Using a Questionnaire to Assess Prospective Teachers' Attitudes toward Multicultural Education Issues

Article excerpt

Introduction

As we approach the twenty-first century, the population of the U.S. is becoming more diverse, with minority populations and sub-populations increasing in numbers. Consequently, the student population in the public schools is changing rapidly. In 1976, 24 percent of the total enrollment in U.S. public schools was non-white. It is projected that by the year 2020, the nonwhite population will account for 46 percent of the public school enrollment (Cushner, McClelland, & Stafford, 1992). Estrada (1993) and Hodgkinson (1995) note the increased number of immigrants since 1980 coming from Mexico, other Latin American nations, and Asian countries who are non-English speakers and the increased number of children who are living below the poverty line. These demographic changes are creating concomitant diversity in linguistic backgrounds as well as in economic and family patterns. These changes create what James Banks (1991) refers to as the "demographic imperative," a situation which requires classroom practitioners to be more responsive to an increasingly diverse population.

This demographic imperative has implications for teacher education programs. Programs need to prepare teachers who can effectively instruct students of diverse backgrounds and cultures. A broader implication for teacher education programs is the need to prepare teachers who can teach all students to live and function in diverse communities and contribute to social prosperity at the national and global levels. The skills, attitudes, and knowledge learned through multicultural education are important for all students. Teacher educators play an instrumental role in identifying and implementing appropriate strategies for realizing multicultural education objectives. To adequately perform their tasks, teacher educators must identify ways of assessing the effectiveness of the activities and programs they employ for actually promoting multicultural education aims.

The purpose of this investigation was to develop a viable survey questionnaire for assessing prospective teachers' attitudes and perceptions concerning multicultural education issues and to test the efficacy of the instrument for identifying attitude differences among the prospective teachers. If attitudes about multicultural education can be assessed through a questionnaire, the results may be beneficial for helping to prepare teachers to serve diverse student groups. The investigators assumed that prospective teachers with positive attitudes and opinions are more prone to behave appropriately and constructively in actual teaching situations involving students of diverse cultures, ethnic groups, backgrounds, abilities, economical levels, etc. and, generally, in dealing with multicultural issues in classroom settings. This assumption is supported by Larke (1990) who contends that studies show "... a high correlation exists among educators' sensitivity (attitudes, beliefs and behaviors toward students of other cultures) knowledge and application of cultural awareness information and minority students' successful academic performance." (p. 24)

A multicultural education course is required for prospective teachers in the Secondary Education program at James Madison University and this course is designed to help these students learn instructional strategies and draw upon their prior learning experiences in order to apply effective multicultural education teaching methodologies. Emphasis is also placed on understanding the varied backgrounds and needs of students and on developing positive attitudes toward accommodating those different needs. Accordingly, the course instructor tries to promote attitudes that will predispose the prospective teacher to be more open to multicultural education concepts and more reflective in making instructional decisions involving student diversity implications. Course experiences are designed to encourage the prospective teachers to do what Banks (1993) suggests to challenge the major paradigms and established perspectives that are found within mainstream scholarship. …