Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms
reviewed by Marshall George - 2002
Title: Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms
Author(s): Gloria Ladson-Billings
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: 0787950017, Pages: 192, Year: 2001
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A well-known teacher educator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Gloria Ladsen-Billings, author of The Dreamkeepers (Jossey-Bass, 1997) has again written about the need to prepare pre-service teachers to meet the needs of an ever-growing diverse population in our nation’s public schools. This is a book of stories: stories of the author’s journey as a teacher and teacher educator, and stories of the journeys of a group of her teacher education students. In telling these stories, Ladson-Billings advocates an approach to teaching that focuses on a blending of academics, culture, and social justice.
In Crossing Over to Canaan, Gloria Ladson-Billings describes the experiences of a cohort of eight female teacher education students in the Teach for Diversity (TDF) Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Using a biblical metaphor that compares the struggles of these eight novice teachers to that of Old Testament figure Joshua, the author attempts to chronicle the experiences of these eight young women as they face the challenges of teaching in culturally diverse urban schools. Near the beginning of the book, she suggests that her work is "the story of a subcohort of TFD, not a blueprint for building teacher education programs" (p. 31). Nevertheless, teacher educators who read this book will find useful theories, ideas, and practices related to the preparation of pre-service teachers for culturally diverse schools in America today.
The work presented in this book is the result of a year-long ethnographic research project in which the author examines and tests the TDF teacher education program built on her theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. The research questions that guided her research were stated as the following (p. 144):
She begins the book by asking the question, "Can Anybody Teach These Children?" "These children" refers to the racially, ethnically, linguistically, and culturally diverse students that make up an ever-increasing part of our population in American schools in the twenty-first century. As she interweaves her own story of teaching such children with those of the eight young women in the TDF cohort, Ladson-Billings suggests that in order to teach well, teachers must promote academic achievement, must have cultural competencies, and must achieve sociopolitical consciousness. As the book unfolds, she defines each of these concepts, and suggests indicators of these competencies for both pre-service and in-service teachers. By relating vignettes of the eight TDF students, the author provides examples of how teachers can successfully confront the challenges of teaching diverse students.
This book focuses on a very important issue and provides a solid insight into the complexities of teaching in today’s diverse schools. However, at times the organization of the book is cumbersome, and the extensive details provided are hard to manage. For example, in addition to describing each of the eight women and the settings in which they teach in enormous detail, Ladson-Billings also relates a number of specific incidents occurring with multiple students in these classrooms with meticulous detail. These vignettes are often interwoven with recollections of the author’s own teaching experiences, making it difficult to keep all the "characters" straight at times. Each chapter has several subheadings, with additional sub-subheadings. More than once, I found myself confused by the lack of explicit transition between the multiple sections and subsections within each chapter. Indeed, when I had some of the pre-service teachers with whom I work read the book, they suggested that the organization of the book was difficult to negotiate. One teacher candidate suggested, "I really like what she had to say, but I sometimes found it difficult to get to the "meat" of what she was saying."
Despite the sometimes cumbersome structure of the book, the content is timely and the message right on target. The author suggests in the preface to the book that she writes in three voices—that of teacher, teacher educator, and researcher. I suspect that readers who have experience as all three of these "characters" will find it easier to negotiate the three voices than will the pre-service and in-service teacher-readers. Nevertheless, the lessons Gloria Ladsen-Billings learned through this research and shares in this book are crucial to consider. In the concluding chapter, she suggests the following, all of which are solidly supported in the research she shares in the book (pp. 135-137).
These lessons must be taken seriously by all teacher educators who prepare teachers to work in diverse communities. Therefore, Crossing Over into Canaan is a must-read, especially for those of us who face the challenge of preparing the "Joshuas" of today and tomorrow.
Ladsen-Billings, Gloria. (1997). The Dreamkeepers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.