Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Are the Walls of Injustice Tumbling Down?

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Are the Walls of Injustice Tumbling Down?

Article excerpt

Introduction

The discussion of multicultural education in teacher preparation dates back several decades. "The historical roots of multicultural education lie in the civil rights movements of various historically oppressed groups" (Gorski, 1999, p.1). As communities of color resisted institutional racism, schools became one of the sites of struggle. Thus, the concept of multicultural education is a response rooted in reforming education for liberation. However, according to Nieto and Bode (2008) many courses are not translating into culturally competent teaching. Gorski (2008) provides a critical analysis of the content of 45 undergraduate and graduate level courses in multicultural teacher education all across the nation and he found that "most multicultural education type courses are not designed to prepare teachers to do the work of multicultural education" (p. 18). Although we believe it is very complex to find the "magic" in providing teachers and pre-service teachers with the tools to engage in multicultural education as practice, we do believe that we can offer a piece in the mosaic that may bring us a step closer to producing culturally competent teachers.

Just like most reform ideas in education, multicultural education is defined differently from one city or town to the next, from one school to the next, and even from one teacher to the next. We aim to provide a glimpse into some of these classrooms and future classrooms by highlighting the learning experiences of teachers and future teachers. For this article, we will be focusing on our teaching and learning experience from one specific course that we teach at the same university. Both of us teach a graduate level foundations course entitled "Cultural Foundations of Education," offered in a department of education. Although we teach the course separately, we collaborate on the planning of the course and have reflected together on our experiences teaching this course. We will draw on student discussion and assignments from the Spring of 2007 through the Spring of 2009 to highlight the students' experiences and to exemplify the connection between theory and practice. This will also include experiences teaching the course on-line.

The vast majority of the students in our classes do not come to the course with the tools to have a real discussion on multiculturalism and cultural competency in teaching. When we say "real" discussion we are referring to a discussion that includes their own lived experiences and a critical analysis of their experiences within the larger social context. We encounter a range of pre-service and practicing teachers, from various areas of education and with a range of teaching experiences. Some of our students come to the course as new graduate students in education with no prior education studies background, while others are veteran teachers seeking certification in special education or other certification areas. We also have a small percentage of undergraduate students in their fourth or fifth year of a five year program. Our students are predominantly White, women, and able-bodied.

Similar to the findings of the abundance of research on teacher preparation and professional development (Almarza, 2005; Gorski, 2008; Kanpol & Brady, 2000; Nieto & Bode, 2008), our students stay on the surface of the multicultural education discussion. Staying on the surface is a comfortable place because going deeper is uncomfortable and many students have cognitive dissonance that immobilizes them. For the most part, they know that they should include visual representations of all cultures in the books and environmental print in their classrooms so that their students all feel validated. However, very few have thought about the endless and complex factors that come with the process of teaching from a multicultural perspective the way that Banks (2008) or Nieto and Bode (2008) define it; teachers taking social action, transforming the curriculum, and working from the sociopolitical perspective. …

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