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Rural Appalachia. The Unit is located in the Appalachian part of Ohio. This geographic location provides opportunities for candidates to learn about Appalachian culture and also to gain direct experience with the dynamics of social class (e.g., Nastasi, 2005; Shelby, 1999). In addition, large portions of Appalachia (both in Ohio and in the neighboring states of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania) are rural. With several rural and Appalachian scholars among the faculty, the Unit has a clear capacity to provide curricula and field experiences that connect to salient cultural and social justice issues confronting the region. The Rural-Urban collaborative draws heavily on this expertise, as do the curricula in the rural principals and rural superintendents programs (e.g., Howley, Woodrum, & Pendarvis, 2005; Martin, Rutherford, & Stauffer, 2012).
Most candidates in the Unit have opportunities to become involved in field experiences with rural Appalachian schools. These experiences initially result in “culture shock” among many candidates from suburban and urban locales. Working through their encounters with “the other” (in this case, Appalachians), non-Appalachian candidates learn about their own prejudices and, with guidance from faculty, think about ways to counter them. Faculty and clinical supervisors help candidates recognize the assets associated with Appalachian culture, the challenges associated with life in a historically impoverished region, and the implications of both for educational programs (e.g. Clark & Hayward, 2013; Wilson & Gore, 2009).
Poverty. Two major approaches to understanding poverty have the potential to influence educator preparation programs: (1) explanations that link poverty to culture and (2) explanations that link poverty to social structure. The work of Ruby Payne (2005) illustrates the first perspective, and the work of Michael Katz (1989) and Richard Valencia (2010) illustrates the second. The Unit has explored both perspectives, and the faculty is not unanimous in its endorsement of one over the other. Nevertheless, the approach to poverty that is most prevalent within the knowledge base emphasizes structural issues such as the persistent inequity in the distribution of economic resources, power, and education across social classes (e.g., Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Brantlinger, 2003; Jensen, 2012). Faculty members’ cautious treatment of cultural attributions keeps these personological perspectives on poverty from devolving to deficiency theories, which tend to “blame the victim” (Ryan, 1971; Valencia, 2010) rather than acknowledging the complex cultural forces that influence the experiences of individuals and families living in poverty. Given its rural environs the Unit takes special note of the high incidence of poverty in rural areas and what that implies for educational programs and services (e.g. Yeo, 2001).
Race and ethnicity. As many commentators note, the term, “American” (a term, which itself represents a kind of aggrandizement when used, as it so often is, to refer only to inhabitants of the U.S.) has commonly been conflated with “White American” (e.g., Roediger, 1998, p.18), but the United States has never been solely or even disproportionately White. Nevertheless, starting even before the nation was established, White people typically claimed the right to populate the dominant, privileged group. The enslavement of Africans and the genocide of Indians established patterns of oppression that persist today. Not only have these patterns influenced the distribution of economic resources and power, they have also influenced the way knowledge has been created and judged to be valid (Dixson & Rousseau, 2006; McLaren, 1997; Rogers & Ritzer, 1996; Rothenberg, 2011; Tatum, 2003).
Many candidates in the Unit are White, and, like other White people, lack a clear understanding of their own racial identity and the privileges associated with it. Studies such as those conducted by Delpit (1995) find that White teachers are not even aware of dynamics in which they tend to marginalize the views of their African-American and other racially and ethnically different co-workers. By gaining a broader perspective on their own social location, however, candidates in the Unit are more likely to come to understand that students of color are disadvantaged by the advantages that Whites enjoy.
The Unit therefore uses the backgrounds of its candidates as a point of departure for exploring racial and ethnic relations in the schools and in the nation as a whole. In other words, experiences in the Unit help candidates “unpack” the invisibility of privilege so that they gain the self-knowledge needed in order to feel comfortable educating students from racial and ethnic groups other than their own.
The Unit’s employment of a diverse faculty expands candidates’ awareness of the increased capacity and enriched fund of knowledge that ensue when individuals from different groups work together to address a shared mission and vision. These collegial relationships among faculty members of diverse backgrounds model the respectful and productive culturally conscious perspectives that we seek to engender in our candidates.
The Unit also uses initiatives like the Rural-Urban Collaborative, the Diversity Committee and Rural Appalachian Advisory Committee’s lecture series, the Violet L. Patton Lecture Series, and field trips (e.g., to the Little Cities of Black Diamond, to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center) to provide candidates with greater understanding of racial diversity and the historical legacy that undergirds and also in many cases continues to sustain both racist attitudes and structural inequities associated with race and ethnicity.
Gender and sexual orientation.Despite increased economic and political opportunities for women and increasing tolerance of differences in sexual orientation, gender and sexual orientation remain sources of discrimination in schooling and the workplace. Within the education arena, women continue to lag behind male counterparts in obtaining positions such as the high school principalship and the district superintendency (e.g., Brunner & Grogan, 2007). And even though current research does not support the view that female students have less capability in some subjects (e.g., math and science) than males, many families and schools still subscribe to this belief (Orenstein, 1995). According to some researchers, moreover, this belief contributes to female students’ espoused preference for English and humanities over math and science (e.g., Herbert & Stipek, 2005; Simpkins & Davis-Kean, 2005) as well as their relatively low enrollment in advanced courses in some subjects, such as calculus, physics, and technology (e.g., Crosnoe, Riegle-Crumb, & Muller, 2007). Furthermore, as some recent work has shown (e.g., Orenstein, 2011), corporations have intensified efforts to market a “girlie-girl” and “Disney princess” image with predictable consequences for girls’ development of self-esteem and, perhaps ultimately, their capacity for self-determination.
Sexuality is not an issue that schools handle particularly well, in part because it is a sensitive and personal matter that many parents believe falls outside the purview of schools (Walters & Hayes, 2007). Bullying and teasing based on sexual orientation are rampant (Meyer, 2009; Rivers, 2001; Robertson & Monsen, 2001). As a consequence, educators need to understand how sexual orientation influences students’ experience of schooling and learn how to provide a safe and supportive learning environment, to recognize signs of bullying, and to intervene in ways that protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) students from verbal and physical abuse (e.g., Dewitt, 2012; Hansen, 2007).
Across the Unit, faculty engage candidates in activities and discussions designed to increase understanding of the challenges confronting female and LGBT students. Gender equity is a particular focus in methods classes for science and mathematics educators. The principalship program also is attentive to these issues because principals play a decisive role in ensuring that all students feel safe and welcome in the schools they attend (GLSEN, 2011).
English as a second language. Although many rural areas in the United States are experiencing an influx of students whose native language is something other than English, this change has not yet taken place in Southeast Ohio (e.g., McLaughlin, Rodriguez, & Madden, 2008). Nevertheless, there are many schools serving at least small populations of Ells, and the Unit is working to prepare candidates to educate English language learners (ELLs). Many of the constructivist practices that undergird the Unit’s programs have been found to be effective with ELLs (Echevarria, 1998; Hill, 2006). In addition, instructional materials and assessments developed in accord with principles of universal design enable ELLs to learn academic content and demonstrate their knowledge even during emergent and intermediate stages of English language learning (Liu & Anderson, 2008). Special Education and Instructional Technology faculty members infuse knowledge about the use of universal design into many of the courses they teach.
Strategies that engage ELLs and their families are also useful. According to some scholars, students whose first language is not English may not feel a strong connection with a school where most students speak English (Gaitan, 2006). When teachers and administrators make meaningful connections with ELLs’ immediate and extended families, these students come to see the school as less intimidating and more relevant to their lives (e.g., Torres-Guzman, 1995).
Candidates in the Unit learn about ELLs and effective methods for teaching them in some of their field experiences. Most notably, participation in the Rural-Urban Collaborative and in field experiences in local schools serving families of international faculty and students at Ohio University gives candidates opportunities to observe teachers as they work with students who are learning English as a second language. In addition, the Unit employs several international faculty members who share their own personal experiences in an effort to help candidates understand the challenges associated with learning a second language while also trying to learn academic content and adjust to different cultural norms and practices.
Culture and religion. Perhaps the greatest source of diversity among candidates in the Unit is the variety in their cultural backgrounds—their social conventions, values, and beliefs, including their religious preferences. This type of diversity, however, is usually not immediately obvious until candidates begin to share information about their backgrounds and varied cultural experiences. Many candidates, however, have grandparents and sometimes even parents whose cultural identities are distinct from mainstream. According to some writers (e.g., Mintz & Price, 1992), race and cultural difference are intertwined. According to others (e.g., Hofstede, 1997), cultural characteristics differ by nationality, so candidates with Italian roots, for example, may have different perspectives on life and cultural practices than those with Greek or Scandinavian roots. The term “culture” refers not only to social conventions, values, and beliefs that are associated with different races and nationalities, but with the “collective patterns of interpretation” (Richter, 2001, p. 100) associated with people in different regions, such as the Appalachian region, and of groups within regions. Always raising questions as to whether ascribing cultural differences to particular groups risks stereotyping, research has identified cultural differences associated with many social classifications. In several courses in the Unit, faculty members help candidates explore diversity by asking them to share stories about the cultures of their families of origin. This activity sensitizes candidates to the similarities and differences of human beings across cultures, explores the social, political, and economic reasons that some cultures’ conventions, values, and beliefs are stigmatized, and assists them in seeing culture as historically contingent, expressing a multiplicity of influences and ideologies that form an important foundation on which individual identity is constructed.
Disability and other exceptionality.Educators do not always feel confident or adequately prepared to work with students with disabilities or those with special talents (e.g., Cook, 2002). Moreover, teachers’ beliefs about the nature of disability and their responsibilities for inclusion are often shaped by a larger set of assumptions and attitudes regarding the nature of ability and the acquisition of knowledge (Jordan, Schwartz, & McGhie-Richmond, 2009). Anxiety about working in unfamiliar situations with students with disabilities is a commonly expressed sentiment (Horne, 2012; Siegel & Jausovec, 1994). Compounding this concern are the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 and the Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004—legislation that holds educators accountable for improving the performance of all students, including those with special needs and particular talents (Rosenberg, Sindelar, & Hardman, 2004).
Course work and field experiences in the Unit are designed to prepare candidates to work effectively with students with disabilities and other exceptionalities (e.g., Folsom-Meek, Grotelushchen, & Nearing, 1996).These learning experiences increase candidates’ competencies and confidence levels with respect to work with students who have disabilities and/or exceptional talents. Concepts of particular relevance to these learning experiences are (1) the challenges and benefits of full inclusion (e.g., Lipsky & Gartner, 1997), (2) the use of the strategy known as “response to intervention” (e.g., Allington, 2009), (3) the value of preparing instructional activities using principles of universal design (e.g., Rose & Meyer, 2006), and the deployment of co-teaching strategies (e.g., Smith, Gartin, & Murdick, 2012; Tobin, 2006).