Book Review: Internationalizing Teacher Education for Social Justice

By Sydney Merz

Internationalizing Teacher Education for Social Justice: Theory, Research, and Practice
Edited by Suniti Sharma, JoAnn Phillion, Jubin Rahatzad, and Hannah L. Sasser
Charlotte, NC:  Information Age Publishing, Inc., 2014
ISBN 978-1-62396-604-1 PB $45.99; HB, $85.99
198 pages

This edited book contains a preface, series forward, editorial introduction, 10 chapters, and final section that details information about the authors and editors. 

Internationalizing Teacher Education for Social Justice: Theory, Research, and Practice brings together multiple researchers in teacher education to intersect research dimensions of international and/or cross-cultural experiences, teacher education, and social justice, including some well-known scholars in these fields (such as Kenneth Cushner, Barbara Garii and Laura Stachowski).  Additionally, the editors house the work through the authors’ commitment of personal, passionate and participatory inquiry to create educational change.  This inquiry, as stated by the by Ming Fan He and Joann Phillion in the series forward,  “thrives on the researcher’s passionate involvement, strong commitment, and unfaltering advocacy for disenfranchised, underrepresented, and invisible individuals and groups” (p. xv). 

The book is divided into three main sections.  The first section, Theoretical Perspectives and Strategic Practices From the United States, provides four research-based chapters that explore international student teaching experiences as an avenue for internationalizing teacher education for social justice.  The first three chapters discuss research with fairly small samples of either pre-service teachers or graduate students, most of whom are white females who participate in short-term international programs.  Despite the limited time spent abroad, the researchers, especially Encarna Rodríguez, address the complexity of the social and political structures that shape how people live, and how international experiences can help preservice teachers transform their understanding of self and their future students.  Concluding this section is Olga Shonia and Stachowski’s analysis of their Overseas Project, an 8-week student teaching abroad program.  Using an 18-item survey, Shonia and Stachowski reached out to their former participants over a 20-year span to investigate the impact of the Overseas Project on participants.  Their results resemble other findings from cross-cultural research, in that international experiences are very transformative for participants and continue to play an important role in their lives whether or not they pursue classroom teaching.  Shonia and Stachowski, however, also emphasize the importance of such experiences being more of a process rather than an outcome, and recommend that teacher policies and accreditation organizations seriously consider international experiences as part of the student-teaching process.

Section II, International Perspectives on Transnational, Intercultural, and Intranational Theories and Practices, continues with three chapters taking a reflective stance on internationalizing teacher education.  In Chapter 5, Sheila Trahar writes about her authoethnographic study as she questions her practices as a British woman teaching in post-colonial higher education in Hong Kong.  Exploring her identity, role, and the ways in which her teacher education practices interplay within post-colonial contexts, she discusses her challenges of teaching in a setting that she declares, “is a social justice issue” (p. 92).  She asks teacher educators to continually reflect on their identities in today’s higher education classrooms. In Chapter 6, Roopa Desai Trilokekar and Zainab Kizilbash’s study focuses on one Afro-Canadian female’s three-week experience in China. Trilokekar and Kizilbash confront the traditional intercultural competence discourse by arguing that it is misleading to believe that intercultural competence can truly be an outcome of understanding oneself and others through an international experience. The authors challenge various assumptions when it comes to understanding self, others, and the process of self-other relations.  Finally, in Chapter 7, Candace Schlein highlights an experienced Canadian educator who has taught with diverse cultures in different countries, and how these experiences have grounded her in intercultural and socially just teaching practices. 

Section III, Mapping Global Competencies from Theory and Research to Transformative Class Room Practice, begins with Cushner focusing on development appropriate strategies and resources to promote intercultural growth and learning for preservice teachers in Chapter 8. He also suggests that teacher educators should expand their own intercultural growth as well. In Chapter 9, Garii explores her own research relationships with Cuban counterparts as a way to discuss how we should consider unpacking our assumptions of social justice and education practices.  By questioning our assumptions of these topics, we come to acknowledge that these same words and their meanings may be different in other contexts due to political and culture differences.  In Chapter 10, Sharma concludes the book by examining her own experiences in study abroad through her identity as a “third world feminist teacher educator.”  Over her explorations of her experiences, Sharma draws upon Gloria Anzaldúan's notions of crossing borders, building bridges, and raising consciousness to understand identity, difference, and the ability to operate in the third space.  Such concepts are an avenue that is “critical to transforming the student learning experience in teacher development.”  Sharma insists that internationalizing teacher education through study abroad by using Anzaldúan concepts can disturb teacher beliefs, pedagogies, epistemologies, and methods that are part of the dominant discourse.  Though she looks through her own experiences as a research assistant and teacher educator in one Honduras Study Abroad program, she sheds light on new way to expand and question the dominant discourse by being disruptive, similar to Margaret Wheatley’s concept of being disturbed in order to make sense of how others see the world.

Collectively, the edited chapters in this book provide an insight of what is being done in mostly in western contexts to internationalize teacher education by providing international experiences and intercultural curricula for Western preservice teachers. In the chapters discussing international experiences, the authors find the experiences to be transformative for their preservice teachers, though Trilokekar and Kizilbash caution teacher educators not to use intercultural competence as an outcome for such experiences as it “does not promote learning about self-other relations” (p. 113) in the manner we think it should.  Additionally, Shonia and Stachowski, Cushner, Garii, and Sharma remind us that these experiences, though sometimes brief, are more about facilitating a long-term process of growth rather than focusing the immediate outcomes after the experience, as these experiences can continue be transformative as time passes.

While the book provides great insight, it fails to define international education and social justice, leaving us to assume a common understanding of the terms.  However, scholars and researchers from around the world have struggled to commonly define international education as it continually has taken on multiple meanings (see, for example, research from M.C. Heyden and J.J. Thompson, Jack Levy, Terry Haywood, Ian Hill, and Nicholas Tate).  Likewise, international education may not only mean crossing international borders.  Beverley Shaklee and Supriya Baily remind us that the global is local just as the local is global. While there is no doubt that some change may come from immersing oneself in the unknown outside of own one’s borders, it must be considered what also can be done within the borders to create such opportunities and access for those who do not have the means to leave their country.

Similarly, the term social justice is not easily defined and takes upon different meanings within different contexts. Sharon Gewirtz has called upon researchers in the field of social justice to be cautious in making assumptions of what social justice may or may not be, similar to Garii’s remarks in her chapter.  Gewirtz does not argue that there should be a distinctive definition that encompasses all disciplines, but encourages individuals to think critically and reflect upon what theories or ingredients of social justice are guiding our research.

However, in today’s globalized framework, social justice concepts move beyond nations, and transcend international borders as people are more transient than ever. Thus, according to Michael Novak, is social justice a “virtue, and attribute of individuals…and the first virtue of democracy” oroverall fairness of a society in its divisions of rewards and burdens”? Does it include Amartya Sen’s idea that individual freedom is a social product, where a two-way relationship occurs through “social arrangements to expand individual freedom and the use of individual freedom not only to improve the respective lives but also to make the social arrangements more appropriate and effective”?  It is critical to look at what social institutions provide for the means for social justice and not assume we are all on the same page, as Trahar and Garii remind us so eloquently in this book.

Finally, this book collects much evidence to provide white preservice teachers opportunities to explore the “other.” Though white, middle class females comprise a majority of teachers in the western context, as teacher educators we must provide socially just and internationalized experiences for all those in preservice teaching programs.  If we teach to the majority, then we are not reaching to all our students and not modeling what we are promoting as good practice..  In this book, Cushner as well as Trahar emphasize the importance of teacher educators understanding themselves in their practice as well as creating rapport with all their students. Though not explicitly addressed in this book, as teacher educators we do want to expand our preservice teachers to push their beliefs about others, but we must be cautious that we are not only directing it for the dominant race, culture, socioeconomic status, and/or language.