Educating Teachers for Diversity:
Elements 2 and 3
ELEMENT STATEMENT: Preservice education students are helped to examine their attitudes toward other ethnocultural groups. They are taught about the dynamics of prejudice and racism and about how to deal with these attitudes in the classroom.
THE BIG PICTURE: It is crucial that preservice students understand prejudice, racism, discrimination, and the means for combating such adverse attitudes in the classroom. It is equally important that they become aware of their own attitudes toward people who differ from themselves.
Prejudice, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is "an adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts" (p. 977). In his classic work titled The Nature of Prejudice, Allport (1954) defines prejudice as "an avertive or hostile attitude toward a person who belongs to a group, simply because he belongs to that group, and is therefore presumed to have the objectionable qualities ascribed to the group" (p. 7).
Racism is "the notion that one's ethnic stock is superior" (p. 1021). By changing the word's root (for example, sexism, classism, or ageism), the meaning changes to the notion that one's sex, socioeconomic class, or generation is superior. The dynamics of all the "isms" pose similar problems, though those associated with racism have proved to be especially virulent and persistent.
Discrimination is "an act based on prejudice" (p. 404).
While prejudice is typically used in reference to individuals, racism tends to be applied to both individuals and institutions. When acted upon, racism results in discrimination, which can be seen on an institutional scale within society in such practices as:
In education, as in society at large, institutional racism mitigates against equity. One example is the disproportionate placement of minority students in lower academic tracks and their consequent unequal access to high-status knowledge (Oakes, 1985). Another example is the discrepancy in funding between schools serving poor minority students and those serving more affluent white students (Kozol, 1991).
Prejudice, racism, and discrimination affect both institutions and individuals. No one goes unscathed--neither perpetrators nor victims. Depending upon their personalities and life experiences, people who are objects of prejudice may respond in the following ways:
Unfortunately, these responses may exacerbate the problem (Sleeter & Grant, 1994). The relatively recent phenomenon of minority students resisting academic pursuits in order not to be perceived by their peers as "acting white" might be added to the list of responses to prejudice (see Ogbu, 1992; Kohl, 1994).
Prejudice is both cognitive and affective. Lack of cognitive sophistication can manifest itself in stereotypic thinking.
According to Byrnes (1988), numerous factors contribute to the affective dimension of prejudice. Among these factors are:
IMPLICATIONS FOR ACTION: Within programs of teacher education, preservice students should participate in experiences aimed at the reduction of prejudice. They also should become aware of research-based approaches to the amelioration of prejudice, and become capable of designing and implementing appropriate experiences for their future students. These competencies should stem from the understanding that prejudice is both cognitive and affective; therefore, approaches to its reduction should appeal to both domains.
In a summary of the research, Pate (1988) identifies and comments upon the relative effectiveness of eight approaches to reducing prejudice in students. Those approaches are: the showing of films and audiovisual programs that portray multicultural experiences, the study of multiethnic books, analysis of thinking processes, cooperative learning, human relations training, anti-prejudice lessons or units, schoolwide strategies such as heterogeneous grouping and multicultural curricula, and teacher education for diversity.
In a similar review of pertinent research, Byrnes (1988) identifies four general approaches for reducing prejudice: social contact, self-esteem and mental health, cognitive sophistication, and empathy.
"Prejudice...may be reduced by equal-status contact between majority and minority groups in the pursuit of common goals. The effect is greatly enhanced if this contact is sanctioned by institutional supports...and provided it is of a sort that leads to the perception of common interests and common humanity between members of the two groups." (p. 281)
The clear implication, in pedagogical terms, is that engaging students of diverse cultures in cooperative learning will catalyze the reduction of prejudice. Research, in fact, supports this implication when the conditions of contact theory are present in certain types of cooperative learning situations (Slavin, 1995). When preservice students experience appropriate cooperative learning in the teacher education classroom, they likely will develop instructional competencies that they can use in their future classrooms.
Exercises in flexible thinking provide an additional avenue for critical thinking and prejudice reduction (Walsh, 1988). To avoid stereotypic thinking, students might practice categorizing things and people in a variety of ways. Such activities should strive to develop in students a "tolerance for ambiguity" (Williams, 1971). To enhance the possibility of transfer, the thought processes in such critical and creative thinking activities should be highlighted and discussed as they apply to real-world situations regarding prejudice. Prospective teachers' capacity to provide experiences conducive to cognitive sophistication among their future students is enhanced when they routinely engage in metacognitive and flexible thinking in the teacher education classroom.
To promote preservice students' ability to design and implement empathy-inducing instructional experiences, the instructor should engage preservice students in such experiences.
These four approaches--social contact under appropriate conditions, self-esteem, cognitive sophistication, and empathy--emerge from a review of the literature (Byrnes, 1988) as means to reduce prejudice in classrooms of children. As has been stressed, these same approaches should be modeled in the teacher education classroom as well. In addition to equipping preservice students with techniques for prejudice reduction in their future classrooms, these activities stimulate preservice students to examine their own attitudes toward people who differ from themselves.
Additional activities for the teacher education classroom include the following:
"Denial of the differential weight given to human characteristics across cultures such as skin color, religious affiliation, or gender ignores a reality that most children have observed and often integrated into their own social attitudes and behavior."(p. 267)
The jurisprudential model (see chapter 15 of Joyce & Weil, 1996), with color blindness and color consciousness as the conflicting value orientations, suggests a useful framework for stimulating discussion.
OBSTACLES TO ACTION: Preservice students may be reluctant to assess their own perceptions of and attitudes toward other cultural and ethnic groups. They may experience disequilibrium, or they may display resistance to participating in classroom activities that investigate prejudice and stereotypic thinking.
DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW: Some educators protest that the elementary, secondary, and teacher education curricula are already crammed and there is no room for adding units on prejudice. Other educators reply that the reduction of prejudice is a moral imperative and room must be made.
Some educators argue that the addition of lessons and units on prejudice has little likelihood of actually reducing prejudice in individuals. Their arguments are valid. Just as knowledge alone does not effect changes in attitudes (Byrnes, 1988), neither do direct, additive approaches (Pate, 1988). Teachers certainly should seize the teachable moment and address prejudice and racism whenever such attitudes appear. However, they also should strive to integrate strategies for prejudice reduction throughout the curriculum--at both the pre-college and teacher education levels. In Banks' (1993) descriptions of approaches for integrating multicultural content into the curriculum, the transformation approach and the social action approach provide guidance for such integration.
Grant (1990) takes issue with the use of social contact to reduce prejudice in educational settings. His critique points out the following factors: Contact theory seems to assume that all students should readily accept the norms and characteristics of white culture; the current research does not reflect studies of contact between different racial groups; approaches based on contact theory typically focus on contact between individual members of different groups; and the theory does not address the roles of school culture and curriculum in promoting interracial contact. He advocates efforts that are comprehensive--both in the analysis of interracial problems and in the development of solutions to such problems.
Additional Reading for Elements 2 and 3