teaching diverse students
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Ensuring the Success of Latino Males in Higher Education: A National Imperative
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Why do so few Hispanic males enroll in and graduate from institutions of higher learning? Why are Latinas, by contrast, enjoying so much more success than Latinos? Moreover, why is there a dearth of research addressing these questions? This book, which includes twelve chapters written by leading Latin@ scholars, addresses these questions with the goal of broadening readers’ contextual understanding, deepening their comprehension of the specific challenges faced by Hispanic males in higher education, and securing their commitment to Latino success.
The book’s contributors adroitly explore the complex challenges that Latino males face in the context of American society and higher education. The book’s first two chapters discuss many of the socio-economic factors contributing to the current Latino “crisis” in higher education. They carefully examine the Hispanic gender gap and the ways in which it is manifested along the educational pipeline, alternate life pathways for Latino males (such as military, low-paying labor, prison), and factors that frequently hinder Latinos from enrolling in college (such as lack of financial aid literacy and inadequate academic preparation).
Multiple chapters investigate key cultural factors that significantly impact Latino experiences in higher education. Chapters Four, Five, and Eleven, for example, focus on Latino identity and intersectionality, probing complicated issues (for example, relationships between caballerismo, Latino persistence, and high attrition rates) and introducing humanizing nuances (such as the Latino male privilege paradox). Chapters Two, Seven, Eight, and Nine pose critical questions about the role that familismo plays in hindering and promoting Latino academic success. Those chapters also address other relevant topics such as the unique features of Mexican sub-culture and various forms of Latin@ cultural wealth.
The final section of the book calls on academics to more thoroughly research the crisis pertaining to Latinos in higher education. Chapter Ten describes research on college administrators’ levels of awareness about the challenges faced by Latinos in academia. Their findings, namely that administrators’ awareness not only varied widely, but also that some administrators resisted acknowledging problem areas altogether, underscore the urgent need for more research. Chapter Eleven suggests that studies which compare and contrast the experiences of Latinos and Latinas might yield much fruit, while the authors of Chapter Twelve advocate for a strengths-based, data rich, interdisciplinary approach to research on Latinos, an approach which is successfully modelled throughout the book.
In conclusion, educational leaders and researchers are sure to find this book – and especially the new research that it presents – a valuable and generative resource. The book’s contributors helpfully shift the research focus from Latino students’ resiliency and deficits to exploration of the social and cultural factors that shape their educational experiences. While the authors do not offer many substantive recommendations for educational programming and practice or directly address issues pertaining to Latinos in graduate education, they do make a strong case for “ensuring that the success of Latino males in higher education” becomes a national imperative. After reading the book, one also hopes that educators will wholeheartedly embrace Latino success as a moral imperative.
Religious Socialization and Development of Islamic Youth in Germany and in Turkey: Empirical Analysis and Religious Education Challenges
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
With the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis quite literally fanning the flames of Islamophobia across Europe, Adem Aygün’s well-written and meticulously researched book makes for trenchant reading on the state of Islamic religious education for Muslim minorities in Germany. While Aygün’s particular focus is on Islamic youth in Turkey and among Turkish immigrants in Germany, the book raises questions about Islamic religious pedagogy that have larger, E.U.-wide implications, namely through its challenge to both how non-Christian religion is taught (or not) by the secular apparatuses of European universities and secondary schools, and the pedagogical methods for learning theology that are intrinsic to immigrant Muslim communities in a European country like Germany.
The book will interest anyone who works on or with the models of faith development as pioneered by the American theologian James W. Fowler (1940-2015); as Aygün rightfully notes, Religious Socialization constitutes one of the first attempts to bring Fowler’s influential step-models to a non-Christian context (183), using Fowler’s “stages of faith” to frame how Muslim youth in Germany and Turkey see themselves in relationship to their religion and the larger, social world. This book is important reading for scholars who work on the state of theological education in Europe, particularly when it comes to non-Christian religions.
Fowler, like William James long before him, decoupled belief from catechism or creed, and relocated it (via a developmental psychology derived from Piaget) in the personal experiences of the self. Some of the fundamental characteristics of Fowler’s hierarchical categories of faith development – such as self-realization, and the acceptance of complexity and diversity – are indubitably imprinted by the liberal Protestantism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and it could be said that Fowler’s project was as much a (biased) theological one as it was objectively psychological, or sociological. Aygün’s book, thus, begins by posing a fascinating methodological problem: can Fowler’s typologies, tinged as they are with their echoes of Paul Tillich and H. Richard Niebuhr, even fit a non-Christian setting, where the relationship between the self, God, and the world ostensibly seems to have a fundamentally different kind of constellation?
Aygün’s book is part sociological – his seventy in-depth interviews with Islamic youth from the bulk of the empirical chapters of the work – but also part theological, and the first chapters offer illuminating close readings of the Koran and the Islamic concept of Fitrah to demonstrate (in answer to this question) how critical thinking and self-reflexivity are arguably at the very core of Muslim faith. Reading Islamic theology through Fowler’s models, Aygün deftly argues, illuminates how Islamic traditions are more than adequately equipped with the kinds of theological tools necessary for grappling with the individual’s place in modernity, and the successful integration of the self’s belief with all the complexities of the global world (Fowler’s last, and highest, stage of development being the “universalizing faith” of a Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr.).
The empirical portion of Religious Socialization that presents and reflects on the results of Aygün’s extensive interviews provides some surprising juxtapositions between Turkish Muslims living in Germany and their peers in Turkey. Because of the lack of Islamic institutional apparatuses for Muslim migrants in Germany, the teaching and learning about the Koran has strengthened the family as the critical locus for value-building and faith formation, whereas Turkey’s complex and dense history of state secularization and religious politics has meant that Turkish youth have consistently had a much broader and more diverse exposure to the kinds of the theological education necessary for progressive faith development: the net effect being that religious belief among Turkish youth is “easily on average higher” on Fowler’s scale than it is for youth in Germany (183).
A fascinating observation is offered by Aygün here, that the ad hoc system of immigrant mosque education that developed in Germany in the seventies and eighties (54-55) has meant that the mosque as a site of faith-formation plays a much more significant role than it effectively does in Turkey. Regrettably, Aygün notes, the dominant pedagogy offered in these German mosques remains a kind of medieval formalism that focuses on catechismal recitations, often at the expense of developing critical thinking and self-reflection. Ultimately, this kind of “imprisoning of the individual into traditional ways of thinking” (193) has hurt the viability of Islam as a public religion, as it loses its functionality within the pluralizing contexts of the E.U.
Aygün is not simply casting stones: the book is a strong, pragmatic call for the German (and by extension, European) university and school systems to better integrate Islamic theological education into their curriculums, and thereby inculcate the kind of reflective and dynamic forms of belief that espouse the cosmopolitan values as present in the higher levels of Fowler’s scaled categories of faith development. Such an institutionalized religious pedagogy could help undo stereotypical prejudices against Islam (all the more resurgent now than at the time of Aygün’s original writing), aid in the coexistence of different religions, and even potentially benefit Turkey’s attempts to join the E.U. (197).
There is, to date, very little of such institutionalization in place. The recently established partnership between the universities of Frankfurt and Gießen for a Center for Islamic Studies with a special emphasis on teaching (Religionslehrer) is one positive sign of development in this direction (and Aygün is now teaching at Gießen as a professor for Islamic theology and religious education). Given the extraordinary inflow of Islamic refugees into Germany over the last ten months alone – at least 800,000, by conservative estimates – more such university initiatives are urgently needed, both for the state of European inter- and intra-religious education, and perhaps for the fate of the E.U. itself, with its still laudable, if utopic, commitment to a pluralistic open society.
After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Professors of religion and religious studies may find a familiar link between this edited volume and aspects of their personal academic journey, especially if they are on the tenure track. Both represent texts that involve self-reflection and can embody intellectual wrestling. Most significant for this review: the former also offers tools for rethinking the World Religions Paradigm (WRP) that can challenge pedagogical strategies considered the norm of today and tomorrow. After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies represents a methodologically rigorous way to create a classroom that cements the study of religion as an integral component of both undergraduate and graduate study.
The twelve chapters in the volume – spread across three sections – are individually and collectively thought-provoking and intriguing essays. While I acquired the text for potential course adoption in my liberal arts undergraduate methods course, my engagement with the international cast of scholars (from the UK, Australia, Canada, Finland, and the U.S.) confirmed the importance of this work for professors of what might still be considered “world religions” as we strive to help our students “make sense of our world” (186).
One of the more teachable moments was delivered by Teemu Taira. In “Doing things with ‘religion,’” Taira sets out to “instigate an exploration of how something came to be understood and classified as ‘religion’ and why,” as it simultaneously questions the inclusion and exclusion of traditions such as Confucianism, Shintoism, and Scientology (84). For example, the formation of Confucianism as a religion is connected with Western scholarship. Yet it “was regarded as a religion in China in 1949,” until the Communists took power in China when they “established the current system in which only Buddhism, Daoism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam are considered as religions” (86, 85).
Michel Desjardins provides another significant moment of illumination with “The Desjardins Diet for World Religions Paradigm Loss.” In a post-presidential-election season during which many Americans are threatening to emigrate to Canada, it seemed apropos to gain new insight from a classroom on our shared northern borders. It was easy to be hooked by the chapter’s focus on food and religion as the sole doorway to an introduction to religion seminar. Not only does Desjardins employ his own qualitative research, but he also challenges readers to reimage food – and, thereby, create “more nuanced views of religion” – “as a rich site for examining human nature” (124, 123).
Additionally, useful resources are either embedded within the chapters (such as difficult to locate work on Sikhism) or as part of the references with which each ends. The “Afterward” by Russell McCutcheon, a stalwart in the field, concludes the work with a compelling goal: “If what we’re teaching these diverse students in our World Religions courses is not just the names and dates that these students are probably focused on, but, instead, subtly demonstrating to them how scholarship happens,” then we are more likely to teach skills “that are useful in unanticipated settings.” Who among us doesn’t yearn to accomplish that!
The Intercultural Dialogue: Preparing Teachers for Diversity
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Changing demographics in Norway offer new challenges and great opportunities for the field of education. Today Norwegians find themselves living in an interconnected world where the individual that one might consider to be “strange” because of cultural differences is no longer someone that is only viewed from a distance. In many cases, yesterday’s stranger is now one’s next door neighbor or cohort in the classroom (5). How should an instructor approach cultural differences that exist between teacher and student? How does he or she navigate cultural differences between students? These are among the issues that are carefully examined in The Intercultural Dialogue: Preparing Teachers for Diversity.
Chapter One introduces readers to the concept of intercultural dialogue (ID). At its core, ID is a constructive and positive interaction between persons or groups which are culturally different from each other (12). One of the central reasons for educators to embrace ID is the need to alter the dominance of monocultural education that exists in many European countries (16).
Chapter Two considers ID from a transcultural perspective. A transcultural (as distinguished from a multicultural) perspective is one which seeks to articulate today’s contemporary and altered cultural constitution, thus abandoning conventional views of cultural formations that are no longer viable (13-14). Chapter Three identifies some of the fundamental features of religion including transreligiosity, and discusses the centrality of religion in culture (53). In Chapter Four we find a selection of influential theoretical perspectives on communicative interaction which are offered as frameworks for the understanding of dialogue (69). Next the author examines the Norwegian government’s curriculum framework for teacher education and cites the preconditions for ID in the context of cultural diversity educational policies (109). In Chapter Six, readers discover that ID is most effective because of its unsettled and vulnerable qualities. For an intercultural dialogue to emerge, instability and uncertainty must be part of one’s understanding of ID because “the power of dialogue is located in its weakness”(136).
For this reviewer Skrefsrud’s closing references to the dichotomy between power and weakness evoke images of Christian scripture. There is a core Biblical passage wherein the apostle Paul reflects upon a life-changing encounter between himself and Jesus Christ. The text speaks of the redemptive and often paradoxical power of God’s grace. In the midst of Paul’s affliction Christ provides words of comfort: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul is therefore encouraged to embrace his hardship rather than reject it when he states, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:7-10 [NKJV]). I submit that it is Skrefsrud who prophetically wades into the often turbulent waters of cultural diversity and offers his own words of grace for today’s educators.
Some readers will be challenged to embrace a new paradigm for educating both present and future teachers. It is no longer adequate for teachers to develop and maintain academic proficiency alone; Educators must also receive training to become interculturally competent (11). Skrefsrud implores educators to reject the adoption of cultural stereotypes and instead model behaviors that convey a sense of authentic respect for those students who are culturally different. A pedagogy that is aware of what it really means to have an affirming view of students’ complex backgrounds is thus a pedagogy that all students will benefit from (5).
Despite its European roots, the underlying message of this book will resonate with many American educators because of our respective experiences of difficulties coping with racial and cultural pluralism. It is well documented that the American educational system, like Norway’s, has not always responded to diversity in positive or constructive ways. We are reminded that the forced enslavement of Africans and African-Americans in the U.S. began around 1619 and ended in 1865. But the sting of xenophobia in many American schools did not stop there.
For almost ninety years following the abolition of slavery, America continued to embrace state-sanctioned racial segregation and cultural hegemony in public education. In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the notion that “separate but equal” schools were not only legally permissible but socially desirable (see Plessy v. Ferguson  163 U.S. 537). “Separate but equal” segregated schools remained lawfully in existence until 1954 when the Supreme Court finally proclaimed that every individual, regardless of race, is entitled to equal protection under the law. In short, “separate but equal” is inherently unequal and therefore unconstitutional (see Brown v. Board of Education  347 U.S. 483). While Skrefsrud makes no direct reference to the issue of race in America, I think it is fair to assume that he was in some measure influenced by this nation’s story.
The Intercultural Dialogue also serves to remind us that culture strongly influences the political landscape. America recently elected its 45th President of the United States. The 2016 presidential campaign was punctuated by heated rhetoric concerning U.S. immigration policy. One candidate rose to prominence by advocating “building a wall” to separate the American border with Mexico, and endorsing the imposition of a temporary ban on the immigration of any Muslim into the U.S. These initiatives were proposed under the campaign banner “Make America Great Again.” Some commentators believed that these ideas reflected an intense desire to draw a bright line of demarcation between so-called traditional American cultural values and the cultures and ethnic groups that the candidate found to be alien and therefore socially inferior.
In contrast, Skrefsrud advocates in favor of extending respect and preserving the dignity of those immigrants who are culturally different:
The hermeneutical challenge is therefore to maintain the fact that an understanding of the stranger and the strange actually is possible, while at the same time recognize and respect the stranger as the other….The challenge is to approach otherness in a way that allows for distance and closeness at the same time. (49)
If questioned about America’s immigration debate, Skrefsrud would likely reject the propositions highlighted above as intellectually unsound, unworkable, and antithetical to prevailing Western notions of democracy and social justice.
The broad concept of “preparing teachers for diversity,” especially with respect to college professors, has already been met with some resistance. There are American educators who raise legitimate concerns about (a) the extent to which multiculturalism and cultural awareness impact one’s ability to effectively teach adults, and (b) whether college educators will be asked to alter or adjust their thinking and behavior as they interact with students whose cultural identities differ from theirs. Others may question whether ID is perhaps yet another “political correctness” educational policy initiative that may be incompatible with the instructor’s personal views.
Skrefsrud anticipates criticism by offering a cogent rationale for his thesis. Norway, like America, is no longer a static cultural melting pot. It is now a crucible, that is, a dynamic situation involving “culturally other” immigrants in which concentrated and sometimes volatile forces interact to cause or influence change. The arcane notion that immigrants to the United States must completely purge themselves of their cultural identities, and by assimilation adopt the majority’s dominant cultural norms, is simply no longer workable (38-39; 138). In the spirit of King, Gandhi, Mandela, and others, Skrefsrud joins the call for people of goodwill to move beyond mere tolerance of those who are culturally different. Toleration, like accommodation, is beneficial but ultimately inadequate. We must elevate our sights to higher ground which seeks mutual respect, authenticity, and understanding.
An average book informs but an outstanding book sparks self-reflection and may even compel the reader to act in new and bold ways. The Intercultural Dialogue: Preparing Teachers for Diversity is an outstanding read that I recommend for any educator or educational policy-maker. The analysis offered by Skrefsrud has the potential to move educational discourse a significant step closer towards the day when all humanity realizes a beloved world community.
During my three years as a student at Chongshin Theological Seminary in Seoul, Korea, I never heard a single discussion related to diversity. The student body was roughly 90% male. Every student and faculty member was a member of the Korean Presbyterian Church, and engaged in some sort of church ministry. ...