“Walking the Road: Race, Diversity & Social Justice in Teacher Education”
Few topics could be more compelling, or timelier, than how our schools deal with diversity.
Consider these statistics: in 2000, according to the United States Census Bureau, people of color comprised 28 percent of the nation’s population. By 2025, that number will be 38 percent and by 2050, so-called minorities are projected to be 47 percent of the total population. In a state like California, 63.1 percent of the students are students of color, with minority groups comprising more than 50 percent of the public school population in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Seattle and San Francisco.
This is not an issue that’s going to go away.
This book, part of the Teachers College series on Multicultural Education, explores what it really means to successfully navigate the diverse classroom—and diversity not just according to an ethnic definition, but also in terms of language, religion and culture.
What’s happened in education, writes Marilyn Cochran-Smith, is that “educational equity is increasingly being conceptualized as opportunities for all students to be held equally accountable to the same high-stakes tests, despite unequal resources and opportunities to learn.”
Some of the questions that are posed, and answered, in these chapters include what is it that teachers need to know about a child’s culture that the student brings into the classroom; how to move knowledge beyond the traditional Western canon, and even how to understand the racial underpinnings of standard curriculum. She believes that teachers, especially white teachers in predominantly minority communities, should be sensitive to and reach out to parents and community members to make the school experience more successful for the children. And the author argues that multiculturalism shouldn’t be a peripheral course in teacher education, but instead part of a basic core.
She warns that “it is also not advisable for teachers or children to mistake color blindness for educational equity or to learn the characteristics of people of various races and cultures.”
Sure, there are times when the author stakes out some extreme political positions, like her call to arms that all teachers see themselves as reformers and activists in the educational system to effect change. One suspects that teachers in urban schools, with large classes, have enough to simply work through the curriculum and prepare their students for tests without attempting to pursue a social justice agenda as well, however worthy the motivation.
Ultimately, Cochran-Smith argues, “Students [are] still being prepared to teach in idealized schools that serve white, monolingual middle-class children from homes with two parents.” She urges that “ a better way to get good teachers...is in fact to open the doors and welcome lots more people into American public schools through lots more pathways.”
It’s a challenge, and a challenging book—but one well worth educators’ attention.#