Disequilibrium is the upsetting or loss of stability in one's beliefs or assumptions. It often is prompted by new experiences. When preservice students confront their own long-held assumptions and find them to be biased or lacking in truth, disequilibrium occurs. With disequilibrium comes discomfort.
Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1992) characterize their teacher education students' responses to articles about equity as unsettling and disturbing, while Sleeter (1994) describes her students' view of similar material as threatening.
Shaw (1993) describes the responses that may result from disequilibrium:
"One responds to disequilibrium by either assimilating or accommodating. Assimilation is the incorporation of new experiences into existing schemas, or ways of thinking, without altering these schemas. Accommodation means restructuring ways of thinking to fit the new experiences. True change, then, occurs with accommodation." (p. 22)
For more information on disequilibrium, refer to Element 4: Preservice education students are taught about the dynamics of privilege and oppression and about school practices that contribute to the reproduction of societal inequalities.