Social Justice has long played a pivotal role in the mission of Occidental College. A telling interchange occurred at the spring TEAB (Teacher Education Advisory Board) between President Veitch and Desiree Vargas, principal of Rockland Elementary School. She commented on Occidental’s commitment to social justice, and President Veitch asked her how she defined that sometimes nebulous term. Her definition of social justice matched most people’s definition of good teaching. It includes concepts like making sure all students are given the opportunity to learn, believing that all students can learn, and teaching to all ability levels.
The concept of differentiation of instruction is a hot-button topic in education now. With the increasing numbers of special needs students in the mainstream classroom, and the preference for inclusion, teachers are needing tools to address the disparate needs found in every classroom. The skills needed to teach the special education student, the English language learners and the gifted, along with the wide spectrum of ability levels are of critical importance in today’s classroom.
In addition, Oxy’s commitment to diversity and service to the local community, makes it an ideal laboratory to train teachers to teach students from a wide range of ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds.
Linda Darling-Hammond, in Powerful Teacher Education Programs ( p. 223) makes this case for differentiation of instruction as a tool to combat social injustice.“Explicit preparation for teaching diverse learners represents an important advance in the field of teacher education. For some time, research on teaching in urban schools has suggested that, as a result of some teachers’ limited skills and the belief that their students are not capable of learning to a high level, many low-income and minority students receive a steady diet of low-level material coupled with unstimulating, rote-oriented teaching…Program efforts also, of course, include development of teaching strategies and skills that can be successful with a wide range of learners, because without such skills any belief that”all children can learn” soon devolves into little more than rhetoric.”
She continues on p. 334 with, “It is no exaggeration to say that our nation is at a crossroads. We are currently developing a sharply bimodal teaching force, just at a time when the crucial importance of teacher quality has been recognized. Some children are gaining access to teachers who are more qualified and better prepared than in years past, but a growing number of poor and minority children are being taught by teachers who lack training and are sorely unprepared for the task they face. This will turn the cracks into which many children fall into chasms, despite the apparent drive to raise standards.”
James Banks, known as the father of multicultural education, calls this process “equity pedagogy.” He defines it as deliberate “teaching of strategies and designing of classroom environments to help students from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural groups attain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to function effectively within a democratic society.”(Banks, Summer 1993)