As an assistant professor in teacher education, I was concerned that, except for a few isolated components in a few courses, there was little to prepare future teachers in our programs to understand or to meet the needs of minority learners. Nothing had been designed to facilitate their understanding that diversity includes them even if they are of Anglo descent, English speaking, without a disability, and heterosexual.
Further, at the time teacher preparation curricula were not designed to have a positive transformative impact on their perceptions of diversity issues, the kind of impact that would cause them to value human diversity, to care enough to teach their learners valuing for people of diverse origins and how to learn from those peoples more of what it means to be fully human.
I wanted teachers-in-the-making to shed a few tears in response to learning about the struggles of others while reading, viewing films and conversing with people from diverse backgrounds, and to respond to these experiences in writing and with other projects.
I was discouraged by some faculty who felt that diversity content, presented in the manner that I intended, was too delicate and sensitive to handle successfully. I persisted and I was successful with the course design and implementation. I wrote this article to report some of the successes that have occurred in the course I have named "Learner Diversity and Cross-Cultural Understanding." The reactions of some course participants to the various assignments required are also reported.
I had observed efforts by other faculty to educate people about diversity and it seemed that, frequently, the unwitting approach of educators was to make the learner feel guilty for their privileged status as a member of the dominant culture (i.e., original sin by virtue of membership in the dominant culture, specifically Protestant, Anglo Saxon, English-speaking and heterosexual in the United States). This had the unintended effect of furthering the chasm between we and they. Such notions are destructive, particularly when the learner genuinely believes she/he does not possess bigoted views.
My approach with teachers-in-themaking has been to introduce and reinforce the notion that, in truth, there is no we and they, except in the most appealing sense of those terms. I do this by helping learners acquaint themselves with the diversity that exists within them (their own family histories through self studies and ancestor stories), and then by exploring the amount of diversity that exists within that seemingly mainstream classroom community.
If one can recognize that oneself and one's colleagues and friends are diverse, one becomes more open to acknowledge the oppression humans suffer because of their differences. When authentic acknowledgement occurs, empathy and behaviors change.
In the course, the diversity curriculum door is kept wide open. All diversity, even left and right handedness, is included in course content. By contrast, most people understand diversity first and foremost as a reference to race. To diminish that misconception, race is not specifically introduced as a topic until half-way through the course, when learners have become more comfortable and honest about their own diverse nature, that of their colleagues, and that of others.
When they become aware that they are products of, and have been duped by, a popculture that teaches inaccurate histories and bigoted perspectives, students begin to ask questions. They ask why they were never taught a more complete, more accurate representation of history. They ask why so many stereotypes are perpetuated and how so many inequities and injustices are permitted.
One only has to consider, for example, news reports which nightly show African Americans in orange jumpsuits and handcuffs being led across television screens despite statistics that demonstrate that most crime is perpetrated by Whites. …