Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Doing Diversity through Service Learning

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Doing Diversity through Service Learning

Article excerpt

Abstract

As a significant part of the college course Human Relations in a Multicultural Society, pre-service teachers are engaged in service learning and reflection as two of the primary methods to develop cultural awareness and appreciation, human relations skills, and positive dispositions about diverse groups in society. Eleven oppressed groups in U.S. society are the focus of students' study, experience in the community, and reflection. Education students "do" diversity through eighteen contact hours of service learning with a group that is outside their comfort zone. Specific planned objectives are addressed throughout the service learning experience. At the conclusion of the service learning, students reflect on the experience.

Introduction

It is well recognized and documented that the United States is a pluralistic society made up of diverse racial/ethnic groups and microcultures (Gollnick and Chinn, 2004). Because of this diversity, there is a need for understanding, tolerance, and acceptance of cultural differences related to language, customs, culture, religion, and values. Teachers of the twenty-first century are challenged by the heterogeneity of present classroom populations. Since teachers must promote harmony in the classroom and meet the individual needs of students to succeed in school, they must have an understanding of pluralism as well as possess good human relations skills to work with diverse groups of children, parents, and colleagues. Meaningful, research-based pre-service courses that actively engage students through constructive education assist in building this cultural competence.

Review of the Literature

Research related to the reduction of prejudice is the foundation of human relations training. Dent (1976) found that more active student participation was more effective in teaching tolerance. Ijaz (1981) noted that cultural immersion positively altered attitudes toward acceptance of differences. Stephan (1985) completed a comprehensive review of the literature related to reduction of racial prejudice through changing group attitudes and behaviors. He concluded that voluntary contact between people of differing groups could lead to prejudice reduction. Allgood (1998) reported that when multicultural content is addressed in cognitive, reflective, emotive and active domains, it is more likely to reduce prejudice. Additionally, Rice (1994) advised that in order to develop more consciousness about diversity, one must leave his/her comfort zone. "Interaction among diverse individuals can (a) decrease stereotyping and prejudice and (b) increase positive relationships. It is only through direct contact and interaction with diverse individuals that stereotypes can be reduced" (Johnson and Johnson, 2002, p. 9).

Boyte (1991), Conrad and Hedin (1991), and Pate (1992), reported that service learning is one of the methods that is more effective in reducing prejudice. Allam and Zerkin (1994) expound on the benefits of service learning when it is infused in teacher education programs. When infused in a teacher education program, the service learning experience helps to "create a learning environment which is empowering and multicultural in approach" (p. 3). A recent study by Garmon (2004) testified that intercultural experiences and self-reflectiveness were two of six factors identified as playing a critical role in positive multicultural development.

Designing a Program

A course in human relations that focuses on skills related to diverse populations has been developed. A service learning component is integral to this class because it is an avenue for placing students with people different from them. Through service learning, students experience diversity i.e. "do diversity", instead of just learning about it.

Early in the semester, students self-determine their needs related to developing knowledge, skills, and positive attitudes about people who are different from them. …

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