Speaking of Education

What are the current values and assumptions underlying our discipline? Which are explicit and which are hidden? What are their implications for education and training? How do they affect our choice of methods and what we teach? Participants in the upcoming (Sept. 16-19) Education Leadership Conference (ELC) will examine underlying assumptions and issues related to diversity in psychology, and what diversity means for our discipline in its broadest sense. Although there are numerous issues that warrant examination on multiple levels, the focus chosen for this initial effort is reflected in the title: "Dialogues on diversity: Individual, organizational and epistemological."

Perhaps the most important word in the title is dialogue, since the goal is to promote conversation rather than to debate issues, resolve controversies or develop policies. Many of the organizations represented at ELC already spend considerable time at their annual meetings engaged in examination of specific issues and policies; yet there are few mechanisms for dialogue across educational levels and organizations on those topics. The purpose of this conference is to engage our education and training leaders in conversations that exchange perspectives, experiences and beliefs about three kinds of diversity in psychology--individual, organizational and epistemological. Why these three?

Individual, organizational and epistemological diversity

The underpinnings of some of the most divisive issues in psychology stem from epistemological differences that have created different cultures within the discipline. We need to understand our epistemological roots and examine their implications for the creation of knowledge, education and education policy if we are to have any hope of addressing them successfully. At the level of individual diversity, there are multiple issues. Our goals for this conference are to examine some related to the teaching and learning process, to promote an exchange of resources and promising practices, and to facilitate skill development in faculty to host the difficult dialogues required in their roles as teachers, administrators, mentors and supervisors. At the organizational level, we need to understand the diverse groups of education and training organizations that currently exist and their relevance for centripetal/centrifugal forces in the discipline. Moreover, we need to appreciate the importance of interorganizational relationships and the creation of community for psychology education and training if psychology is to reap the benefits of its diversity or to speak on matters of national policy with one voice.

I recently reread a 1995 paper from the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) titled "The Drama of Diversity and Democracy." Although the focus was on the crucial role of higher education in society, I was again impressed with its relevance for psychology and have reformulated some of its major points in terms of our discipline as follows. Of special interest was the citation of John Dewey, the eighth APA president, that lifelong education is essential to the development of "capacities for associated living." In that particular treatise, Dewey was speaking about the role of education in meeting requirements for life in a democratic society. Yet it seems no less true for life within psychology, and for the preparation of future psychologists, to live and work competently in an interdependent, diverse and global society.

The challenge for education of relational pluralism

Similar to that for society, the challenge for psychology is one of relational pluralism, "wherein," according to the AAC&U paper, "we acknowledge, affirm and find strength in our singularities while at the same time maintaining connections with others in intersecting circles of community, large and small. This vision refuses dichotomies. It does not force a choice between assimilative homogenization or balkanized...entities." Education has a crucial role to play in meeting this challenge. The academy has a long history of commitment to intellectual diversity. It has been a gathering place for pluralisms and is a privileged space for the exploration of ideas and the examination of interdependence.

We need to better understand what it means for our discipline to draw on multiple communities that overlap, intersect and, at times, contradict, and the implications of that reality for the design of our educational practices and preparation of future psychologists. We must do more to meet the challenge of educating psychologists for relational pluralism in our discipline and the world. Our efforts to address diversity to date, while important, have often been narrow in terms of recruitment and retention, cultural competence, accreditation criteria, special services or curricula. Perhaps the upcoming conference will provide an opportunity to broaden our perspective on diversity in psychology and to reflect on both the importance of education to diversity and the importance of diversity to education.

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