Promoting American Democracy Through Preservice Teachers' Experiential Learning Activities
A literate society is the very heart of a democracy. Citizens are empowered
by the acquisition of literacy skills that enable them to think critically,
engage in meaningful discourse, and develop effective action plans.
One need look no further than the inspiring life of Paulo Friere, who was
imprisoned because of his efforts to educate the poor through his literacy
campaigns. Friere’s groundbreaking work (1970) documents how a “culture of
silence” created by illiteracy can be fought through instructional methods
that can liberate individuals from exploitative systems.
Education is the catalyst for individual advancement and ongoing development
of a democratic society. While educational equity is a necessity for democratic
goals to be realized, many of our urban schools are woefully inadequate in
providing a quality education for all students.
Dewey’s (1899) assertion that education and democracy are intimately connected
provides the theoretical rationale for this session. He stated that education
should have a purpose for both society and the individual student. The programs
described in this session serve both purposes.
This session will focus on a discussion of two highly successful literacy training
programs for preservice teachers, with course-related, field-based experiential
learning opportunities. Built upon a Constructivist approach to learning,
the academic course components provide a theoretical framework that enhances
the experiential component; subsequent reflection brings theories to life
and helps students apply them to practice.
These programs demonstrate how preservice teachers play a role in igniting
the spark of democracy in tomorrow’s citizens.
This interactive session will begin with a think-pair-share brainstorming
activity focusing on the characteristics of a democratic society. The
participants’ framework, comprised of their joint responses, will be referenced
during the discussion of these and other programs.
Speaker One will discuss the impact of the award winning program, Student
Literacy Corps. Initially funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant
(1990), this course-based tutoring program serves the profound literacy needs
of students in a high-needs district. For most preservice teachers, it is only
through fieldwork that the veil is lifted; they learn firsthand about
educational inequities that exist and become aware of the need for change in a
system that promotes a predestined curtailment of opportunities.
Speaker Two will describe the successful service-learning program connected to
one course: Reading and Writing in Content Areas. Preservice secondary teachers
participating in this middle school-based course provide invaluable tutorial
support through the College’s Reading, Writing, and Study Skills Workshop. It
is through this program that middle schoolers begin to develop an enhanced
sense of self-efficacy and agency, which are critical components of members of
a democratic society. At the same time, preservice teachers develop an
appreciation of the importance of teaching literacy skills across the
curriculum. Qualitative assessments from preservice teachers provide evidence
of these programs' success.
Participants will share other successful models. Sample course and teaching
materials will also be distributed.