A collaborative inquiry with white women about our understanding of difference in education

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Dray, Barbara Jean, 1973-

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Although the research literature has documented teacher’s deficit beliefs about culturally, linguistically, economically, diverse (CLED) students, the literature on shifting deficit thinking has itself often been characterized by a deficit view of educators as the problem. This position places teachers at the center of the discourse rather than examining the ways in which competing discourses about diversity in general and special education as well as society at large serve to complicate teachers’ ability to develop a critical consciousness (Freire, 1990). A critical consciousness refers to the process of learning to recognize the social, cultural, political, linguistic, and economic contradictions that account for the disparities in education (e.g., disproportionate representation in special education, drop-out rate, achievement, etc) as a way of understanding and changing such oppressive and inequitable practices (Britzman, 1991; Freire, 1990). Notably absent are the voices of the teachers involved in transformative learning experiences (Cranton1994; Mezirow, 1990, 2000) and their perceptions of factors, which facilitated their growth. In particular, I collaboratively explored the interrelationships between the life experiences of five White women and their reported shift toward a critical consciousness about difference as a result of their engagement in a Master's level course on intercultural communication in special education. I conducted surveys, individual interviews, written reflection and collaborative inquiry (Bray, Lee, Smith, & Yorks, 2000; Brooks & Edwards, 1997) to actively engage my participants in a critical discussion/reflection about our life stories and experience in the course. Participants were not only actively involved in the data collection but also in the analysis and representation of the data. Findings indicate that participants’ development of a critical consciousness about difference was influenced greatly by their exposure to difference, experiences, which disrupted their comfort zone, and influential relationships with others. Characteristics of the course to which participants attributed shifts in their thinking included: a safe environment where their views were accepted, reflective journaling, learning from others, developing another perspective, and viewing the process as an ongoing journey. Ultimately these course experiences resulted in the development of mindfulness, a critical attribute of intercultural competence. Implications for research and teacher education are discussed.