Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Cultural context and cognitive style in Hmong high school students

Brenda Finn, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Barely a quarter century in this country, the Hmong are among the newest Americans. Since 1975, when United States' troops pulled out of Laos, more than 170,000 Hmong refugees and their children have adopted this as their new land, settling primarily in the cities of California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Products of an agrarian economy and a clan-centered, historically preliterate, homogeneous, insulated culture, they arrived in American airports ill-equipped to deal with a capitalistic, technological, industrial, heterogeneous, media-saturated culture. Overnight, their world had changed. They had to meld two contrasting worlds if they were to become part of their adopted country. As the children of refugees, Hmong teenagers have had the intensified challenge of responding to cultural change as they are learning how to be part of American youth subculture and school communities. Because of their cultural heritage, Hmong students may have learned to perceive and approach tasks differently than their non-Hmong classmates, using cognitive processes supported in their families but not reinforced in American schools. In families, they have learned primarily through observation and demonstration, cooperative problem-solving strategies, deductive reasoning, and reliance on contextual cues for meaning. Their approach to learning has been characterized by extrinsic motivation, sensitivity to others, and social responsiveness. In the daily transition from home to school, they confront the standards and expectations sanctioned in most high schools: that students will learn primarily through lecture and print materials, individual problem-solving strategies, inductive reasoning, and reliance on analysis and logic; and that students will be intrinsically motivated and desire personal recognition. The confrontation between different modes of learning and cultural values sanctioned by the Hmong and American worlds poses challenges for Hmong high school students and for educators who assist them in learning. This study identifies cultural values and practices, examines cognitive approaches to learning, and describes instructional practices judged to be effective by educators and/or students in promoting learning in Hmong high school students. It suggests practical improvements individual schools, as socializing institutions, may pursue in working with Hmong students reconciling culturally influenced modes of learning with longstanding American educational practices.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Cultural anthropology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Finn, Brenda, "Cultural context and cognitive style in Hmong high school students" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9950152.