PDF_JDA_The Principal Facts

Published in: Studying Diversity in Teacher Education

Full Title: The Principal Facts: New Directions for Teacher Education


As we consider new directions for teacher education, we would do well to heed the following excerpt from James Baldwin’s essay, “Nobody knows my name”:
What it comes to, finally, is that the nation has spent a large part of its time and energy looking away from one of the principal facts of its life. This failure to look reality in the face diminishes a nation as it diminishes a person. Any honest examination of the national life proves how far we are from the standard of human freedom with which we began. The recovery of this standard demands of everyone who loves this country a hard look at [their self], for the greatest achievement must begin somewhere, and they always begin with the person. If we are not capable of this examination, we may yet become one of the most distinguished and monumental failures in the history of nations. (2004, p. 96)

Baldwin’s essay offers a strategy for the nation to live up to its lofty ideals, one that demands the courage to confront the principal facts of our shortcomings and the creativity to correct them. Were we to engage such an endeavor, schools would need to play a significantly different role in our society, shifting from reinforcing the status quo to redefining it. Any such discussion of creating schools that prepare young people to take on the seemingly intractable forms of inequity facing our society will require us to seriously rethink our approach to teacher education. The new direction for teacher education proposed in this chapter acknowledges the important progress we have made in our research on diversity in teacher education over the last several decades. The chapter pulls from important ideas such as critical pedagogy (Duncan Andrade & Morrell, 2008; Freire, 1970), social justice (Ayers, Quinn, & Stovall, 2009; Oakes & Lipton, 2002), multiculturalism (Banks, 2001; Darling-Hammond, French, & García-Lopez, 2002; Nieto, 1992), cultural relevance (Akom, 2003; Delpit, 1995; Howard, 2001; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992), and caring (Noddings, 1992; Valenzuela, 1999) to make the argument that we must pay closer attention to the research on the social indicators of health if we are going to prepare educators to meet the challenges of working in urban and poor environments. To this end, this chapter examines some of the most cutting-edge, and also some of the most established, research in fields such as public health, community psychology, social epidemiology, and medical sociology to make the case that teacher education must engage with this research to improve our ability to address diversity in teacher education. This approach constitutes a rethinking of how we talk about research on diversity in our field. By extension, it shifts our approach in teacher education toward one that aims to develop educators better equipped to respond to the “socially toxic environments” (Garbarino, 1995) that emerge from racism, poverty, and other forms of oppression. Given the abysmal performance record of schools serving our nation’s most impoverished youth, it seems high time that those of us working to prepare teachers for those schools heed Baldwin’s advice and take a long look at ourselves. What we are doing is not working, and if we are honest, we will admit that it has not been working for some time—some might even argue it has never worked.