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Critical Issue: Educating Teachers for Diversity

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ISSUE: As the student population in American schools becomes increasingly diverse, educators must respond with school reform efforts that meet the needs of all students. They must develop culturally sensitive curricula that integrate multicultural viewpoints and histories, apply instructional strategies that encourage all students to achieve, and review school and district policies related to educational equity. Teacher education programs in particular are responsible for preparing future teachers to promote meaningful, engaged learning for all students, regardless of their race, gender, ethnic heritage, or cultural background.

OVERVIEW: Voices calling for multicultural education, long in the background of American education, are growing more audible in the mainstream, and new voices are joining the chorus. Multicultural education owes its momentum to a variety of interrelated factors.

Foremost among these factors is society's burgeoning demographic diversity, which is reflected in the nation's schools. In 1984, approximately one in four schoolchildren were minority students. By 2020, that figure likely will increase to nearly one in two, and many of these students will be poor (Pallas, Natriello, & McDill, 1989). In the 25 largest American school districts, minority students comprised about 72 percent of the total school enrollment in 1994 (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997).

Compounding this demographic phenomenon is the academic underachievement of many minority students. Such relative low achievement is attributable to a complex configuration of causes, one cause being the lack of equity of opportunity to learn. Jones and Fennimore (1990) note:

"Too often schools do not legitimize the knowledge or experiences these [minority] children bring to school. Instead, schools are most likely to label these children as failures because their backgrounds--usually their language and culture--are seen as inadequate preparation for learning." (p. 16)

Multicultural education also gains momentum from the generally poor condition of contemporary race relations--a condition that was made glaringly apparent by such recent events as the Rodney King case, the ensuing riots, and the racially polarized response to the O.J. Simpson verdict. The nation's schoolchildren are sensitive to the existence of racism, and they are vulnerable to its effects. Of 248,000 students surveyed in grades 6 through 12, 84 percent indicated that "most [teenagers] carry some form of racial prejudice," while 45 percent said that they had "personally experienced prejudice in the past year" (Teens and race, 1995).

Individual teachers in individual classrooms play an important role in providing equity of opportunity to learn and in ameliorating racism, but more comprehensive conceptions of multicultural education capture the school's crucial role as well. Banks (1993b) defines multicultural education as a "total school reform effort designed to increase education equity for a range of cultural, ethnic, and economic groups" (p. 6).


This call for total school reform strongly suggests that existing conceptions of education are inadequate for promoting multicultural equity. Unfortunately, these same conceptions have shaped the schooling of prospective teachers. Their education likely has been characterized by tracking (the process of assigning students to different groups, classes, or programs based on measures of intelligence, achievement, or aptitude), traditional instruction that appeals to a narrow range of learning styles, and curricula that exclude the contributions of women and people of diverse cultures. Competition drives this factory model of schooling, in which students tend to be viewed as products coming off an assembly line (Shaw, 1993).

Visions of education for a multicultural society, on the other hand, strive for equity of opportunity to learn, largely through the convergence of three practices: heterogeneous grouping, highly interactive instruction that appeals to a wide variety of learning styles, and inclusive curricula. A constructivist understanding of education, in which learners are active architects of meaning, permeates this collaborative vision of education (Shaw, 1993). Grant (1990) notes:

"From a multicultural perspective, all students should receive an education that continuously affirms human diversity--one that embraces the history and culture of all racial groups and that teaches people of color to take charge of their own destinies.... With regard to teaching, a multicultural perspective assumes that teachers will hold high expectations for all students and that they will challenge those students who are trapped in the cycle of poverty and despair to rise above it." (p. 31)

Yet neither the educational experiences nor the backgrounds and attitudes of prospective teachers equip them to participate in the culture of schooling envisioned for an increasingly pluralistic society. Overwhelmingly white and middle class, these prospective teachers typically are monolingual, and they bring little intercultural experience from their largely suburban and small-town backgrounds (Zimpher, 1989). Sixty-nine percent of white teacher education students report spending all or most of their free time with people of their own racial or ethnic background (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 1990), and they express a desire to work with youth from communities similar to their own (Zimpher, 1989). Disturbingly, substantial numbers of teacher education students do not believe that low-income and minority learners are capable of learning high-level concepts in the subjects they are preparing to teach (Stoddart, 1990).

To address these issues, Banks (1991a) notes the importance of integrating multicultural education within the teacher education curriculum:

"An effective teacher education policy for the 21st century must include as a major focus the education of all teachers, including teachers of color, in ways that will help them receive the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to work effectively with students from diverse racial, ethnic, and social class groups." (pp. 135-136)

Beverly Smith's PictureBeverly Smith, professor of education at the State University of New York at Potsdam, describes how her teacher education students work with diverse populations and become comfortable with other cultures. [476k audio file] Excerpted from a videotaped interview (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1997). A text transcript is available.

Chisholm (1994) notes that that multicultural education "is as essential to teaching as nurturing is to human development." She states, "To be effective and equitable teachers, education students must understand and appreciate human diversity." When preparing teachers for multicultural classrooms, emphasis should be placed on a broad education in the liberal arts, an initial course in multicultural education, infusion of multiculturalism throughout the teacher education curriculum, field experiences in a multicultural setting, and assessment of the cultural competency of each preservice student (Chisholm, 1994).

Bill Doody's PictureBill Doody, professor of education at the State University of New York at Potsdam, describes how his teacher education students are paired with experienced teachers in multicultural classrooms and receive firsthand training in working with students from a variety of cultures. [476k audio file] Excerpted from a videotaped interview (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1997). A text transcript is available.

The task facing programs of teacher education is enormous, for it is no less than preparing preservice students to serve as effective teachers for all students and to participate in the realization of inclusive conceptions of schooling. Educating teachers for cultural and linguistic diversity means that teacher education programs must emphasize cultural sensitivity, linguistic diversity, and instructional strategies for teaching culturally diverse students (Parla, 1994). Of crucial importance in undertaking this task is the understanding that multicultural education is for all learners, all classrooms, and all educational institutions--regardless of demographic composition or geographic location in cities, suburbs, small towns, and rural areas.

GOALS: The task of preparing prospective teachers to serve as effective teachers for all students must not be undertaken in a piecemeal fashion; rather, it must be approached holistically. Addressed to teacher educators, "Educating Teachers for Diversity" takes such a holistic approach. Two goals underpin this Critical Issue:

IMPLICATIONS FOR ACTION: In a comprehensive review of the literature, Zeichner (1993) identifies 16 key elements of effective teacher education for diversity. Twelve of these elements provide the organizational framework for "Educating Teachers for Diversity." Each element is a piece of the jigsaw puzzle of multicultural teacher education. Just as a puzzle must be completed in order to see the big picture, the education of teachers for diversity must be addressed in a holistic manner. The 12 elements are as follows:


Each element contains the following sections: Element Statement, The Big Picture, Goals, Implications for Action, References, and Additional Reading. Many of the elements also contain Obstacles to Action and Different Points of View. The titles of most of these sections are self-explanatory, but Implications to Action and Obstacles to Action need additional explanations. Some of the activities suggested in Implications for Action may be applicable to K-12 classrooms, but they are intended for use and have been successfully tried in teacher education settings. For more comprehensive treatments of multicultural education at the K-12 level, readers are encouraged to investigate the numerous works devoted to the subject (such as Banks & Banks, 1993; Baruth & Manning, 1992; Bennett, 1995; Garcia, 1994; Nieto, 1996; and Tim, 1996).

The primary purpose of Obstacles to Action is to alert readers to problems that may arise when implementing experiences suggested in Implications for Action. Whenever possible, solutions are proposed. The study and practice of multicultural teacher education, however, is very much a work in progress. Teacher educators have taken a wide variety of approaches to the challenges posed by the education of teachers for diversity--as indicated by recent conferences of the National Association for Multicultural Education and recent issues of the Journal of Teacher Education (September-October 1995, Vol. 46, No. 4, and November-December 1995, Vol. 46, No. 5). Rather than offering prescriptions, Obstacles to Action alerts readers of what to expect when implementing the activities and experiences described in Implications for Action. Obstacles to Action also suggests heuristic strategies for thinking about problems that may be encountered.

Taken together, the 12 elements provide a concise introduction to the education of teachers for diversity. They do not provide a self-contained unit of instruction, because the education of teachers for diversity does not constitute a discrete area of study. Rather, it is richly related to several domains both within and outside education. Teacher educators are encouraged to draw on their own areas of expertise, such as instructional methodology; social, psychological, and historical foundations of education; clinical education; and U.S. history. Educators also are encouraged to journey down additional pathways of exploration by availing themselves of the numerous links contained in this issue and the additional readings at the conclusion of each element.

OBSTACLES TO ACTION: To be truly effective, multicultural education--whether in elementary and secondary schools or in teacher education programs--must be part of a total school improvement effort. Such efforts require a great deal of planning, collaboration, implementation strategies, and evaluation. Anything less may lead to inadequate results. Ladson-Billings (1995) notes:

"Too many teacher educators (and teachers) believe that they can implement an effective multicultural education program without effecting fundamental change in the classrooms and schools in which they teach. This belief contributes to the superficial and trivial treatment of issues of race, class, and gender in elementary and secondary school classrooms." (p. 755)

DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW: Some universities and colleges neither require nor offer courses in multicultural education for preservice students. Instead, these schools of education emphasize the necessity of preservice students having a broad background in liberal arts and an in-depth focus on a particular area of concentration or major field in which the students are preparing to teach. Appropriate courses in methods, field experiences, and student teaching are considered adequate preparation for teaching in diverse classrooms.

ILLUSTRATIVE CASES: The following programs of teacher education illustrate exemplary practices in the preparation of prospective teachers for diversity:

Teacher Education Program, California State University, Sacramento, California

Teacher Education Program, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas

Multiple Subjects Credential Program, Pacific Oaks College, Pasadena, California

Learning to Teach in Inner-City Schools, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

Urban Teacher Education Program, Indiana University Northwest, Gary, Indiana

Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) Project on Inclusive Curriculum

Respecting Ethnic and Cultural Heritage (REACH) Center


Anti-Defamation League's A World of Difference Institute
823 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
(212) 885-7803

Association of Teacher Educators
1900 Association Drive, Suite ATE
Reston, VA 20191-1502
(703) 620-3110; fax (703) 620-9530
Contact: Gloria Chernay, Executive Director

Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)
4646 40th St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20016-1859
(202) 362-0700; fax (202) 362-3740

Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence (CREDE)
University of California
1156 High St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95064
(408) 459-3500; fax (408) 459-3502

Learning to Teach in Inner-City Schools
Texas A&M University
College of Education
Center for Collaborative Learning Communities
College Station, TX 77843-4232
(409) 845-8008; fax (409) 862-4232
Contact: Jane Stallings or Nancy DeLeon, Program Coordinators

National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE)
1220 L St. N.W., Suite 605
Washington, DC 20005-4818
(202) 898-1829; fax (202) 789-2866

National Center for Research on Teacher Learning (NCRTL)
Michigan State University
College of Education
116 Erickson Hall
East Lansing, MI 48824-1024
(517) 355-9302; fax (517) 432-2795
Contact: Robert E. Floden and G. Williamson McDiarmid, Co-Directors

National SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum: Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity
Center for Research on Women
Wellesley College
106 Central St.
Wellesley, MA 02181
(781) 283-2520; fax (781) 283-2504
Contact: Peggy McIntosh or Emily Style, Program Co-Directors
E-mail: or

Teacher Education Program
Wichita State University
College of Education
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
1845 Fairmount
Wichita, KS 67260-0028
(316) 978-3322; fax (316) 978-3302
Contact: Tonya Huber

Urban Teacher Education Program
Indiana University Northwest
3400 Broadway
Hawthorne Hall - 303
Gary, IN 46408
(219) 980-6889; fax (219) 980-6846
Contact: Dr. Charlotte Reed


Additional Reading for Element 1

Additional Reading for Elements 2 and 3

Additional Reading for Element 4

Additional Reading for Element 5

Additional Reading for Element 6

Additional Reading for Element 7

Additional Reading for Element 8

Additional Reading for Elements 9 and 10

Additional Reading for Element 11

Additional Reading for Element 12

This Critical Issue was researched and written by Carla Cooper Shaw, associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois.

Date posted: 1997
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