2013. Vol.4, No.1, 39-44
Published Online January 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ce) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2013.41006
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 39
Addressing Issues of Social Justice through Reflective Writing
Bayh College of Education, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, USA
Received October 29th, 2012; revised November 30th, 2012; accepted December 14th, 2012
Since the 1960’s there have been calls for reforms in teacher education programs to reflect the growing
diversity represented in our nation’s schools. One response is multicultural education courses aimed at
addressing attitudes and beliefs about diversity. Such courses have received mixed reviews. Some re-
search has reported that pre-service teacher’s attitudes and beliefs were changed in a positive direction
towards diversity, while others suggest that pre-service teachers leave these courses unchanged. The pri-
mary goal of this study was to determine if a stand-alone multicultural education course challenged or al-
tered pre-service teachers’ attitudes and beliefs towards cultural diversity. An analysis of reflective writ-
ings by the participants throughout the semester served as evidence of change.
Keywords: Teacher Education; Pre-Service Teachers; Multicultural Education
As early as 1969, Smith recognized there was a need for ma-
jor re-engineering of teacher education programs to prepare
professionals for work in diverse learning environments. De-
spite this recommendation, Zeichner, (1993) reported “there is a
lot of evidence that the situation hasn’t changed much”. Most
programs continue to place emphasis on the development of
cognitive knowledge and pedagogical skills and fail to connect
these elements to attitudes and beliefs which are equally im-
portant rudiments of teacher education (Gay, 2010). Attitudes
and beliefs about diversity have profound influences on
teacher’s instructional judgments’ and actions (Knopp & Smith,
2005; Nieto, 2005; Delpit, 1995; Pajares, 1992; Smylie, 1995;
Ladson-Billings, 2001). Recent reports (Geneva; Gay, 2010;
Mills & Ballatyne, 2010; Schussler, Stocksbury, & Bercaw,
2010; Buehler, Gere, Dallavis, & Haiviland, 2009; Villagas,
2007) support the premise that racial, ethnic, and cultural atti-
tudes and beliefs are always present, often problematic, and
profoundly significant in shaping teaching conceptions and
Changing Attitudes and Beliefs towards Cultural
Historically, teacher education programs have aimed to ad-
dress attitudes and beliefs about diversity with add-on or
piecemeal approaches (McDonald, 2005; Mills & Ballantyne,
2010). Garmon (2004) suggested that the impact of these
courses on developing positive dispositions towards diversity
have yielded mixed results. Davis, et al. (2008) and others (Ar-
titles & McClafferty, 1998; Delany-Barmann & Minner, 1997;
Tran, Yung, & DiLella, 1994) for example reported that stu-
dents’ racial attitudes and beliefs were changed in a positive
direction by a course on diversity. Conversely, research by
McDonald (2005), Brown (2004), Banks (2001) and others
reported pre-service teachers exit these courses unchanged and
often had existing stereotypical perceptions reinforced. Further,
Ballantyne and Mills (2008) suggest these fragmented pro-
grams do not lend themselves to the development of disposi-
tions in pre-service teachers that are aligned with a recognitive
view of social justice.
Another perspective must also be considered within the con-
text of existing research. These studies suggest multicultural
education courses may have different effects on different stu-
dents. Pohan (1996) found students who bring strong biases and
negative stereotypes about diverse groups to multicultural edu-
cation course are less likely to develop the types of professional
beliefs and behaviors most consistent with multicultural sensi-
tivity. Similar, Garmon (2004) reported if students are not
“ready” to receive instruction and experiences presented to
them, even the best-designed teacher preparation programs may
be ineffective in developing appropriate dispositions toward
Although there is no decisive evidence which supports the
impact of multicultural education courses on pre-service teach-
ers’ attitudes and beliefs toward diversity, it is profoundly evi-
dent that US schools are becoming more ethnically, racially,
culturally, socially, and linguistically diverse (The Center for
Public Education, 2010). In order to support the needs of these
students and their families, shifts in the ideological orientations
and programmatic actions of teacher education are needed. One
resounding unified voice echoed in all the research is the need
for the interrogation of attitudes and beliefs of prospective
teachers towards diversity. This imperative is not only for white
teachers but teachers of color as well. For all teachers have
beliefs which have profound influences on their instructional
judgments, actions, and ultimately student academic achieve-
ment (Ladson-Billings, 2006; Knopp & Smith, 2005).
The primary goal of this study was to determine if a
stand-alone multicultural education course challenged or altered
pre-service teachers’ attitudes and beliefs towards cultural di-
versity. An analysis of reflective writings by the participants
throughout the semester served as evidence of change. This
research effort was guided by two questions: 1) what attitudes
and beliefs emerge from participants as they write about their
perceptions on culturally diverse urban schools? 2) are those
attitudes and beliefs challenged or altered during the course,
and if so, what types of new awareness’s emerge? In this course,
cultural diversity is broadly defined, including race, class, gen-
der, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and so forth. This
study aims to contribute to the knowledge base on how to pre-
pare pre-service teachers as culturally responsive educators.
Specifically, findings from this study can positively influence
teacher education program design and guide the development of
instructional strategies that better prepare pre-service teachers
to function effecti ve ly within culturally diverse environments.
Setting and Participants
This study included 26 students in an elementary teacher
education program enrolled in a multicultural education course
at a large Midwestern urban public university in the United
States. Most (81%,) students were female. Based on back-
ground information data supplied by the students, a substantial
portion ranged in age from 18 - 30 (65%). All self-identified
themselves as white. Background information gathered from
students’ Cultural Autobiographies revealed their neighbor-
hoods and schools attended were mostly rural, Christian beliefs
dictated family and social life, and the student or his/her parent
is the first to attend college.
Description of the Course
The conceptual framework of the course holds a social jus-
tice orientation; whereby over a 15 week period, the pre-service
teachers participated in a variety of individual, small group, and
whole group learning experiences (i.e. readings, discussions,
videos, guest speakers, debates, and learning centers) which
addressed various dimensions of cultural diversity. The learning
was designed to encourage students to engage with and unpack
academic literature and make sense of this in relation to their
own experiences of identity, diversity, and difference (Mills &
Ballantyne, 2010). The learning experiences were focused on
cultural self-awareness; awareness of different cultural world-
views; awareness of the social-construction of race; awareness
of race and privilege, prejudice and discrimination in historical
and contemporary societal and school contexts; knowledge of
cultural patterns and culture specific knowledge; knowledge of
and skill in using different communication and learning styles;
knowledge and skill in using diverse classroom management
strategies; ability to adapt the curriculum content to reflect
cultural diversity of students; and skills to implement various
pedagogies, including discourse, participation and assessment,
that are culturally relevant to one’s students. The selection of
the learning experiences was based on research which sug-
gested such content is necessary to develop cultural competence
(Grant & Sleeter, 2007; Banks, 2006; Hammer & Bennett, 2001;
Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Bennett, 1993; Sleeter, 1992;
Cross et al., 1989).
Throughout the semester, students were required to com-
plete and submit assignments representative of the content de-
scribed earlier. Below are brief descriptions of selected assign-
ments and active learning activities which characterize content
developed for the course.
Asset Based Community Assessment—The purpose of this
assignment is to provide students with a research experience
that will develop a comprehensive understanding of the com-
munity surrounding their professional development site. The
intent of this assignment is to increase awareness of the com-
munity strengths and resources that can creatively support cul-
turally responsive teaching and high academic achievement.
Case Study—Case Studies have established themselves as
an important pedagogical tool in teacher education. Cases offer
the opportunity for students to construct their own understand-
ing and be active participants in their own learning (Rand &
Shelton-Colangelo, 1999). Your Task: Please read the Case
Study “Low Expectations”. Next, Place yourself in the role of
an educational consultant. Creatively restructure the classroom
described in the case study by differentiating instructional and
classroom practices which meet the needs of a mixed-ability
group. During this process, group members should consider
learning styles and conditions which promote high academic
performance, motivational profiles, assessment/evaluation,
classroom environment, varying cultures represented in the
Classroom Mosaic—“In any interaction, we bring various
ideas, cultural orientations, physical abilities and disabilities, as
well as perspectives based on age, race, gender, religion ethnic-
ity, sexual orientation, employment experience, educational
experience, and more. For society to deal with this intricate web
of characteristics, our educational programs must prepare peo-
ple to embrace the world’s diversity in all of its dimensions. We
must create a society in which differences are celebrated and
not allowed to become the subject of tension or discriminatory
behavior. We must prepare people for building on their indi-
viduality in a context where the many aspects of personhood
are valued, intrinsically, as contributions to a fascinating and
beautiful social mosaic” (Gerald Bepko, 2000). Your Task:
Using the card stock paper, markers, crayons, scrap paper,
scissors, glue, etc. provided create an individual mosaic which
represents your personhood. Consider your values, per-
sonal/philosophical beliefs and socio and cultural influences
that have contributed to who you are today. Use your imagina-
tion and be creative. Afterwards, write a personal reflection
which deeply examines the illustrations depicted in your indi-
Cultural Autobiography—The purpose of this assignment
is to help students gain a deeper understanding of how he/she
came to develop their values and beliefs and identify through
significant life experiences. These include family and commu-
nity values, and attitudes about those who were “different”
from you (disability, religion, language, race, gender, sexual
orientation, social economic status, etc.)? Further, students will
reflect upon the implications of their cultural experiences in
relationship to their work as a future educator.
Personal Philosophy and Action Plan—This end of the
semester culminating assignment invites each student to reflect
and synthesize what was learned in a way that is personally
meaningful and demonstrates learning. This process will re-
quire students to examine their strengths and challenges relative
to culturally responsive and inclusive practices which will re-
sult in an action plan detailing next steps for personal and pro-
fessional development towards social justice.
A two hour one day a week field experience which met for
six consecutive weeks in conjunction with the classroom learn-
ing experience was another component of the course. The
pre-service teachers were participant observers in an urban
school. The racial demographics of the elementary school was
approximately 1/3 African American, 1/3 L ati n o, and 1/3 wh i te.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Pre-service teachers worked with small groups and/or individ-
ual students under the guidance of a mentor teacher. The pur-
pose of the field experience was to provide experiential learn-
ing opportunities about urban education, urban communities,
and to serve as a platform for reflection on issues regarding
equity, diversity, multicultural education, inclusion, special
education, child development and learning theories. Further, it
was desired that during field experience, pre-service teachers
witnessed how mentor teachers responded to the needs of their
students representing various cultures by implementing cultur-
ally relevant pedagogy which honors, respects, and values cul-
tural differences (Klotz, 2006).
Reflective writings were the primary sources of data collec-
tion for this study. They were instrumental in identifying exist-
ing and emerging attitudes and beliefs about cultural diversity
and if and how these beliefs were challenged or altered. Reflec-
tive practice was a critical component of the multicultural edu-
cation course. It is one of the guiding principles mandated by
the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consor-
tium (INTASC). The teacher education program represented in
this study is governed by this consortium of State agencies and
national education organizations which oversees the profes-
sional development of teachers. The reflective papers required
pre-service teachers to provide a description of an event (e.g.
article, reading, classroom activity, field experience, etc.) and
its implications for effective teaching. Through this process,
pre-service teachers examined their feelings and reactions,
thoughts and assumptions, alternative perspectives of a de-
scribed event and the applications of personal discoveries as a
future educator. Ideally, this reflective process will become an
important component of their future teaching. As Ladson-Bill-
ings (2006) pointed out, “culturally relevant teachers think
deeply about what and how they teach”.
Pre-service teachers were introduced to the research study on
the first day of class. The instructor of this class also served as
the principal investigator of the study. The pre-service teachers
were informed participation was voluntary and explained par-
ticipation or non-participation had no bearing on the outcome
of final grades. Further, reflective papers were non-graded as-
signments. This decision was intentional to minimize “socially
desirable” responses. Although it cannot be ruled out, the pos-
sibility that such responses were represented in the data.
This study did not focus on student’s attitudes and beliefs
about cultural diversity prior to their enrollment in the course.
Therefore, the researcher is drawing on students’ perceptions of
whether and how their attitudes and beliefs shifted as a result of
the course. This decision was not regarded as a weakness of the
study; for students may not have considered their attitudes be-
liefs towards diversity prior to their involvement in the course
(Mills & Ballantyne, 2010).
The constant comparative method was used to examine
emerging themes from reflective writings. In this process, con-
crete instances of data were linked together into more general
categories and either accumulated for evidence and ideas, or
was used for clarification and correction of previously devel-
oped themes (Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Glaser & Strauss, 1967).
Further, to ensure the credibility of findings, pre-service teach-
ers were debriefed throughout the semester to confirm or cor-
rect data interpretations (Marshall & Rossman, 2006). It must
also be noted that reflective papers did not contain the same
amount of reflection across participants; however this source
offered useful data for triangulating evidence or discrepancies
in the interpretation of data (Campbell & Lott, 2010)
The analysis of reflective writing assignments suggested
pre-service teachers’ attitudes and beliefs towards culturally
diverse urban schools had been altered while enrolled in a mul-
ticultural education course. At the beginning of the semester,
reflective writings indicated their beliefs were situated from a
deficit perspective whereby racially diverse students in urban
schools were viewed as underachievers, poorly prepared, and
lagging behind their white classmates (Milner, 2011). The fol-
lowing selected commentary from reflective writings provided
insights into their initial attitudes and beliefs and how they had
been altered over the course of the semester.
Changes in Perceptions
“The students were far from what I expected. In fact, instead
of being the disrespectful wild kids I thought they would be,
they were the best behaved class of students I have ever en-
countered. They also treated one another and authority figures
with tremendous respect.”
“My perceptions about urban schools have changed. I know
that at first I was scared to go into an urban school. I thought
that the children would not respond to me and see me as a
“Once in these schools, I was thrilled to realize that we
shared many similarities, differences, likes, dislikes, hobbies!
My previous fears and assumptions’ were put to rest after I
understood that urban schools were in need of the same com-
mitted, enthusiastic, and passionate teachers that every other
“After interacting with those at XXXX Elementary School, my
perceptions have changed tremendously. Just from the one day
of observation, so far I see students in Miss XXXX class are just
like students in every class I have ever been in or observed.”
This commentary revealed the pre-service teachers who at-
tended mostly rural schools prior to college had adopted a posi-
tive position toward cultural diversity in urban schools. Further,
analysis of the reflective writings suggested this new awareness
may have heightened their consideration of teaching in an ur-
ban setting. These writings asserted.
Changes in Attitudes towards Teaching in an Urban
“I am now seriously considering teaching in an urban setting.
I have fallen in love with the children; plus it is refreshing to be
around people who are different than me. It reminds me what a
big world we live in and all of the things I still have to learn.”
“I see myself now loving urban schools more than any other
district because I feel I can make the most impact there.”
“··· I now think it would be a great experience to work in an
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 41
“Knowing what I know now I would be more than willing to
work in an urban setting.”
“I see myself now as not being apprehensive about one day
teaching in an urban environment.”
The altered perceptions described earlier coincided with re-
flective writings composed during the third week of field ex-
perience. Field experience was implemented in week six of the
fifteen week semester.
In order to corroborate the researchers’ initial results of the
study, participants were debriefed on the findings. During this
process, the pre-service teachers indicated that the field experi-
ence and support group discussions were most critical in facili-
tating changes in attitudes and beliefs towards culturally diverse
urban schools. A support group in this case is defined as indi-
viduals who encourage a person’s growth through listening to
him or her, helping him or her process and make sense of rele-
vant information and/or experiences, questioning or challenging
the person’s words/or actions as a means of pushing him or her
to think more deeply, and sometimes expanding the person’s
knowledge or awareness by providing additional information
when needed (Garmon, 2004, Fry & McKinney, 1997).
Throughout the semester, time was allocated each class meeting
to discuss readings, group activities, field experiences and other
Surprisingly, in a subsequent debriefing held before the last
class meeting, the researcher discovered that some students
who are all white may not have fully grasped how one’s cul-
tural identity influences access or denial to opportunities. This
was especially striking, given the length and depth of discus-
sions and course content covered on race and privilege. This
inclination was supported by a spirited exchange on “white
privilege” between two students. One student commented, “···
everyone has the same equal opportunity for education, as long
as they have the desire and motivation to learn”. The other
student’s response admonished this position. Her thoughts were
later captured in a reflective paper. She wrote, “I don’t typically
speak my mind the way I did the other day in class. I wouldn’t
want to upset anyone, but when XXX mentioned that everyone
has the same opportunities in America, I knew he was mistaken.
The only way that I felt I could get my point across was to ask
him to think about if he would want to be an African American.
I said that I knew I wouldn’t. That may seem like a bold state-
ment but I kept thinking about what I had just read. The article
is entitled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
by Peggy McIntosh. She talks about how easy it is to be a white
person, the things that we don’t have to think about. A couple
of statements that stood out to me were; that I could move just
about anywhere and be sure that white people would live there
too and that I could be sure that when I turned on the television
that the white race would be represented.
I grew up at a time when it was extremely unusual to see
anyone other than the white man in charge. Everywhere I
looked my race was represented; the presidents, the history
books, the television shows, the news anchors, the magazines,
the billionaires, the senators, the teachers, the doctors, the toys,
the actors, and I could go on and on. I wonder how I would feel
if my skin would have been a different color. What effe ct would
that have had on me and how would my attitude be different?
I know things have changed and will continue to change so
that we will see more people of color represented in a positive
light. I still don’t think I would want to be anything other than
white because life is hard enough. We are always trying to
prove ourselves and why would I want the color of my skin to
be one more thing that people judged me on?”
Although research findings supported by debriefings indi-
cated that attitudes and beliefs had been altered in a positive
manner towards culturally diverse urban schools, the formen-
tioned exchange between the two students might imply some
pre-service teachers enrolled in the course were unable to com-
prehend or simply rejected the notion that sociocultural struc-
tures hinder access to resources essential to academic achieve-
ment (Howard, 2008; Conchas, 2006; Ladson-Billings, 2001;
Nieto, 2005); while others in the course may have engendered a
growing awareness of social inequities as they begin to con-
struct a nascent understanding of their privileged social position
Discussion and Recommendations
Many researchers have explored ways in which teacher edu-
cation programs can foster positive change in attitudes and
beliefs toward cultural diversity, specifically through field-
based experiences and university coursework (Castro, 2010;
Bell, Horn, & Roxas, 2007; Conway, Browning, & Purdum-
Cassidy, 2007; Causey, Thomas, & Armento, 2000). The re-
sults of this study have shown urban field experiences com-
bined with coursework and guided discussions will have posi-
tive effects on pre-service teacher’s attitudes and beliefs to-
wards culturally diverse urban schools. Given the ever chang-
ing demographics in all schools, it is critical that teacher educa-
tion programs give special consideration on ways to expose
pre-service teachers to field experiences in diverse classroom
settings, where pre-service teachers can have numerous oppor-
tunities to reflect upon and discuss cultural perceptions which
contribute to an inclusive, tolerant, and expanded knowledge
base (Terrill & Mark, 2000) which undergirds the success of
each and every child. However, these recommended practices
must move beyond a single course. A one-time only multicul-
tural education course may not lend itself to the development of
dispositions in pre-service teachers which are aligned with a
recognitive view of social justice (Allantyne & Mills, 2008).
Therefore, it is critical that multicultural education principles
and ideas be introduced and developed across an entire prepara-
tion program, not just added as one component (Chisholm,
The results of this study must be considered in the context of
its limitations. First, the research consisted of only 26 students.
Therefore, research findings have limited generalizations. Sec-
ond, the researcher acknowledges that students’ entering atti-
tudes and beliefs serve as filters for what they learn. This study
did not examine experiential cultural factors which may have
influenced the research participants’ dispositions towards cul-
tural differences prior to entering the course. As such, tentative
assertions can only be made about the degree of influence ex-
periential experiences incorporated in the multicultural educa-
tion course had on the development of positive attitudes and
beliefs towards cultural diversity.
Similar to Garmon’s research (2004), this study revealed that
participation in a provision of early, ample, and carefully sup-
ported fieldwork in urban schools and support group experi-
ences (i.e. class discussions) contributes to the development of
attitudes and beliefs which support multicultural awareness and
sensitivity. Hopefully, these attitudinal changes will be re-
flected in pedagogical practices which support equity in schools
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
and ultimately, high academic achievement for all students
(Grant & Sleeter, 2007; Banks, 2006; Garmon, 2004; Gay,
2000; Ladson-Billings, 1992,). Though not conclusive, this
research also suggested field experiences in culturally diverse
settings affect the career expectations of pre-service teachers by
heightening their consideration of teaching in an urban setting.
Again, this finding speaks to the importance of establishing and
maintaining relationships between urban schools and teacher
education programs. By doing so, future educators will be bet-
ter positioned to create culturally responsive and “socially just”
classrooms which are evidenced by rigorous subject matter,
differentiated pedagogy, an ethic of care, equitable inclusion,
and social action pedagogy whereby teaching encourages the
development of democratic citizens who understand and engage
social issues (Kose, 2007; Banks, 2006). However, in order to
promote these highly desirable pedagogical practices, positive
attitudes and beliefs towards diversity must be deemed as an
important outcome of teacher education programs. Therefore, it
is imperative that teacher education programs develop student
assessment plans which incorporate rubrics that define what
culturally responsive practice is and include ways to measure
students’ progress toward those goals over the course of the
program (Dee & Henkin, 2002). Otherwise, pre-service teach-
ers may not view multicultural education as a vital aspect of
personal and professional development (Groulx, 2001; Chis-
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