Study Investigates Nuances of ‘Closed-Mindedness’ in Preservice Candidates

Have you seen the JTE Insider blog managed by the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) editorial team? Check out the following interview with the authors of a recent article. This blog is available to the public, and AACTE members have free access to the articles themselves in the full JTE archives online–just log in with your AACTE profile here.

The following interview features insights from the authors of the article “Early Childhood Open-Mindedness: An Investigation Into Preservice Teachers’ Capacity to Address Controversial Issues,” published in the March/April 2018 issue of JTE. The article is written by Nazan U. Bautista, Thomas J. Misco, and Stephen J. Quaye, all of Miami University (OH), and is summarized in the following abstract:

We investigated the characteristics of early childhood education (ECE) preservice teachers (PSTs) who were identified as closed minded and their capacity to deal with controversial issues. We define open-mindedness as the willingness to consider experiences, beliefs, values, and perspectives that differ from one’s own. First, we used quantitative surveys to identify PSTs with less open-minded thinking dispositions among those who responded (n = 84). Then, we selected and ultimately interviewed five participants who indicated that their religious views played a significant role in the way they developed their epistemological and ontological views. Interviews suggested that concepts of social justice and the common good were seen as inimical to their core religious beliefs. As such, some respondents avoided these ideas without sufficiently entertaining the complexity involved with their religious beliefs and democratic ideals. This study has numerous implications for the macrocurriculum of teacher education.

The authors reflect on their article and research in this recent interview for the JTE Insider blog:

Q: What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?

A: We found that an increasing number of early childhood education students were holding views that were at times anathema to the mission of our department. In particular, we were concerned with the ways in which students attempted to reconcile fundamentalist religious beliefs with democratic beliefs, including commitments to justice, the common good, and the treating those not like themselves with dignity. We therefore endeavored to explore not the “values” of students but their epistemology as it relates to open-mindedness.

As educators, we were struck by the ways that students seemed to shy away from what they found controversial in the classroom and had very set views on such topics. We expect preservice teachers to develop their professional identities as teachers and come to understand that every student is their student regardless of their ethnic, linguistic, or racial background or sexual preferences. It is their professional responsibility to be open to the diverse ideas and experiences their future students will bring to their classrooms. It is for this reason that we wanted to learn more about this notion of open-mindedness.

Q: How did the three of you come to work on this topic together?

A: Bautista and Misco shared early childhood students (in science and in social studies) and we were at times deeply surprised about what students said in class in response to commonly held beliefs (e.g., evolution, the common good). This prompted us to design the study and seek out Quaye, who is an expert in complicated conversations within higher education.

Q: Were there any specific external events (political, social, economic) that influenced your decision to engage in this research study?

A: Misco and Bautista’s observations of the same group of preservice early childhood teachers’ attitudes and interactions in content methods courses were driving force of this work. We started designing and conducting the study in 2014. Considering the current political climate and how the public discourse, especially in the media, has changed since the 2016 presidential election, the study ended up being a very timely.

Q: What were some difficulties you encountered with the research?

A: Recruitment of the participants was the biggest challenge. We thought that offering incentives for the first 100 people would be a good motivation for the undergraduate students. We noticed that quite a few students gave consent to participate and started answering the questions. However, they stopped answering the questions targeting open-minded belief systems. Similarly, students who reported the most “closed-minded” belief structures in the survey were largely unwilling to be interviewed. We would have very much liked to have chatted with these students.

Given the topic, we wondered if there were times that participants were not as honest with us, in them wanting us to see them as “good” people.

Q: Writing, by necessity, requires leaving certain things on the cutting room floor. What didn’t make it into the article that you want to talk about?

A: We had an additional interview of a participant that we selected because of her high open-mindedness score on the survey. We wanted to know in what ways she was different from her peers who were identified as closed-minded in this study. She did not fit in the argument we made in this paper so her data were excluded.

Q: What current areas of research are you pursuing?

Misco: My latest studies are focused on democratic citizenship education (social studies education) in U.S. colonial contexts. In particular I’m looking at the convergence and divergence of social studies aims and goals within territories compared to the mainland. Most recently I’m employing critical pragmatist and postcolonial lenses in the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico with hopes of securing grant funds to engage in curriculum deliberation to produce culturally relevant social studies curricular standards and performance expectations.

Quaye: I am invested in exploring the topic of racial battle fatigue, that is, the sheer exhaustion that people of color face from continued exposure to racism and racial microaggressions. Racial battle fatigue has deleterious consequences on our mental, emotional, and physical health and well-being. It takes time away from us being able to spend energy on more creative, life-giving activities. I want to understand how Black educators, specifically, work to heal from racial battle fatigue. What strategies do they use and how do they navigate it? This will help those going through similar fatigue to understand what they might do to work through it, knowing that racism is a systemic issue, and thus, cannot be solved simply by arming folks of color with tools.

Bautista: I continue to focus on preservice teacher education with specific focus on open-minded disposition of preservice teachers. More specifically, I investigate the complexities of preparing equity-minded science teachers in early and middle childhood science methods courses, which focus on racial literacy and racism and its impact on racially diverse students.

Q: What new challenges do you see for the field of teacher education?

Bautista: Speaking for the field of STEM teacher education, the biggest challenge is to get all teacher educators to understand that subject matter cannot be taught or learned as isolated from the issues that affect the process of student learning, such as racism. The focus should be on preparing future teachers as agents of social justice to better serve racially, ethnically, linguistically and culturally diverse student populations and economically disadvantaged communities. Accomplishing this mission requires a shift in the way we think we should prepare future teachers.

Q: What advice would you give to new scholars in teacher education?

A: Tradition, authority, and habit often obfuscate real problems and real solutions. By looking at education in cross-cultural contexts we can often reveal new insights for thinking about local problems and issues.

Challenge your assumptions, broaden your perspectives, and be open to new information. Seek out various sources of evidence. Pay attention to and name racism and white supremacy when they manifest.

Tags: , ,