Published Online:

Education School Seeks To 'Serve Needs of the Diverse Learner'

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

SAN DIEGO--Valerie Ooka Pang is reading a children's book called Teammates to her class. Students listen intently to the tale of friendship between Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play major-league baseball, and Pee Wee Reese, his white teammate.

A few jot down notes as their teacher describes how the bond between the players flourished amid the hostility directed at Robinson from fans, opposing players, and members of his own team, the Brooklyn Dodgers.

When she finishes the story, Ms. Pang explains to the roomful of students, most in their 20's, why she chose the story for the day's lesson.

"We know about all the bad stuff'' concerning race relations, she points out. But this book shows children the possibility for understanding and respect between different cultures.

It is a lesson, Ms. Pang believes, that is not only suited for children but for the people who will be teaching the children as well. She approaches this multicultural-education course, one of the prerequisites for San Diego State University's innovative teacher-education program, as a place "to reflect on who you are and why you do what you do.''

"My objective is to provide [prospective teachers] with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes which encourage the creation of equal education for all children,'' Ms. Pang says.

"First, you help them understand who they are. Have they ever been discriminated against? What do they know about their culture?'' she says. "Just like with children, you make the curriculum relevant to them.''

And then, says Ms. Pang, "I send them out into the community so they have the opportunity to know people of color on a personal basis. Otherwise, there is a tendency to stereotype.''

Faculty Vitality

The S.D.S.U. education school's whole approach is about shattering stereotypes and "serving the needs of the diverse learner,'' explains Anne I. Morey, the dean of the college and the force behind the school's faculty-driven multicultural curriculum.

When Ms. Morey came to California's largest state university in 1985, she wanted to "look at the issue of faculty vitality,'' she says, "because a prerequisite to infusing the curriculum with multicultural content is having faculty with the necessary expertise.''

In 1988, Margie Kitano was hired as the associate dean for faculty development and research. She later became the director of the Multicultural Infusion Initiative, which was launched by Ms. Morey and a group of faculty members who pledged to broaden their knowledge of diversity issues and incorporate multicultural concepts into their courses.

"I thought, if we changed who we were, then ethnic faculty would be more interested in us,'' says Ms. Morey. "So I tried to set a climate in which they knew they were valued.''

Now, after retirements and recruitment brought many new faces to the school, about half of the faculty members in the college's six departments are Hispanic. Most others are African-American or Asian-American.

"If you look at the trajectory between our success in hiring ethnics and our success in making structural changes, they go together,'' Ms. Morey maintains.

While the faculty-development and -recruitment programs may be its most ambitious to date, the college has also taken an aggressive approach toward attracting minority students.

"We have a number of programs on recruiting people of color into teacher education, school psychology, and counseling,'' says Ms. Kitano. "Some of our recruitment efforts start at the junior high level and go up through to undergraduates.''

The Center for Careers in Education, which identifies potential education students and disseminates information about the college, along with programs that offer financial aid or promote student retention, have increased and diversified the pool of candidates.

The college has also established a Multicultural Education Infusion Center, which is directed by Ms. Pang, to assist other education schools around the country to prepare teachers for a multicultural and linguistically diverse student population.

To accomplish that goal, the M.E.I. center is forming a national partnership with other institutions, inviting teams of faculty members and administrators to participate in intensive two-week institutes on making structural changes in their teacher-education programs.

The center, which is funded by the U.S. Education Department's office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs, has already identified over 10 colleges interested in "developing action plans'' for multicultural infusion, according to Ms. Pang.

'What Are Our Needs?'

Like many other colleges and universities in California, S.D.S.U. is acutely aware of the state's need for minority teachers and teachers trained to educate a diverse population. By 2000, an estimated 65 percent of the 7.3 million children expected to attend the state's public schools will be members of minority groups, according to the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

San Diego County's 43 school districts, where many of S.D.S.U.'s teacher-graduates will find jobs, are some of California's most diverse.

"We did an environmental scan. We looked out there and we said, 'What are our needs?''' Ms. Morey remarks.

One crying need is for bilingual teachers, she points out. "The average number of languages in the elementary schools in this city,'' she says with a pause, "is over 22.''

The university now has about 40 partnerships with schools in San Diego, and the college has 11 school sites, some of them full-fledged professional-development schools. One of the college's professional-development sites, Clearview School in Chula Vista, has received national recognition for combining theory and practice in a specially designed facility.

"Teachers and faculty get together and decide on a philosophy for the site,'' says the dean. "We learn from the public schools, and that, in turn, enhances our teachers and informs our scholarship.''

And the college has been effective in getting federal grants to leverage many of these programs. The education school now has some $9 million in state and federal assistance.

But the state's crippling recession has also forced the university, and the college of education, to cut back on expenses. And, says Ms. Morey, it seems that the college's work is never done.

"The only criticism we ever get comes from militant ethnic groups,'' she says. "You cannot do enough fast enough.''

And, though the school has focused on training teachers to meet the needs of ethnic minorities in urban schools, Ms. Morey says she and the faculty hope to move on to issues of gender and disability as well.

A Woven Cloth

Ms. Pang is throwing phrases out to her students. "You throw like a girl; you're acting like a bunch of wild Indians; he's from the other side of the tracks,'' she repeats from copy on the overhead projector.

The students offer more examples of negative expressions. Breaking into small groups, they collaborate on a list of ways in which schools, students, and teachers knowingly, or unknowingly, discriminate.

Myra Crisologo, an undergraduate at S.D.S.U. who is applying to the college, says the course has "opened up my eyes to the different levels of prejudice that exist in this society.''

"This is important to potential teachers in that we need to understand that and treat everyone equally,'' she observes.

Another student, Joseph Bogtong, a Filipino-American, says exploring his own cultural history "has revealed a little bit more about who I am. And I think it's important to get to know myself before I get to know my students.''

Ann Knipstein, who wrote her undergraduate thesis at the University of California at Berkeley on discrimination in textbooks, says she believes that educators must "teach students about the contributions of all cultures.''

Ms. Morey conjures up the image of a woven cloth when she describes why she believes the college's approach to education is important.

"I've come to appreciate the importance of context,'' she explains. "If an ethnocentric model [for educating children] is going to achieve its goal, then great.''

But "how do we draw on the diversity that makes us more powerful as a society and at the same time give more value to the daily lives of individuals?'' she asks. "The woven cloth is as good a paradigm as we're going to get.''

"It's trite to say this,'' she adds, "but I think our objective is to help every person in this society develop to their fullest potential.''

Web Only

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories