The Early Childhood Research Institute on Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) has been a federally-funded collaborative effort of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, The Council for Exceptional Children, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, and the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. The CLAS Institute was funded by the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education between 1997 and 2002. Since then, the Early Childhood and Parenting Collaborative at the University of Illinois has maintained the web site. New materials will be added in 2010 and older materials that are out of date will be deleted.
The CLAS Institute identifies, evaluates, and promotes effective and appropriate early intervention practices and preschool practices that are sensitive and respectful to children and families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. CLAS has several basic assumptions which define and guide its work. CLAS’ goals are outlined below, as well as some of the issues and concerns important to our work.
We adhere to the following fundamental beliefs in our research, training and dissemination activities:
About Culture and Language:
The CLAS Institute identifies, collects, reviews, catalogs, abstracts, and describes materials and practices developed for children and families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and professionals who work with them. CLAS has:
The CLAS Institute includes an emic (inside) and etic (outside) perspective when discussing culture, and acknowledges the extent of individual differences within a given cultural or linguistic group. There may be generalizations to make about a group, in terms of beliefs, values, actions, but these generalizations cannot be expected to hold for all members of the group. Members of every group are shaped by culture, but also by acculturation, gender, roles, age, income, education, etc. Recognizing intragroup differences is critical and helps avoid stereotyping.
Related to the issue of intra- and intercultural differences is the need to recognize that a given practice or material may be effective across multiple groups, regardless of the group for which it was developed. As we recommend effective practices it is important that we not limit certain practices to certain groups, but provide an array of options from which consumers can select, using their best judgment. We do not expect a single practice to work with every member of a cultural or linguistic group, nor do we expect that a specific practice is restricted in its effectiveness to one cultural or linguistic group. However, practices that are not effective with one cultural or linguistic group may still be effective in other contexts.
This approach may advance the field beyond a recipe approach and facilitate careful consideration of multiple strategies. We don’t want summaries of our review of materials that say, “Practice X works with Culture Y.”
To counteract a dominant perspective or overly narrow approach, we also want multiple viewpoints when considering issues related to cultural and linguistic practices and recommended practices. When does intervention tamper with cultural beliefs or values? This can not be discussed until all the people involved have a voice in deciding the answer. The dominant perspective is to fix disabilities; not all cultural or linguistic groups subscribe to this viewpoint.
Likewise, we did not want to segment the literature reviews produced by CLAS according to cultural or linguistic group. This tends to focus the reader on what is different, exotic, or even stereotypical about specific groups and not on what is similar across groups.
Culture may also influence who seeks training for the role of service provider or of researcher. We are cognizant that cultural and linguistic groups have different perceptions of disability and the extent to which a disability is a deficit to be repaired. What are the implications for interventionists? Does professional training in EI/ECSE make the interventionist from a particular cultural or linguistic group an outcast from that group?
Ethical issues are likely to arise when there is a clash in viewpoints between what parents or the community want and what the professional views as needed. We must work very hard at understanding and respecting their different perspectives. The CLAS Institute promotes discussions of ethical dilemmas in its personnel training materials. We look for materials which discuss ethical dilemmas. We focus on highlighting issues without being judgmental, as well as providing information and options to make good decisions.