Educating Teachers for Diversity:
ELEMENT STATEMENT: Preservice education students are taught about the dynamics of privilege and economic oppression and about school practices that contribute to the reproduction of societal inequalities.
THE BIG PICTURE: In all societies, there exists a finite amount of resources, opportunities, and privileges. Thus, when one group of people enjoys an abundance of privileges, other groups necessarily suffer from deprivation of privileges. Often, the allocation of privileges is dictated by arbitrary characteristics, such as race, gender, and class.
The school, as a microcosm of society, often replicates these societal inequities in its broad policies and more specific curricular and instructional practices. When unexamined, education tends to proceed as business-as-usual and, in the process, perpetuates the status quo. To develop the capacity to provide all students with equity of opportunity to learn--a central goal of multicultural education--preservice students should examine the status quo, both societal and educational.
Although progress has been made, women and minorities are still underrepresented in such sectors of society as business, government, and education (Glass Ceiling Commission, 1995). Individual ability and initiative certainly play large roles in one's attainment of positions of authority within society. However, ability and initiative, or their absence, cannot fully explain the disproportionately few positions of authority held by women and minorities. The rest of the explanation likely derives from inequity, or unequal opportunity to succeed.
Whatever the reasons for the disproportion, the fact remains that with authority comes power. Power tends to be viewed differently by those who have it and those who do not. Delpit (1988) notes: "Those with power are frequently least aware of--or least willing to acknowledge--its existence. Those with less power are often most aware of its existence" (p. 87).
Just as those with power are often unable or unwilling to acknowledge their privileged status, many white people do not question their majority status. In a provocative essay titled "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," McIntosh (1989), herself a white woman, identifies numerous privileges that white people enjoy, simply by virtue of their skin color. These privileges range from the profound (not having to educate one's children about racism for their own protection) to the seemingly mundane (being able to easily find greeting cards that depict people of one's race).
Issues of power and privilege are not confined to society. As Delpit (1988) states, "Issues of power are enacted in classrooms" (p. 282). These issues of power are inextricably linked to curricular and instructional inequities, such as the following:
Cochran-Smith (1995) notes that by struggling to understand the notions of privilege and disadvantage within society and educational institutions, prospective teachers face the tasks of "locating themselves as active agents within those institutions and reconsidering the ways they, as educators, could, from now on, understand and act on the successes and failures of individual students and groups of students..." (p. 504).
IMPLICATIONS FOR ACTION: A variety of class activities and assignments facilitates preservice students' examination of the status quo, both in society and in education, and accompanying issues of equity. Following are 14 sample activities and assignments for the teacher education classroom. The first eight pertain more directly to the societal status quo, while the last six pertain to the educational status quo. Some activities and assignments lend themselves to examination of both faces of the status quo.
1. Have students read and discuss the article "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" (McIntosh, 1989). Before assigning the article, the instructor might ask students to number their papers and respond "true" or "false" to statements listed in the article as the instructor reads them aloud. Following an immediate open-ended discussion, students might read the article for homework and then revisit the topic at the next class meeting.
2. Ask students to generate a list of privileges accruing to other personal characteristics, such as gender, class, and being able-bodied.
3. Conduct a classroom debate on institutional racism, with one group of students arguing for its continuation and the other arguing for its dismantling. On the surface, such a debate may seem nonsensical, because a position favoring the continuation of institutional racism is indefensible. However, this activity facilitates the questioning of traditional liberal assumptions and helps students understand the intractability of racism.
4. Engage students in the simulation Bafa Bafa: A Cross-Culture Simulation
(Shirts, 1997a), which focuses on cross-cultural communication. Discuss
5. Have students read and discuss the article "The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children" (Delpit, 1988), emphasizing the author's statements about the nature of power.
6. Engage students in the simulation Starpower (Shirts, 1997b), which focuses on the dynamics of power as it relates to economics. In the ensuing discussion, remind students of Delpit's statements about power.
7. Encourage students to share their own experiences with discrimination and being in the minority.
8. Have students read and report on literature by authors of cultural
groups different from their own.
9. Conduct a debate on academic tracking. Require students to address the disproportionately high placement of minority students in lower tracks and the low placement of minority students in high tracks.
10. Prepare students to conduct ethnographic inquiry during their field experiences and student teaching. Have them focus on the children's home culture as well as the school culture. Ask them to look specifically at gender treatment, grouping practices, and instruction in tracked classes.
11. Ask students to analyze and evaluate textbooks, curriculum guides, and other instructional materials for cultural and gender inclusivity.
13. Conduct a classroom discussion centering on the following question: Should culturally different learners assimilate into the school culture, or should the school seek to accommodate culturally different learners? Encourage students to think in terms of both assimilation and accommodation, rather than either assimilation or accommodation.
14. Ask students to investigate the composition of school boards in districts with which they are familiar. Have them look at the ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status of school board members. Discuss the following:
OBSTACLES TO ACTION: Howard (1993) states that the transition to cultural equity in education will be difficult for some whites: "A peaceful transition to a new kind of America, in which no ethnic or cultural group is in a dominant position, will require considerable change in education and deep psychological shifts for many white Americans" (p. 37).
These psychological shifts may be prompted by the kinds of activities and assignments described above, because participation in such exercises causes preservice students to question deeply engrained beliefs and assumptions. These assumptions may include the following:
When people confront their own long-held assumptions, disequilibrium and discomfort may occur. Preservice students may have strong reactions to the activities suggested in Implications for Action. In the first activity, students may vehemently deny the existence of "white privilege"; this initial reaction likely will begin to diminish as they consider the everyday instances of privilege, such as the ease of finding adhesive bandages that match one's skin tone. In the fifth activity, students also may take offense at Delpit's article, resisting the notion that some groups have power while others do not--and that they themselves may belong to powerful groups. In the sixth activity, participation in the Starpower simulation may generate student frustration but eventually will facilitate their understanding of Delpit's statements about power. In the ninth activity, students may express discomfort in addressing the role of ethnicity in tracking and may avoid the topic altogether unless required to so.
Experience has shown that during activities and in class discussions related to equity, the students' strong emotions may emerge. It is crucial that the instructor establish a secure climate in which all students' views are treated with respect. Instructors should be aware that they, as well as their students, may experience disequilibrium and that maintaining equanimity under such circumstances may prove difficult. Instructors also would do well to examine their own belief systems and to consider the approach they will take during class discussions. Will they express their own views, or will they assume a values-neutral position?
DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW: Some educators question whether multicultural education can make a difference in promoting the social equity of various ethnic groups. McCarthy (1990) and Olneck (1990), for example, suggest that multicultural education is an ineffective strategy that fails to bring about real change.
Additional Reading for Element 4