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Multiple Voices in Democracy: Education as Social Transformation

"Can prospective teachers learn to be both educators and activists, to regard themselves as agents for change, and to regard reform as an integral part of the social, intellectual, ethical and political activity of teaching?"

This provocative question, posed more than a decade ago by Marilyn Cochran-Smith, nationally prominent professor of education at Boston University, provides the contextual framework for our study in MIT 2007-09. Each of us has a picture of what it means to be a teacher and a student. We've created those pictures based on our own experiences as learners in and out of public schools. However, what we experienced as students may or may not speak to this question.

The faculty of MIT 2007-09 believe that we must challenge our current beliefs about schooling, "teaching," and who we serve to become effective advocates for all our students. Current demographic information strongly suggests that by 2015, teachers can expect to see a more diverse population of students. They will work with students from a wide range of ethnic origins, languages, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds. Further, their students will live in a society requiring people to engage in globally connected cultures through creative problem-solving, application of technological skills, effective collaboration with co-workers, and active seeking of information and resources. Thus, if public schools are to effectively prepare students for public life, our work demands we develop critical, reflective educators who respond to externally mandated initiatives in responsible ways that support student achievement

We invite people into this program who are eager to accept the challenge of discovering what it means to be a critically reflective practitioner. We want prospective teachers who are willing to challenge and question the existing structures of schooling in order to create learning environments based on the needs of all students. Therefore, we seek candidates (i) with strong reasoning skills as evidenced by critical reading and integrative writing; (ii) with passionate interests in a variety of areas; (iii) who actively seek out and are open to critical, constructive feedback; (iv) who have a genuine interest in their own intellectual, political, and emotional growth; and (v) are invested in serving the communities where they will teach.

Among the questions that will energize our study and practice are:

What are the impacts of development, emotion, cognitive processing styles, differing abilities, cultural contexts, and recent brain research on teaching and learning?

What are ways to teach that encourage students' curiosity and lead them to shape their own questions and pursue their own answers in multiple cultural and societal contexts?

How do learning theory and teaching practices inform each other and contribute to children's and adolescents' successes or failures?

What are the implications of the State of Washington's Educational Reform and the federal legislation, "Leave No Child Behind," for our students and for us? What does it mean to be a "highly qualified" teacher?

How will performance based education, including classroom based assessments, affect what and how we teach?

How are questions of democracy, equity and excellence related to success or failure in our public schools and civic engagement in a democratic society?

How can understanding social justice help us help our students?

How are the more traditional literacies of reading, writing, and quantitative reasoning related to personal, economic, and political oppression and power?

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?

How can we as teachers find the courage to recognize and address our own biases so we can better serve the diverse students with whom we will work?

Our exploration of educative practice, in John Dewey's terms, will be integrated with larger issues of social justice in our democracy.