Master in Teaching 2004-2006

Multiple Voices in Democratic Education:

Language, Literacy, and Social Transformation

Each of us has a picture of what it means to be a teacher and a student. What we experienced as students, however, increasingly does not represent the school experiences of many children. Approximately 20% of people in the United States under the age of 18 live in poverty. The National Coalition of Advocates for Students Report estimated that in 2001 between 70-96% of students enrolled in the 15 largest US school systems would belong to minority groups; in many of these schools the English-as-a-second-language (ESL) student will be the norm, not the exception. According to Jim Cummins, bilingual expert, these children and youth should expect that their teachers will ensure that “schooling amplifies rather than silences their power of self expression.”

Few public schools, however, provide training for their staff about the culture of poverty. Bilingual education and ESL training for teachers is rare, despite recent studies showing children are much more likely to succeed in school in English, if first they become literate in their primary language. The other most important variable for minority language students’ success is the application of appropriate teaching and learning strategies in the classroom.

Children and youth who are mono-lingual should also expect that their teachers and schools will support them in learning another language. But our public school system continues to reflect an historical bias toward a monolingual and mono-cultural society. Regardless of ethnicity, today’s students can expect to live in a society of diverse languages and cultures, where they need to engage in creative problem-solving, utilize technological skills, collaborate effectively with coworkers, and actively seek information and resources. Given these emerging realities, we invite people into this program who are eager to participate in a social transformation that can empower their students to create and prosper in a multi-lingual, multi-cultural society. We want prospective teachers willing to challenge and question the existing structures of schooling in order to create learning environments based on the needs of all. This program investigates education from the perspective of (a) social transformation leading to social justice in K-12 classrooms; (b) the value of language and culture; and (c) empowerment as a “collaborative creation of power.”

Questions that we will examine include:
• What are the implications of the State of Washington’s Educational Reform and the federal legislation " No Child Left Behind" for our students and for us?
• How will performance-based education affect our teaching? How can understanding social justice help us to help our students?
• How are bilingualism and the traditional literacies of reading, writing, and quantitative reasoning related to personal, economic, and political oppression and power?
• How are questions of democracy and social transformation that lead to social justice related to our work as teachers and learners in an increasingly diverse context?
• How can teachers respond to and work with family and cultural belief systems that shape children’s lives when those belief systems may or may not be the same as our own? In other words, how can teachers who are socialized to accept the values of the dominant culture learn to educate children and youth without ignoring, denying, or rejecting their cultural and language heritages?
• How can we as teachers find the courage to address our own biases to better serve the diverse students with whom we will work?

The faculty for this cycle of the Master in Teacher Program include Michael Vavrus, Evelia Romano, Patty Finnegan, Jacque Ensign, Scott Coleman along with a variety of current classroom practitioners.