"Everything They Were Giving Us Created Tension": Creating and Managing Tension in a Graduate-Level Multicultural Course Focused on Literacy Methods

By Assaf, Lori Czop; Dooley, Caitlin McMunn | Multicultural Education, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

"Everything They Were Giving Us Created Tension": Creating and Managing Tension in a Graduate-Level Multicultural Course Focused on Literacy Methods


Assaf, Lori Czop, Dooley, Caitlin McMunn, Multicultural Education


While growing up I did not learn about my culture nor did I gain cultural values through my community ... I do not think I was allowed to have a culture because I am a White, middle-class American girl from the suburbs.

-Karen, a beginning teacher.

Karen wrote this comment online as she responded to a reading about cultural values during a teacher preparation course titled "Literacy Methods for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students." Karen's statement is not unusual: Many White, middle-class women who enter the teaching profession are not self-aware of cultural backgrounds or how cultural influences shape ways of doing and thinking (Larke, 1990; Lawrence, 1997; Lawrence & Bunche, 1996).

Sleeter (2001) came to similar conclusions in her review of literature on multicultural teacher education: White beginning teachers bring very little cross-cultural knowledge, experience, and understanding to teaching. Additionally, they often possess stereotypical beliefs about diverse students and they have little knowledge of racism, discrimination, and structural aspects of inequality. According to Sleeter, many teachers believe that if they recognize racial differences of their students or discuss issues of ethnicity in their classrooms, they might be identified as insensitive, or, worse, racists. Yet if teachers ignore their students' ethnic identities and linguistic diversities and their own unique cultural beliefs, perceptions, values, and world-views, they will most likely fail to be culturally responsive (Irvine, 2003).

This article describes several instructional practices that were used in a teacher education course to help teachers explore their own cultures, appreciate differences, and transform their previously held views and assumptions about multiculturalism. By exposing beginning teachers to a range of instructional practices and diverse readings carefully selected to broaden and challenge previously held ideologies concerning diversity, Lori Czop Assaf, the first author, hoped to create a social learning environment where teachers could decide what ideological understandings would be persuasive for them.

As Irvine (2003) suggested, in order to prepare teachers for multicultural classrooms, teacher preparation programs must "create opportunities for beginning teachers to grapple with, reflect upon, and assimilate complicated issues associated with their own personal, social, cultural, and ethnic identities" (p. 17).

Instructional Models That Support Ideological Becoming

Teacher educators who are committed to multicultural education confront controversial issues that force individuals to become aware of and further develop their own ideologies that influence how they view children and teaching (Au & Raphael, 1999; Hernandez, 1989; Sleeter, 2001). Several studies (e.g., Allen & Labbo, 2001; Barton, 1999) and a review of literature (Sleeter, 2001) have suggested instructional models to help beginning teachers effectively meet the needs of diverse students by integrating methods courses (e.g., reading methods, social studies methods) with explicit instruction and discussion about multicultural issues such as racism, discrimination, social justice, critical pedagogy, and cultural practices (Nieto, 2002; Sleeter, 2001). The goals of these models are the same: To reflect on one's cultural self, to explore others who are culturally different from oneself, and to examine one's own ideological perspectives that relate to effectively teaching diverse populations.

There are several notable instructional models designed specifically for literacy-related courses (e.g., reading and language arts methods courses as well as more courses about literacy development). For example, Ada and Campoy's Authors in the Classroom: A Transformative Education Process (2004) provides a series of ideas for autobiographical sketches and stories to help teachers and students understand themselves as culturally situated individuals. …

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