Diversity as the new normal and persistent constructions of the immigrant other – Discourses on multicultural education among teacher educators

December, 2021

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 108

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article studies discourses on multicultural education and the subject positions constructed in them by Finnish teacher educators.
Through discourse theory analysis, the authors strive to shed light on what hegemonic order and subject positions are articulated in the discourses on multicultural education among teacher educators.
Their research questions are:
1. What kind of discourses on multicultural education emerge in the teacher educator interviews?
2. What subject positions are enabled for pupils, students, teachers, and teacher educators in the different discourses? Based on their findings, they discuss what still needs to be done so that multicultural education can enable actively moving towards social justice in education.

The data for this study consisted of 14 teacher educator interviews in four different teacher education programmes in different mid-size and big cities of Finland, with three to four interviews per programme.
The teacher education programmes generally included a specific course on multicultural education, but the theme was also included in many other courses (see Hummelstedt-Djedou et al., 2018).
The teacher educators represented different subjects, some having multicultural education as their focus, and for many it was a dimension related to their field of specialisation, such as worldview, foreign languages, or Finnish as a second language.
Overall, this study examined teacher educators, of which a majority were engaged in the subject of multicultural education.
The teacher educators taught at the university, but many were also involved in supervising student teaching practices in the field.
Regarding academic positions, the participants included three university teachers, eight university lecturers (two were leaders of a teacher education programme), two adjunct professors, and one professor.
Their teacher education experience ranged from 2 to 27 years and all except one were female.
The interview guide was created based on critical multicultural education theory and contained 29 questions on the following themes: general view on multicultural education and diversity, multicultural education in one's own teaching, overall experience of and attitudes towards multicultural education in the faculty, reflections on the national curriculum, norms, discrimination and social justice, and challenges and opportunities for multicultural education in the future.
The interviews were conducted at the respective universities and lasted between 42 and 117 min, on average 1 h.
They were recorded and transcribed verbatim.

Results and discussion
The authors present the six discourses that they found in the material, structured by the framework of conservative, liberal and critical multicultural education (Gorski, 2009; McLaren, 1995).
The smallest discourse they found, with 42 articulations, they called Integrating the Multicultural Other and it contributed to conservative multicultural education.
Three discourses with 179 articulations contributed to liberal multicultural education: Diversity as Valuable and Inclusive, Respectful Communication Across Differences, and Developing Self-Reflection.
The articulations (48) of the third liberal discourse, Developing Self-Reflection, bordered on both liberal and critical discourses, but as they contributed more strongly to liberal multicultural education, they included them in that discourse.
Two discourses with 123 articulations contributed to a critical multicultural education: Examining Inequality and Actions for Equality.
Thus, the liberal discourses dominated, and the conservative discourses were a clear minority.
This study indicates that the teaching of multicultural education in Finnish teacher education has taken steps towards social justice.
In the liberal discourses, teacher educators articulated diversity as a richness and a willingness to promote understanding, and respectful communication and relations in multicultural settings (Gorski, 2009).
Many regarded diversity as the new normal and attempted to take it into account in teaching and materials. Several teacher educators aimed to make students' attitudes towards diversity positive, and tried to find the best practices to “touch their hearts” and teach them self-reflection.
The critical discourses emphasised the teachers' responsibility for examining surrounding structures, being sensitive towards pupils’ needs and knowing what actions to take to make equality and participation possible for everybody (Gorski & Dalton, 2019; Nieto, 2018).
Nevertheless, the conservative Integrating the Other discourse, although it represented the minority of the articulations, highlighted challenging areas that need to be addressed to avoid reproducing inequalities in multicultural education.
This discourse contained “racialisation of bodies and subjectivities” (Keskinen & Andreassen, 2017, p. 65), which construct the immigrant and the Finn as essentially different subject positions, with visible ethnic differences or race as the crucial dividing factor.
Racialisation also occurs as a “cultural and discursive construction” (Keskinen & Andreassen, 2017, p. 65) when the immigrant is placed in the limited position of the Other, associated with a static different culture that affects adaptation to Finnish school or society, or in some cases with an explicit threat (Alghasi, 2019; Vuolajarvi, 2014 ).
Focusing solely on the Other in this discourse meant that the role of the teacher educators or teachers and their contribution to social justice was ignored.
The same subject positions of immigrants and Finns were partly maintained in the liberal Diversity as Valuable and Inclusive and Respectful Communication Across Differences discourses, although they emphasised a broader view of diversity.
This makes it difficult for those considered immigrants to attain Finnishness and participate fully in the school community.
Some teacher educators considered racism difficult to talk about, and others explicitly stated it was not discussed enough on courses.
Some considered the presence of non-whites or ethnic diversity in schools something that automatically makes racism a problem of the past.
Racialisation, combined with the downplaying of the problem of racism that can also be seen in the liberal approaches, is a counterproductive approach that contributes to Western and White hegemony and does not support the aim for social justice in multicultural education (Gorski & Dalton, 2019; Nieto, 2018).
Due to the Black Lives Matter movement against police violence towards black people, today, race and racism are discussed more than before in public debates in the Nordic countries (2021).
This makes it even more urgent to discuss these issues in teacher education.
To be able to challenge and deconstruct the limited subject position of the immigrant, teacher educators and students must be aware of racialisation and racism.
This, together with an overall understanding of identity as something dynamic and contextually shifting, could enable more nuanced, hybrid identities and positions, and a Finnishness that is inclusive of all.
The authors consider it important to draw attention to the consequences of the different subject positions in the discourses for preparing teachers to work for social justice.
As mentioned, the conservative discourses, and to some extent also the liberal discourses, neglected the role of the teacher students and teachers in achieving social justice.
The liberal Developing Self-Reflection discourse in turn focused on the teacher student's own reflections on their worldview and prejudices.
The critical discourses constructed teacher students, teachers, and teacher educators as societal agents responsible for examining inequalities and acting for equality in both everyday practices and changing structures (Gorski & Dalton, 2019; Nieto, 2018).
The authors suggest that the conservative and liberal discourses may create a “false sense of preparedness” (Gorski & Dalton, 2019, p. 3) among future teachers for working for equality, either by making them feel prepared to encounter the Other or by making them feel positive about diversity and being self-reflective.
However, without a socio-political perspective that takes surrounding power structures and one's own actions for social justice into account, as in the critical discourses, teachers cannot fully challenge the existing inequalities or promote social justice in the same way as it is advocated by policies such as the national curriculum (Zilliacus et al., 2017).
In addition to developing the practices of multicultural education used in teacher education, the authors agree with what some of the teacher educators raised: in order to construct diversity as something also located inside teacher education, and to avoid the construction of the Others as being located outside in schools, the structural obstacles that prevent more diverse groups of students and teacher educators being part of Finnish teacher education ought to be removed.
For this, the leaders of the teacher education programmes must take responsibility. In addition, collaboration among all teacher educators, regardless of academic positions, would be fruitful for the development of multicultural education in teacher education, as our results indicate that articulations of a critical multicultural education were not related to the teacher educator's position or years of experience.

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Updated: Mar. 13, 2022