, in this case, concurrent lines of analysis.

Second, whenever possible the researcher attempts to define his own position in the research process, to account and attempt to correct for his personal biases. Hence, the previous section attempted to define the researcher’s place at Al-Dharra. Specifically, one can summarize the personal involvement of the observer in the main research tools as follows:

Each of these tools will undergo further analysis in the coming sections. Here, however, an overview will suffice. The KATWII, an adapted general survey of biculturality, will serve as initial indicator of cultural adhesion. It suffers partly from the researcher’s need to translate from another proven instrument whose validity rests on predictions of acculturation. For the KATWII, the author served only as collector and auditor though everyone at school knew of his personal interest in the project. Unlike the ARSMA-II, (Arnold, Cuellar, & Maldonado, 1995), from which it originates, this study only claims that one can get preliminary indications of cultural proficiency from the KATWII.

For the AWSIT, the structured interviews, the author personally asked all of the situational questions to the participants himself or through an Arabic interpreter. Thus, the presence of both him and, in the case of Arab teachers, an Arab interpreter could potentially alter the responses of the respondents and thereby limit the usefulness of any conclusions. The researcher attempted to counteract this problem by having a mixture of questions and making them as "politically neutral," i.e., non-school specific, as possible. Further, the directions in the interview specifically indicate "no right answers." However, the depiction of questions as "Kuwaiti" and "American" certainly leads to questions as to whether they accurately reflect those cultures. The teachers on both sides, Arab and Western, act as a comparison group, but calling them a "control group" argues too strongly that they represent either the epitome or even the typical of their respective cultures.

For the AGS, the Al-Dharra General Survey, the author relied on a mixture of questions designed to draw out social and educational responses and compare them to the previously developed description of Asil Kuwaitis. Participants knew the purpose of the AGS lay in determining cultural proficiency. Initially, this researcher intended to use the teachers of both faculties as a comparison group for this study as well, but some difficulties with translation and the stress of the beginning of a school year made this impossible.

Finally, chapter fourteen offers a series of external observations of key school events provided to try to determine the level of students’ American cultural adhesion. More than in any other method, these suffer from the researcher’s active participation in the events themselves. An Arab teacher might choose a very different set of events and draw very different conclusions. Indeed, one can question whether the events would have taken place in the manner depicted if the author did not participate since, as in Model United Nations (MUN), he acted as the group leader.

Thus, all four different techniques suffer from problems. Though the fact that the conclusions, in general, agree suggests the general validity of their conclusions, their conclusions may all err in the direction of the author’s American and personal biases. However, as the literature review will show, the instruments offer a greater diversity than attempted in some previous, similar studies.

A much more general comment, re-emphasized in the discussion questions, however, pertains to the very special environment of the school. This uniqueness of this setting, while arguably ideal for acquiring secondary cultural proficiency, limits the generalizability of any conclusions offered here due to its uniqueness. This suggests treating the results offered here as indications of what might happen in other contexts and as an addition to the general body of thought, but certainly not definitive.

With that in mind, this analysis turns to a review of the literature on this subject.

Onward to Chapter 10: Introduction to the Formal Research Study
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