07 SES 11 B, Taking Diversity into Account
The term ‘diversity’ is increasingly common in the field of education, and it is often used without problematization or definition. At first glance, it seems like a fairly neutral and inclusive term which might cover a range of possible axes of difference. However, it has been pointed out (for instance by Lahdenperä 2000, Hahl and Löfström 2016, Burner and Biseth 2016) that it seems often to refer to the cultural ‘other’. In this project, I examine critically discourses of ‘diversity’ in the field of education, specifically secondary school social studies teachers’ understandings of the term and their reflections on how it plays out in the classroom. This study is a follow-up of an investigation of the diversity discourse in two recent Norwegian education policy documents (manuscript submitted for publication), where I concluded that notions of ‘diversity’ presented there, serve to reproduce an image of a homogenous majority and a diverse cultural minority in Norway.
As a result of the planned investigations I expect to be able to contribute to a conversation about the reach and importance of policy discourse to social equity in education, specifically in terms of the ways in which ‘diversity’ as it is conceptualized in recent policy documents, relate to teachers’ conceptions of difference among students.
The research field consists of a combination of several sub-fields, among which are education policy , democracy and citizenship (Banks 2001, Kymlicka and Norman 1994), multiculturalism (Phillips 2007, Parekh 2006) and social justice and inclusion (Young 2011).
The overarching epistemological point of departure is one of social constructionism, implying an interest in the ‘constructedness’ of social reality. In the context of this study, that means that the social interaction between teacher and students are of interest, as well as the interaction between teachers and the policy discourse.
When it comes to the theoretical positioning of the project in terms of cultural difference and citizenship, the project operates along three axes at once: firstly, recognizing the importance of cultural dimensions; secondly, drawing on issues of citizenship and social cohesion; and thirdly, allowing a critical approach – toward culture as well as other structures and aspects of power. Specifically, I draw on theories of critical multiculturalism and critical pedagogy (for instance May and Sleeter 2010). Literature on social justice (for instance Schoorman and Bogotch 2010) and on social cohesion and citizenship issues related to a European policy context (for instance Ljunggren 2014, Nicoll 2013, Olson 2012), has also been influential.
While Norway is historically construed in the national imagination as a culturally homogenous society (the realism of which can certainly be discussed), the proportion of immigrants is now close to 15% (2017). Increased immigration over the past few decades has spurred public conversation about both immigration and integration/inclusion policy, a development which has also reached education policy. It is my suggestion that characterizing the Norwegian population (and in this case the body of pupils) as ‘increasingly diverse’ has become central in a process of coming to terms with what is construed as a new development in Norway. In a European context of increasing nationalization, and heated debates over immigration issues and integration/inclusion policies, how we conceptualize ‘difference’, and how that might affect teaching and pupils, is not a question limited to Norway. However, the Norwegian experience is perhaps suited to provide an example of a conversation which is thrown into relief because of its perceived novelty. One of the overall aims of this project is to contribute to the conversation on social inclusion and equity in education, important to both teachers, teacher educators and policy makers across Europe.
The project has two parts; In the first part of the project, which is ongoing near completion, I have examined two recent Norwegian education policy documents using a CDA-inspired approach (Fairclough 2003), and found that notions of ‘Norwegianness’ and ‘otherness’ are reproduced through a diversity discourse. It is the second part of the project, which is about to start as per January 2018, that I plan to report on in the ECER conference at Bolzano. Here, I will examine secondary school teachers’ conceptions of ‘diversity’ and their thoughts on how to approach it in the classroom. Through classroom observation, I hope to discern what sort of conceptions of diversity come into play for the teachers in terms of pedagogical and didactical choices and reactions to particular situations. Then, through qualitative, semi-structured interviewing of individual teachers, I hope to be able to grasp some of their reflections, and see if there can be discerned particular conceptualizations of difference, and to what degree they correspond to, or oppose, the political diversity discourse. In the interviews, the teachers will be invited to comment on specific classroom events that they or I select among the observed classes. In this way, while retaining the overall direction of the investigation, I also invite teachers to provide their opinion of what counts as important to discuss in relation to diversity, leaving sufficient opening for teachers’ voices to be properly heard. By combining observations and interviews, I hope to be able to reflect on the connections between teachers’ theoretical conceptualizations of difference, and their didactical conduct. The proposed triangulation of methods for the whole project at large, combining the focus on policy discourse with teachers’ perspectives both through both interviews and observation, will hopefully enable me to discuss the reach and importance of policy discourse.
As the field work has not yet begun, I would like to refrain from speculating too heavily about the outcomes of the study. However, in my previous study of education policy documents, I concluded that the notions of diversity found there served to create (or sustain) a divide between immigrant students creating diversity and majority students experiencing it. Thus, I am rather curious as to whether a similar divide can be seen among teachers. While not planning on comparing different schools or classes directly, I will select teachers working in classes with varying composition with regard to immigrant and majority backgrounds, and I am curious to see whether the reflections and practice of teachers working in culturally heterogeneous classes, differ from those of teachers working mainly with students from the cultural majority. This is not really easy to predict. On the one hand, one could imagine that teachers working in culturally heterogeneous classes might me acutely aware of cultural differences, and that they readily associate ‘diversity’ with culture. On the other hand, we might also imagine the opposite effect – teachers in culturally heterogeneous environments insisting that ‘diversity is not only about culture at all’. Similarly, teachers working mainly with cultural majority students might not have reflected much upon working in a ‘diverse’ class (at least not put into such terms), and might feel that this is a term that does not really apply to them. Or, on the other hand, they might feel a need to insist that their students are just as diverse as students with other cultural backgrounds. I will by no means structure the investigation in such a way that it narrows the options down to what I just mentioned. The approach will be far more open than that, to allow for different lines of reasoning.
Banks, James A. 2001. "Citizenship Education and Diversity: Implications for Teacher Education." Journal of Teacher Education 52 (1):5-16. Burner, Tony, and Heidi Biseth. 2016. "A Critical Analysis of an Innovative Approach." SAGE Open 6 (4):2158244016680689. doi: 10.1177/2158244016680689. Fairclough, Norman. 2003. Analysing Discourse : textual analysis for social research. London: Routledge. Hahl, Kaisa, and Erika Löfström. 2016. "Conceptualizing interculturality in multicultural teacher education." Journal of Multicultural Discourses 11 (3):300-314. doi: 10.1080/17447143.2015.1134544. Kymlicka, Will, and Wayne Norman. 1994. "Return of the Citizen: A Survey of Recent Work on Citizenship Theory." Ethics 104 (2):352-381. doi: 10.1086/293605. Lahdenperä, Pirjo. 2000. "From monocultural to intercultural educational research." Intercultural Education 11 (2):201-207. doi: 10.1080/713665246. Ljunggren, C. 2014. "Citizenship Education and National Identity: teaching ambivalence." Policy Futures in Education 12 (1):34-47. May, Stephen, and Christine E. Sleeter. 2010. "Introduction. Critical Multiculturalism: Theory and Praxis." In Chritical Multiculturalism: Theory and Praxis, edited by Stephen May and Christine E. Sleeter, 1-18. New York and London: Routledge. Nicoll, K., Fejes, A., Olson, M., Dahlstedt, M & Biesta, G. J.J. 2013. "Opening discourses of citizenship education: theorizing with Foucault." Journal of Education Policy 28 (6):18. Olson, Maria. 2012. "The European ‘We’: From Citizenship Policy to the Role of Education." Studies in Philosophy and Education 31 (1):77-89. Parekh, Bhikhu. 2006. Rethinking Multiculturalism. Cultural Diversity and Political Theory. Second ed: Palgrave Macmillan. Phillips, Anne. 2007. Multiculturalism without Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Schoorman, Dilys, and Ira Bogotch. 2010. "Moving beyond ‘diversity’ to ‘social justice’: the challenge to re‐conceptualize multicultural education." Intercultural Education 21 (1):79-85. doi: 10.1080/14675980903491916. Young, Iris Marion. 2011. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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