Harvard Educational Review
  1. Walking the Road

    Race, Diversity, and Social Justice in Teacher Education

    By Marilyn Cochran-Smith

    New York: Teachers College Press, 2004. 197 pp. $25.95.

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    Invoking the work of Myles Horton and Paulo Friere with the title Walking the Road: Race, Diversity, and Social Justice in Teacher Education, Marilyn Cochran-Smith situates herself among activist-educators who understand “participatory education as an instrument for social change” (p. xvii). A collection of seven previously published articles (two of which appeared in the Harvard Educational Review) and two new pieces that bookend the collection, Cochran-Smith traces her fifteen-year journey of “reinventing practice” as a teacher educator. Her ability to bring knowledge of theory and practice in teacher education as well as her experience as a teacher educator-researcher to bear on current debates within and around teacher education reform makes this an important contribution to teacher-education literature.

    In chapter one, Cochran-Smith shows that recent sea changes in teacher education — from a 1970s and 1980s focus on teacher knowledge and learning to the 1990s concern for standards and performance-based accountability — reflect contested goals and purposes of teacher education that echo back to Dewey’s 1904 distinction between “laboratory” and “apprenticeship.” She also frames her work within what James Banks calls the “demographic imperative” — an increasingly racially and ethnically diverse student body, a mostly White teaching force, and the stark “disparities in educational opportunities, resources, and achievement among students from different racial, cultural, linguistic and socio-economic contexts” (p. 4). She organizes her essays around four questions that embody core tensions within teacher education today: Is improving teacher education a technical problem or a learning problem? Are teachers technicians to be trained and tested or ongoing learners who continually construct knowledge of teaching and learning? Is inadequate teacher education a policy problem or a political problem? Is teacher preparation a matter of expediency, efficiency, and implementation, or is it embedded with competing values, contested purposes, and differing visions for the role of teachers and teacher education in a democratic society? Such tensions are, in her words, both old and new; that is, they “emerge and reemerge” throughout the history of teacher education, as they also interact anew with current political, economic, and social issues.

    Chapters two through five show Cochran-Smith’s evolving understanding of teaching as a learning problem in her own work in the 1980s and 1990s as a teacher educator and researcher. Together these essays refute popular conservative views of teacher education as a technical problem solvable through better training and testing. These essays bring to life Cochran-Smith’s three core ideas — the value of communities of inquiry, the value of taking an intellectual and political stance, and the importance of generating local knowledge — that stand at center of her conception of teacher education as a learning problem. Experiences of and dialogues among prospective teachers, experienced public school teachers, and university-based teacher educators show teachers collaborating as they learn to “teach against the grain” of given assumptions and practices in schools. Those same voices reveal that prospective teachers discover that teaching for social justice involves understanding that “teaching practice is tightly linked with knowledge and interpretive frameworks, on the one hand, and with politics and ideological commitments, on the other” (p. 66). Moving beyond colorblindness requires more than “lesson plans” on “basket making.” Teacher education must challenge teachers to examine issues of race, culture, and oppression in their daily classroom practice. Prospective teachers, she writes, must build a more critical knowledge of themselves, and of their students as learners situated in particular communities and histories. Finally, Cochran-Smith turns this lens on her own practice in teacher education. Pressed by colleagues and prospective teachers of color at the University of Pennsylvania, Cochran-Smith models how she began to “unlearn” racism as a White woman by learning to “read between the lines of [her] own courses and of the larger teacher education curriculum” where she discovered “a White European American construction of self-identity and ‘other’”(p. 98).

    Along with being learners in all these ways, teachers must be challenged to find their authentic voice and practice amid the many conflicting values present in schools and classrooms. For Cochran-Smith, this does not “politicize teaching” but recognizes rather that teaching is “already politicized” and requires teacher educators to make a fuller and deeper analysis of teaching as a political problem. Chapters six through eight examine the ways educators and policymakers construct the “outcomes question,” engage in polarizing “public talk” about professionalization and deregulation, and contest the multiple meanings of multicultural education that are shaped by various forces. Each essay reveals the underlying assumptions that lie beneath the surface of these political debates. Cochran-Smith is suspicious of any desire to calm these waters through consensus. Although the word “power” seldom appears in these pages, these essays are all about questions of power. Namely, which assumptions about the nature of teachers and learning will guide teacher-education reform? Whose critiques and purposes are silenced in the name of finding unity? These chapters refute the fact that teacher education is merely a policy problem concerned with correct implementation and expedient efficiency, one that denies that race, culture, equity, diversity, and justice are inherently part of the current debates about standards, content, and accountability.

    In her closing chapter, Cochran-Smith calls on teacher educators to be public intellectuals willing to redress conservative images of the highly qualified teacher and what it means to leave no child behind. She summons teacher educators to “strengthen the research base” on social justice in teacher education and “map forward and backward” across teacher-education programs, classroom practice, and student learning. Her short overview of “promising developments” in existing programs offers hope and possibility for a vision of education that “makes clear the necessity of a social justice agenda in a democratic and increasingly diverse society” (p. 168).

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    Book Notes

    Curriculum Work as a Public Moral Enterprise
    Edited by Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández and James T. Sears

    Walking the Road
    By Marilyn Cochran-Smith

    Charter Schools
    Edited by Liane Brouillette

    Surviving Inclusion
    By Kay Johnson Lehmann

    Young Children and Trauma
    Edited by Joy D. Osofsky