Being and Living in Research: A Discussion on Cultural Experience and Cultural Identity as Referents in Knowledge Production

Article excerpt

The Research

As we begin to journey through this new 21st century, schools, colleges, and departments of education (SCDEs) are endeavoring to meet the challenge of preparing (future) teachers to be responsive to the educational needs of their students. This is especially true in relationship to the education of students of diverse backgrounds (Ladson-Billings 2001; 1999; 1994) in urban educational settings. Education for diversity has become an important consideration in curriculum and pedagogy for colleges/universities, state boards of education, school districts, and agencies including NCATE. This is further complicated by the fact that the majority of students entering the teaching profession are White and female.

   The prospective teacher population is ... predominantly white. The
   enrollment of schools, colleges, and departments of education
   (SCDEs) in the late 1990s was about 495,000. Of these, 86 percent
   were white; about 7 percent were African American; about 3 percent
   were Latino. The number of Asian-Pacific Islander and American
   Indian-Alaskan Native students enrolled in SCDEs is negligible.
   (Ladson-Billings 2001, p. 4)

In 2000, 108,168 students earned degrees in education (National Center of Educational Statistics). Of these, 82,044 were women, 69,894 were White women and 21,922 were White men. These numbers are staggering next to the increasing numbers of non-White students in America's public schools. Just these numbers indicate a potential cultural gap between most teachers and their students. Do these White teachers' cultural experiences lend themselves not only to teach but also reach their diverse student populations? If not, are we, as teacher-educators, preparing our mostly White teaching force to teach diverse student populations?

As a teacher-educator preparing my students, including/especially White students, to teach diverse student populations, first, I have to gain access to and create understandings of the cultural experiences of our teacher education students. The understandings of these cultural experiences will, at minimum, give me a glimpse of my students' cultural identities; "white Americans also have a cultural identity" (Robinson 1999, p. 88). I propose to accomplish this through the use of educational autobiographies, students' stories of schooling experiences. Autobiography in the classroom is not a new phenomenon (Graham 1991; Knowles & Holt-Reynolds 1994; Miller 1998; Schubert & Ayers 1992). Researchers have incorporated autobiographies for various reasons toward the goal of education. "Narrative has the power not just to change the teller-writer but to affect the listener-reader as well" (Garrod, Ward, Robinson, Kilkenny 1999, p. xv).

Secondly, I propose to incorporate educational autobiographies through the praxis of engaged pedagogy (hooks 1994). In this way, I, as teacher-educator/ researcher, can model a praxis that may demonstrate some level of understandings of my students' cultural experiences toward the goal of teacher education. Subsequently, I endeavor to create intersections within teacher preparation, teaching practice and autobiography with critical reflection as the tool by which intersections may occur. In this way, I intend to model a praxis my students' deem worthy of emulation and that I, as teacher-educator/researcher, can examine in an attempt to address two questions in this ongoing research: (1) What happens to my practice, as teacher-educator, when I incorporate the educational autobiographies of prospective teachers planning to teach African American students in an urban area into the classroom experience and (2) how, if at all, does exposure to the use of educational autobiography in engaged pedagogy affect students' subsequent teaching practice?

Two principal subjects will be the focus of this study: the teacher-educator/ researcher and her students. To date, several issues/topics have surfaced from the data: relationship (building) between teacher and student, stories as tool for teaching, teacher's critical reflection, literature for teaching diversity, social studies for teaching diversity, co-teaching and collaboration, alternative feedback for teaching, alternative versus/and traditional evaluation for teaching, cultural identity, and cultural experience. …