There is surprisingly little research evidence on this issue. However, we can take some guidance from clinical/counseling psychology, where the issue has been discussed for some time. For example, do social attitudes, particularly racism, affect the delivery of psychological services? It is easy to transpose the setting in the following reports from the consulting room to the classroom. Greene (1985), following Kupers (1981), articulates four general stances which are expressions of racism, and for which white therapists are enjoined to self-examination. They are, 1) bigotry--"a conscious or unconscious belief in white supremacy and as a consequence, the feeling that the black patient's problems are an outgrowth of the patient's inferiority ". . . 2) color blindness, which "may represent the therapist's resistance to confronting the meaning of the color difference" . . . 3) paternalism, which "involves the attribution of all of the patient's problems to society and the effects of racism. To do this will fail to help patients to understand any role they may have in their dilemma" . . . and . . . 4) "often a result of the therapist's racial guilt, is the unquestioning compliance with the rhetoric of black power . . . (which) can result in a failure or reluctance to set appropriate limits or interpret acting-out." The black patient may consciously or unconsciously put the white therapist to a series of "tests" to determine the acceptance as an individual. "It remains, however, the therapist's responsibility to be familiar with the black patient's culture to some extent, and with his/her own personal feelings and motivations for and about working with black patients," (Greene, 1985, all quotations from pages 392-393).
Is there any acceptable stance? Or are same-ethnicity therapists (or educators) privileged in knowledge and attitude, and thus in power of effectiveness?
Another line of inquiry derives from psychological services in educational settings. College youth have clear preferences for counsellors that are like themselves--counsellors who are well educated, of the same ethnicity, the same gender, and who share their attitudes and values. By and large students report themselves more likely to use counselling services when their preferences are met (Haviland, Horswill, O'Connell, & Dynneson, 1983; Atkinson, Furlong, & Poston, 1986; Ponterotto, Alexander, & Hinkston, 1988; Atkinson, Furlong, Poston & Mercado, 1989).
The effectiveness of counselling, however, may or may not follow preferences. Both sides of that issue are presented by DeBlassie (1976), who insists that a therapist need not be Hispanic to be effective with young Mexican American clients; instead, he argues, common humanity, counseling skills, and generous attitudes are the critical issues for counsellor effectiveness. However, he goes on to report many areas of values and beliefs that are arguably specific to Mexican American youth, and he appears to argue that knowledge of these is necessary for empathy to develop (DeBlassie, 1976).
Stanley Sue has devoted a long and distinguished career to the field of culture and psychological treatment. In his review of the literature on ethnic matching of therapist and client in psychotherapy (Sue, 1988), he finds contradictory and inconclusive evidence as to whether matching produces more effective treatment. A major contribution of this article is in distinguishing between ethnic membership (which emphasizes national or geographic origin of ancestors) and cultural membership (which emphasizes current identifications with the group(s), and their commonalties of values, attitudes, motives, etc.). Sue concludes that ethnic matching is irrelevant, whereas he finds cultural matching to be an authentic distal variable affecting outcome.
Sue urges researchers to consider more proximal variables, such as how cultural knowledge is translated into particular therapeutic behaviors and decisions. This position emphasizes the therapist's capacity for correct understanding, and for comfortable communication. "The issue is not whether patients are treated more effectively by same-race, same-class, or same-sex therapists, but whether the therapists' interpretation of the clients' cultural experience creates the ambience that is necessary to establish rapport and an empathic bond which facilitates the therapeutic process" (Juarez, 1985, p. 441).
This resolution is similar to that espoused for cultural research by the Cuban-American anthropologist Dominguez (1985; 1986), who has worked both as "member" and "outsider" in cultural research. Her position is that "native" members' accounts of their own situation may well be privileged, because of their intimate, subjective, and empathic knowledge. This does not excuse "native" anthropologists' accounts from the disciplines of their scholarship and profession, and does not invalidate the "outsider" anthropologist's account, over which in terms of objectivity the "native" account is not ipso facto privileged (Tharp, 1991).
By analogy, it appears that teaching, relying so heavily on both subjective and objective accuracy of perception, must attempt to maximize that accuracy in a variety of ways. Ethnic matching may contribute, cultural matching may contribute.
But as a matter of practicality, is cultural matching an available strategy? At the present time, it is clearly not so, since cultural groups are not proportionately represented in the educational professions. Even were that proportionality to be achieved, is matching socially desirable? If matching were to be achieved, then all teachers would teach only their own kind, and children would be limited in the educational advantages of learning from and about other peoples.
Are culture members privileged in the capacity to teach, administer or investigate the education of their children? Yes, in that empathy may be fostered by a shared subjectivity; but that privilege does not extend to objective description nor substitute for professional competence.