Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Experiencing the Other: The Impact of Service-Learning on Preservice Teachers' Perceptions of Diversity

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Experiencing the Other: The Impact of Service-Learning on Preservice Teachers' Perceptions of Diversity

Article excerpt

In response to the increasing diversity in American public schools and concerns over inequities in opportunity and achievement, many teacher education programs are infusing multicultural topics and coursework into their programs (Akiba, 2011; Hollins & Guzman, 2005). While some programs utilize what O'Grady (2000) called the Human Relations approach to multicultural education with an emphasis on "reducing prejudice and getting along with others" (p. 11), other programs drive things further and seek to foster a social justice orientation in their students (Zeichner, 2003). O'Grady (2000) has labeled this social justice approach as Social Reconstructionist Multicultural Education since it "teaches directly about oppression, discrimination, social justice, and how to take action against these inequities" (p. 4). Fostering a social justice disposition can be a challenging endeavor when working with white, middle-class pre-service teachers who have grown up in rural or suburban environments with very limited experience with diversity (Causey, Thomas, & Armento, 2000). Because of this, teacher educators have to consider an approach that allows an opening of students' minds to ideas of diversity and social justice. This study explores our attempt to initiate this process through the use of a service-learning experience.

This interpretive study elucidates the experiences of a group of preservice teachers (n=37) participating in a service-learning project as a course requirement for a social foundations of education course. The preservice teachers were required to complete ten hours of service (with at least six visits) at a local Job Corps Center. They tutored Job Corps students seeking to complete their high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) high school equivalency diploma. This experience required the group of predominantly white, middle-class preservice teachers to interact one-on-one with a diverse group of students primarily from urban areas. The purpose of this study is to explore the impact that this experience had on the preservice teachers' perceptions of and receptiveness to diversity.

Review of Literature

There is a growing need for an emphasis on diversity within teacher education programs. There are several reasons for this. First of all, as Brown-Jeffy and Cooper (2011) pointed out, America's schools are becoming increasingly diverse. The growing population of English Learners has created challenges for teachers and schools who are not prepared to provide the support required to help all students reach their academic potential. Another concern is the persistent achievement gap for students of color (Hollins & Guzman, 2005) and students in poverty (Murphy, 2009). A growing body of research has pointed to poverty as the most important factor influencing academic achievement in U.S. schools (Berliner, 2006), particularly given that low socioeconomic status students tend to be concentrated in schools with less experienced teachers and fewer resources, thus reinforcing the opportunity gap (Carter & Welner, 2013). As important as an emphasis on diversity is to support the success of students of color, English Learners, and students in poverty, attention to diversity is also important in supporting the social and moral development of White youth who are living in increasingly segregated communities (Ladson-Billings, 1994) and attending increasingly segregated schools (Garland, 2012).

Since the teaching population continues to be predominantly White (Assaf, Battle, & Garza, 2010), tackling issues of diversity and social justice within teacher education can be a challenging proposition. Preservice teachers with little experience with diversity are often resistant to a critical examination of these ideas (LaDuke, 2009). A study conducted by Gaine (2001) found that students were defensive and angry during explorations of these issues and resisted the discussion of these topics. …

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