Is Your Inequity Showing? Ideas and Strategies for Creating a More Equitable Learing Environment

Article excerpt

This article ways that preservice and inservice teachers can promote a more equitable learning environment for all students.

There is a true yearning to respond to The singing River and the wise Rock. So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew, The African, the Native American, the Sioux, The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek, The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh, The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher, The Privileged, the Homeless, the Teacher. They all hear The speaking of the Tree.

Angelou's poem, On the pulse of the morning, recited at the Presidential Inauguration, contains a message of hope - a call for everyone to appreciate our differences, but not to forget the struggles that various groups have experienced in the past and, in many cases, continue to experience today.

Teachers are in powerful positions to influence children's perceptions of others (Goodlad, 1990). Students receive messages from teachers about appropriate ways of behaving and performing in class. A teacher's values, beliefs, and resultant practices can be subtly transmitted in the way a teacher selects subject matter, organizes and manages the class, and interacts with children (Bain, 1990).

As Goodlad (1990) emphasized:

Our society simply cannot afford teachers who fail to understand and assume the moral burden that goes with developing humane individuals within the context of a political democracy. Teacher-preparation institutions share the moral burden (p. 21).

This article suggests ways that preservice and inservice teachers can promote a more equitable learning environment for all students. First, suggestions are given for how teachers can examine their own values and beliefs, and then, strategies to help provide more equitable instruction for all students are recommended.

Examining Personal Values

and Beliefs

Equity is defined as creating a supportive atmosphere where students have the opportunity for successful participation and exposure to instruction regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, social class, or motor ability. The underlying assumption is that students who are themselves valued and value each other will more likely reach their academic and physical potentials (Kohn, 1991; Nottinghamshire County Council, 1989).

To create an environment where equity issues can be transformed into practice, teachers may have to challenge some long-held beliefs (Griffin & Placek, 1983; Turvey & Laws, 1988; Williamson & Williams, 1990). These beliefs are learned (Tatum, 1992), so there may be topics or issues mentioned in this article with which some readers may disagree or perhaps do not value; for example, the extent behavior or performance is attributed to physiology, as in the saying, "Boys will be boys." Inn a recent news article (Gormon, 1992), gender differences were initially portrayed as a function of biological traits. However, the author finished by stating that,"...in the final analysis it may be impossible to say where nature ends and nurture begins because the two are so intimately linked" (p. 51). Gormon's article demonstrated how the media influences either positively or negatively society's image of appropriate gender behavior.

Stereotyping or Labeling

One powerful mechanism to describe and categorize humans is the use of stereotypic descriptors. Stereotypes are "...cognitive structures that contain the organized set of beliefs an individual holds concerning supposedly reliable differences [among groups]" (Cann, 1991, p. 191). Individuals can find it difficult to determine fact from stereotypes (Snyder, 1982). Reasons for stereotyping relate to perceiving elements of truth in a stereotype, and responding to self-fulfilling prophecy (Griffin & Placek, 1983).

Element of truth. Sometimes there seems to be an element of truth in a statement. For example, how many times have we heard, "Girls cannot throw" or "African Americans cannot swim"? …