Call for Submissions: Preparing Teachers for Diversity in the Neoliberal and Neoconservative “North”
Unprecedented sociocultural and political changes in recent years have informed a complex transformation of the global landscape of education. Immigration, globalisation, and internationalisation have contributed to redefining educational spaces from kindergarten to higher education (Clandinin & Husu, 2017), playing a critical role in reshaping the traditional classroom. Embodiments of diversity have moved from being occasional to becoming an integral component of the educational experience of teachers and students (Aydin & Kaya, 2017; Miller, 2009), opening social spaces for students’ diverse identities to be enacted and affirmed against traditional discourses of difference as deficit (Alford, 2014; Hogan & Haltinner, 2015). Teacher education continues to struggle with adequately preparing current and future teachers to critically understand, respond to, and teach through and for diversity in a manner that moves beyond superficiality (Howard & Milner, 2021; Wells, 2008). Diversity is a complex construct that embraces culture, language, religion, gender, sex, age, ability, race, and ethnicity (Banks, 2015). Teachers are expected to meet the learning needs of very distinct student groups within the same space (Miller, 2009). The gap between the learning needs of students and the pedagogical practices of teachers remains wide, significantly impacting, in particular, refugee, first and second generation, immigrant, and Indigenous students (Mcduff et al., 2018; Taylor & Sidhu, 2012). While diversity may be becoming more of the norm around the world, challenges remain. We identify and focus on two in the Nordic/Northern contexts: neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism.
Neo-conservative groups tend to construe diversity as a threat to political and social stability, framing it negatively as interfering with the vision of one nation-people-language (Nowicka, 2018; Perry & Scrivens, 2019). Such ideologies have had a direct impact on education when it comes to the inclusion, well-being, and sense of belonging of students and teachers of diverse and minoritized backgrounds (Shirazi & Jaffe-Walter, 2021). Diversity in education is also being undermined by neoliberal policies and discourses, which appropriate diversity for marketing purposes in ways that benefit institutions, rather than actually confronting and changing “racial and other forms of inequalities that exist in our social system” (Kubota, 2015, p. 9). The neoliberal imperative to compete and produce results globally has also challenged the vision of “a school for all” (Blossing et al., 2014). As in many parts of the world, Nordic education has experienced a standardization of education, driven by neo-liberal and neo-conservative politicians and educational reformers. International comparisons and the assessment of educational outcomes through standardized tests have now become popular (Biesta, 2020; Kvernbekk, 2018).
Despite variations among them, the Nordic countries – Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, along with their territories— are often viewed as a group of nations with parallel historical and political developments towards the well-functioning welfare state. As noted by Imsen et al. (2016), the Nordic countries have supported education as a public good and promoted a socially inclusive model, utilizing it as a deliberate means to support egalitarian values and social justice (see also Blossing et al., 2014). Moreover, education in the Nordic countries is characterized as a public form of ownership — a child-centered pedagogy with ‘inclusive ideals’ although recent political trends, as we discuss below, have begun to challenge these values and practices.
The challenge of raising academic achievement for all students has put diversity high on the educational agenda everywhere, including in the Nordic countries (Darling-Hammond & Lieberman, 2012; OECD, 2014). For example, meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student population is at the forefront of the latest teacher education reforms in Norway in a bid to “qualify teachers that are able to develop school as an institution for social and academic learning in a democratic and diverse society” (Norway Ministry of Education, 2016, p. 1). The latest Finnish national curriculum has changed from a perspective of ‘us’ tolerating ‘them’ to a more critical perspective emphasizing equality, diversity, and social justice for all students (Hummelstedt-Djedou et al., 2018). Teacher education programs in Icelandic universities have emphasized the need to implement culturally responsive teaching in light of the growing immigrant student population (Gunnthórsdóttir & Ragnarsdóttir, 2020). Swedish and Finnish curricula for special needs students have started to move away from a deficit perspective and instead “underline the importance of focusing on the strengths and possibilities of the pupils” (Takala et al., 2019, p. 28).
Despite curricular initiatives, how to approach diversity in the classroom remains a challenge for teacher education in the Nordic context (Cochran-Smith, 2013; Hummelstedt-Djedou et al., 2018). Despite curricular reforms, little seems to have changed in how future teachers are to teach in a rapidly evolving context (Anderstaf et al., 2021). Merely focusing on “what works” may restrict the discussion of what is valuable and necessary in education (Biesta, 2018; Kvernbekk, 2018). Within a standardized education, teachers run the risk of conducting their teaching from an assumed neutral position, which is mostly equivalent with a majority culture perspective. Teacher education in the Nordic context is thus faced with the challenge of enhancing a critical stance against neo-conservatism, neoliberalism and the myth of the neutrality of schools, all of which obscure cultural and linguistic hierarchies, power relations, and other mechanisms that reinforce social inequalities. This special issue is thus motivated by the question: How can teachers resist neo-conservativism and neo-liberalism so as to create more equitable opportunities for all students in their classrooms?
The Nordic context should be seen only as a point of departure, one located in the broader geographical “North,” where these same issues are at work. For instance, in Quebec, Canada, a new language law of large scope recently adopted by the government points to yet another threat to diversity. Bill 96 is intended to “protect” the French language by “limiting the use of English in the courts and public services and imposing tougher language requirements on small businesses and municipalities” (Stevenson, 2022, para. 3). In the domain of education, Bill 96 “caps the number of students who can attend English-language colleges, known as CEGEPs, and increases the number of French courses [which] students at the colleges must take” (paras. 3-4). The bill also directly impacts minorities in the province, such as refugees, who will have “to learn French within six months of arrival, after which they can no longer access services in another language” (para. 15). Indigenous groups in Quebec have also expressed concern over the requirement that their students in English-speaking colleges take mandatory courses in French, imposing an “extra burden” on the students (CBC News, 2022, para. 13), who already face structural obstacles in maintaining their languages in educational contexts. Similar trends can be observed in Alberta, Canada where conservative and entrepreneurial interests have promoted inclusivity while simultaneously neglecting certain groups of students and approaching individual difference as a problem (Gilham & Williamson, 2014). As Gilham (2014) points out, inclusive education in Alberta “is entangled in a long, dark history of exclusion.”
The contemporary state of education in the neoliberal-neoconservative “North” calls for urgent reflection and action: both of undoing and redoing. In this special issue, we ask how teacher education in Nordic/Northern contexts responds to and can resist growing local, national and international neoliberal and neoconservative orientations so as to promote more equitable, socially just opportunities for classroom learning. We welcome theoretical, conceptual, creative, and empirical articles that offer relevant perspectives around the challenges, opportunities, best practices, and lessons learned. We welcome contributions from diverse perspectives and fields in education/teacher education (e.g., language education, religious education, inclusive education, sociology of education, early childhood education, etc.). Collaborative works across contexts, particularly
Canadian perspectives, are also welcomed. We invite articles that can contribute to any of the following thematic strands:
- The impact of neoliberalism and/or neoconservatism on teacher education, such as on the policies, curricula, or the work, beliefs, and identities of teachers and teacher educators;
- The tensions between social justice-oriented multicultural education and neoliberal multicultural education within and across Northern contexts, for instance, in the everyday realities of teachers and teacher educations in light of policy or curriculum changes;
- Local, national, and international “move(ment)s” of resistance against neoliberal influences on teacher education;
- Reimaginations and redefinitions of teacher education for equity, diversity, and social justice through diverse theories, knowledges, and practices.
All articles will be peer-reviewed (double-blind). We also welcome Notes from the Field (which will be reviewed by the editors), proposals for a MJE Forum, for book reviews that are relevant to the special issue, and for Artful Inquiry. All submissions should follow the MJE guidelines (https://mje.mcgill.ca/about/submissions). This includes adhering to the 7th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Only full articles (or other kinds of submissions) will be considered (viz., no abstracts). Submissions must be made through the Journal website and identified for the “Special Issue: Preparing Teachers for Diversity in the Neoliberal and Neoconservative ‘North’”. If you have any questions about the suitability of your submission for the special issue, please contact the guest editors, Vander Tavares (email@example.com) and Thor-André Skrefsrud (firstname.lastname@example.org), directly. For any additional questions or concerns, please contact the MJE Managing Editors (email@example.com).
Please note that submissions are due by August 1st, 2023.
Guest Editorial Team
Vander Tavares (Postdoctoral Researcher) & Thor-André Skrefsrud (Professor)
Faculty of Education, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences (Norwegian: Høgskolen i Innlandet)