Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Changing Preservice Teachers' Attitudes/beliefs about Diversity: What Are the Critical Factors?

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Changing Preservice Teachers' Attitudes/beliefs about Diversity: What Are the Critical Factors?

Article excerpt

A major goal of the multicultural focus of many teacher education programs is to better prepare a mostly White and female teaching force to work effectively with students from racial/cultural backgrounds different than their own. To accomplish this goal, we need a better understanding of the various factors that are associated with prospective teachers' developing greater multicultural awareness (i.e., recognizing significant racial/cultural differences) and sensitivity (i.e., being appropriately responsive to these differences). An improved understanding of these factors should enable teacher educators to increase the effectiveness of their efforts to provide the types of information and experiences that will facilitate the development of multicultural awareness and sensitivity in preservice teachers. In this article, I identify several factors that appeared to play a critical role in one prospective teacher's multicultural development and discuss why these factors are important for teacher educators to consider.

REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE

To prepare teachers for our increasingly diverse schools, teacher education programs are endeavoring to find effective ways of raising the multicultural awareness and sensitivity of prospective teachers. As a result, courses on diversity and/or multicultural education have become a common feature in teacher preparation programs; however, there are different conceptions of what specific issues such courses should address. Some courses address diversity broadly defined, including issues of race, class, gender, culture, ethnicity, disability, sexual preference, and so on, while others are more narrowly focused. Because my research centers on issues of racial/cultural diversity, in my review of the literature I concentrated on determining what impact multicultural education and diversity courses (whether broadly defined or focused primarily on racial/cultural diversity) appear to have on prospective teachers' attitudes toward and beliefs about different racial/ cultural groups. I found that research results on the impact of such courses have been mixed (Sleeter, 2001; Weisman & Garza, 2002). For example, some researchers (e.g., Artiles & McClafferty, 1998; Bennett, Niggle, & Stage, 1990; Bondy, Schmitz, & Johnson, 1993; Delany-Barmann & Minner, 1997; Reed, 1993; Ross & Smith, 1992; Tran, Young, & Di Lella, 1994) have reported that students' racial attitudes and beliefs have been changed in a positive direction by a course on diversity, however others (e.g., Barry & Lechner, 1995; Causey, Thomas, & Armento, 2000; Cockrell, Placier, Cockrell, & Middleton, 1999; Colville-Hall, MacDonald, & Smolen, 1995; Garmon, 1996; Haberman & Post, 1992; McDiarmid, 1992) have reported little or no change in students' attitudes and beliefs. The discrepant findings of these studies raise a number of questions. For example, are the disparate findings merely attributable to unique contextual factors in each study, or are there identifiable variables that can be rather consistently associated with courses and experiences that positively affect students' attitudes and beliefs about diversity? Are there particular student variables that are associated with the likelihood of a particular course or experience affecting their beliefs and attitudes? These would appear to be important questions for teacher educators interested in maximizing the effectiveness of their efforts to prepare teachers for diversity. However, my review of the literature revealed that these particular questions have not yet received much direct attention from researchers.

Although the studies cited above reported whether a diversity course had an overall positive impact on the participants, other studies have found that such courses may have different effects on different students. McGeehan (1982) and Garmon (1996) observed that students who began a diversity course favorably disposed toward racial/cultural diversity tended to become more favorable during the course whereas those who were unfavorably disposed tended to become less favorable. …

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