Learning to consider the experiences and perspectives of those who are marginalized is difficult for members of a dominant group who have not encountered similar obstacles. According to Sonia Nieto (2000) and the National Center for Education Information (2005), student populations continue to be characterized by diversity while more than ninety percent of those in teacher preparation programs are mostly White, middle class, and from non-urban backgrounds. Comprehending this paradox is important for members of the teaching community to confront the deep social and psychological influences of the -isms that affect society and schools.
In her book, Other People's Children, Lisa Delpit (1995) criticizes the deficits of teacher education programs that avoid and repress the multicultural voices found in American classrooms today. I support her argument to reform teacher preparation programs, but for the purpose of this article I will explore the responsibility of individual schools that presently ignore and deny the multicultural facets of a typically diverse classroom. In doing so, I plan to expose three main features of promoting social justice that I suggest individual schools be held accountable for in order to move toward the full inclusion of all learners and foster a democratic learning environment of informed and respectful young citizens.
The conceptual framework for my argument is supported by Iris Young's (1990) definition of social justice education that challenges students to examine the inequalities that people experience as a result of their social group memberships, through systems of constraint and advantage reproduced through the social processes of exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. The three-fold approach I suggest schools adopt includes an on-going dialogue among staff that helps see beyond one's own perspective, creating a schoolwide team that is committed to educating others about relevant issues of equity and social justice, and fostering an intimate relationship with the school community.
Many teachers, including myself, enter the teaching profession ill-equipped and unprepared to internalize and teach social justice. Novice educators often possess good intentions, but as Delpit points out in her probe of the salient issues of diversity and schooling, "For many who consider themselves a member of liberal or radical camps, acknowledging personal power and admitting participation in the culture of power is distinctly uncomfortable" (p. 26).
As a result, all over the nation future teachers in higher education likely endure one required course in isolation that focuses on multicultural issues in education within other classes that honor a conceptual framework of the dominant culture at the expense of understanding the language and learning of diverse perspectives which are sure to be represented in classrooms they will teach. This cyclical and obsolete approach to teacher education perpetuates the system of social oppression and creates classroom dynamics that cause educators and students alike to fail miserably.
Consider, for instance, the plethora of new graduates that enter the educational arena holding relatively high levels of privilege (i.e., White, educated, middle class, heterosexual, Christian Americans). I think these teachers quickly begin to acknowledge that there is a communication barrier, a disconnection between themselves and children who are outside and my even defy the dominant culture. But by the time they reach this realization these teachers have lost their status as a trainee and feel pressure to demonstrate infallible expertise. No longer experiencing the support of professors, supervisors, and the social network of a cohort, I think many initial teachers deny or ignore this dilemma for fear of surrendering teacher competency.
Seeking To Inform Social Justice
So how can schools employ …