Engaging in a Reflective Examination about Diversity: Interviews with Three Preservice Teachers

Article excerpt

Introduction

Diversity and Multicultural Education

Diversity and multicultural education is fast becoming the norm. Race, gender, ethnicity, ability, language, culture, socioeconomic class, family configurations, interests, or combinations of these produce enormous diversity issues. The reflection of this huge sociocultural diversity-children coming from different ethnic backgrounds-has significantly increased in the United States in recent years. Miller, Miller, and Schroth (1997) reported that 25% of children in the typical K-12 classroom in the U.S. are currently ethnic minorities and the number of ethnic minority children will grow to 39% by the year 2020. Approximately 9.9 million of the 45 million school-age children are living in a family speaking a non-English language (Waggoner, 1994).

More and more, diverse children from various sociocultural groups enter early childhood education programs experiencing feelings of difficulty, loss, insecurity, alienation, isolation, and depression (Congress & Lynne, 1994) in struggling to adapt to multiple languages, knowledge expectations, traditions, attitudes, values, and beliefs which differ from their family and educational settings (NAEYC, 1996). Each sociocultural group's patterns of behaviors, thinking, values, ideas, and symbols that are transmitted by their cultures and that are different from other groups (NCSS, 1992) may cause difficulty in communicating with people from other sociocultural groups.

Definitions of Diversity and Multicultural Education

"A major goal of multicultural education is to reform the school and other educational institutions so that students from diverse racial, ethnic, and social-class groups will experience educational equality" (Banks, 1995a, p. 3). Multicultural education is "a way to help students of different backgrounds communicate, get along better with each other, and feel good about themselves" (Sleeter & Grant, 1987, p. 426).

According to Manning and Baruth (1996), multicultural education "is designed to teach learners to recognize, accept, and appreciate cultural, ethnic, social class, religious, and gender differences and to instill in learners during these crucial developmental years a sense of responsibility and a commitment to work toward the democratic ideals of justice, equality, and democracy" (p. 3).

Diversity and multiculturalism are frequently used interchangeably, with valuing differences of culture, morality, multiple needs, inclusion of diverse groups of people, and equal educational opportunities and responsibilities (Miller & Tanners, 1995). According to Baker (1994), understanding is the most important thing in diversity. If people did not stereotype particular cultural groups, they could better understand, accept, and trust diversity, appreciating differences and similarities about different cultures.

Research Questions

The purpose of this study was to understand the dynamics of three preservice teacher's beliefs and practical knowledge of diversity and multicultural education. This study aimed to develop a portrait of preservice teachers' epistemological stances with the focus of "How do the preservice teachers perceive diversity and understand multicultural education in their teacher education program?"

Research Method

Theoretical Framework

This study draws on the theoretical framework of social constructivism which was pioneered by Vygotsky and Bakhtin, arguing for "the importance of culture and context in forming understanding" (McMachon, 1997, p. 3), with respect to teacher beliefs and practical knowledge about diversity and multicultural education. Social constructivism helps frame the phenomena of interest in this study as it assumes that knowledge is socioculturally mediated and that there may exist multiple realities in teaching and learning.

Teachers' belief systems, a subset of their practical knowledge, are not developed separately from the sociocultural context. …