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Living Stories

Nontraditional College Students in Early Childhood Education


Susan Bernheimer

In Living Stories: Nontraditional College Students in Early Childhood Education, Susan Bernheimer takes the reader into her journey with a group of nontraditional college students. Bernheimer’s struggle to find a meaningful approach to teaching the students about early childhood development and care is infused with the insights and wisdom that come from listening to, and valuing, the remarkable stories of her students’ lives. This book offers a powerful new road map for early childhood teacher preparation through a relational pedagogy that honors students’ life experiences and that leads to deep reflection and learning. The approach is embedded in students’ strengths and knowledge and is successfully inclusive of an increasingly diverse student demographic. Bernheimer provides an inclusive model of education that builds upon the strengths of all students. 

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Chapter Two. Inside the Cultural Divide


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Chapter 2


Inside the Cultural Divide

Thinking back to Tanya’s story, I knew that it represented something far greater than one woman’s experience. She tells of heart breaking struggles of the sort I would come to hear repeatedly over the years from my nontraditional students. They are stories that do not fit into the cultural background for which higher education was designed.

The high drop-out rate of low-income minority students was a reminder that colleges still discriminate in profound ways against students who are not from middle class families. Delpit (2006) found that when significant differences exist between the students’ culture and the school’s culture, teachers tend to misread students’ aptitudes, intentions, and abilities. I recognized how my limited world of white privilege had too easily led me to label students. I hadn’t understood my students’ styles of interaction, and I didn’t recognize the expressions of defeat.

I also knew that this labeling of students who do not fit into middle-class standards goes beyond the college classroom. It has infiltrated every aspect of early childhood education, including how we perceive and evaluate children and their parents. Urban (2012) discusses how ← 19 | 20 → research on learning and development becomes distorted through our focus on universal, data-based information. He wonders about the price we are paying in losing awareness of the true complexity of human life.

Most troubling, was the deepening awareness of my own complicity...

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