By the year 2020 about 50% of students will be minorities and 85% of U.S. educators will be white females, who differ greatly from their students ethnically, culturally, and socially, making it increasingly important for districts to adapt a multicultural literature approach to reading/literacy curriculum. Through extending literacy programs beyond canonical fiction to include multicultural literature, it leaves behind character examples of damaging dominant/subordinate culture dichotomies, and instead includes a wider-breadth of self-governing positive role-models for people considered outside mainstream society and have been marginalized (Salas, Lucido, & Canales, 2002). Delinda van Garderen and Catherine Whittaker (2006) summarize and point-out that culture/ethnic groups outside the literature canon have feelings of exclusion, but when they do see positive examples of their language and culture in the curricula academic achievement increases. Literacy researchers have asserted the importance of multiple “text-to” connections to enable students to investigate texts to achieve intercultural and intracultural understanding (Glazier & Seo, 2005). For this to occur learning environments must create openings to share connections, and in effect learn to recognize themselves and others as important parts of discourse. With increased exposure to more self-governing positive sub-culture role-models groups gain “text-to” connections necessary to critical thinking beyond the classroom to possess autonomy in the decision making process.
To be effective multicultural literature needs to be relevant, allowing reading enrich students development as active citizens capable of compassionately understanding human values, creative experiences, and “solv[ing] problems by reading and seeing how situations and circumstances are handled by others” (Salas, Lucido, & Canales, 2002). This allows a student to directly apply a character’s solution to their own life, rather than characters whose problems are not similar, causing solutions to become abstract and unable to relate. If not in familiar terms multicultural literature is unable to entice, motivate, and instruct on becoming critically literate, able to question “the social construct of the self” (Shor, 2009) empowering all students to deconstruct messages & attitudes towards cultural/ethnic groups, becoming “redeveloped as democratic agents and social critics” (Shor, 2009), to make civic choices for societal change. Empowering in this manner “students experience educational equity and choice in all aspects of schooling” (van Garderen & Whittaker, 2006) in preparation for post-graduate success in shared decision making and democratic citizenship. Since students tend to hold tightly to their own culture’s attitudes, multicultural literature uniquely presents cultural-access texts filled with influences inspiring to re-imagine and appreciate the world from another cultural perspective, helping to combat or reinforce “peer group attitudes and values [that] reflect the attitudes of the local community” (Dressel, 2005). By acting as a window on the outside world, multicultural literature engages students “because they relate to characters, identify with situations, and understand personalities or behavior, they come to the realization that there are others like themselves” (Salas, Lucido, & Canales, 2002) developing emotional intelligences, and broadening understanding. Helping students develop connections, Janice Hartwick Dressel (2005) reminds educators that when identifying with characters students not reimagine characters in their own image – “an identification that steamrolls historical and cultural particularity” (Dunbar, 2013). Failing to recognize that different cultures have “unique characteristics” (Dressel, 2005) that factor into how people live life, opportunities available, and view the world, turn uniqueness into stereotypes & nurture racism.
For students to identify with the world and appreciate & value differences and similarities students must first discover their own identities. While some students could be knowledgeable of their own heritage, others may not due to the invasiveness of White dominant culture. To combat this occurrence multicultural literature aids in identity development by acting as mirrors and windows, providing context for important elicitation-response-evaluations. As well, for all students, multicultural literature “teach[es] children about attitudes and behaviors that are valued in societ[ies]” (Salas, Lucido, & Canales, 2002) opening dialogues across cultures, and away from monologues, “thereby opening a way for student voices to be heard” (Glazier & Seo, 2005). Jocelyn Glazier and Jung-A Seo (2005) remind adolescent ELA teachers that when a student’s voice is silenced it teaches that experiences, passions and biographies of those not part of dominant culture are irrelevant. Avoidance of these dangerous dialogues effectively ignores social contradictions and complexities of daily life. Dialogues around such topics provide students with a common bond, becoming not only academic stimulus but social interaction, allowing for deeper exploration to understand problems, and through empathy develop and enact civic solutions in teacher created “affirmative and critical continuit[ies] between how students view the world and those forms of analyses that provide the basis for both analyzing and enriching such perspectives” (Giroux, 2009). Teachers create the environment by “not abdicat[ing] their own responsibility to be part of the [class] conversation” (Dressel, 2005) by simply not using a passive voice/language during ‘dangerous dialogues’.
Multicultural literature also aide urban and at-risk students by presenting relevant texts for engagement, allowing students to see how the ideas, language, and identity of their ethnic group developed within a majority culture. This knowledge assists in understanding history through their group’s experience, see how it is perpetuated, and inspire students to learn how to cause change, becoming adults who cause change. As well as exposing majority culture students to minority/ethnic cultures, and being unable to change those cultures, demonstrates that blanket-solutions can’t be applied to any situation/culture and expected to work, showing students that solutions must be unique to that problem and culture; texts shouldn’t transcribe the majority’s problem onto a minority culture, when that problem may not exist, reducing the text’s relevance. Understanding problems and the unique cultural roots of those problems, all students are better equipped for the new global society and economy. Multicultural literature allows a ‘dangerous dialogue’ for White dominant culture students to see whiteness as a constructed identity, which forces students who are not racist to see how they benefit from white privilege (Dressel, 2005).
As a strategy multicultural literature developed in response to pluralism, recognizing that culture influences the learning process of students and adapts to shifting demographics. At its core multicultural pedagogy is student-centered, utilizing strategies to promote equal chances for every student. Multicultural pedagogy is not just delivering information on other cultures, but rather celebrates individual and group accomplishments by using best practices “that empower students to learn and describe multiple opportunities for practice” (van Garderen & Whittaker, 2006), such as academic and personal mentoring for self-advocacy, and cooperative learning groups to promote critical thinking. For this to occur teachers need to create safe learning environments, allowing for elevation of justice and democracy, with the goal of creating global citizens.
Part of being a global citizen involves students being prepared for an increasingly diverse world. Multicultural literature achieves this by having students become active learners through self-reflection and exchange of personal experiences, which augments student community. For educators this means they’d be learning about other cultures, and hearing varied POVs, sometimes from the students themselves.
The many benefits that come with a multicultural literature approach does come with challenges. The primary obstacle is the time necessary to continually adapt and rebuild lessons and curriculum, and adjusting teaching styles. Time crunches lead to multicultural units that are “typically accomplished as an add-on to the regular curriculum” (Kirova, 2008) around cultural celebrations, and focus on superficial elements, like food, clothing and music. The over-simplification of culture avoids critical examination, and so avoids open dialogues. Critics also argue that a multicultural literature approach equates race with ethnicity and culture, despite “race [being] no more salient than ethnicity in matters of socio-economic and political inequalities” (Kirova, 2008). This ends up down playing structural explanations in favor of discussing cultural differences. Similar arguments come from other special interest groups, who believe that their particular group will become further marginalized, misrepresented and degraded, while raising up another group. Minority groups and anti-multicultural pedagogy advocates are also concerned that over-simplification reduces conflicts to problems that can easily be solved by a singular conversation (Kirova, 2008). As a result racism remains an institutionalized-concept, and not actions or behaviors of individuals, philosophies, and cultures.
Teachers easily combat this attitude through critical literacy, to build “skills to determine how books make differences visible or invisible, how they position readers in relation to differences…and which voices are silent or absent” (Dressel, 2005). Multicultural literature makes sure that students are not just taught about critical thinking and examine values, “but actually to acquire them as part of their personal character” (Blum, 1997), for an ethics of knowledge. For educators this requires “helping students build a vocabulary for discussing race, identity, discrimination, and oppression” (Dunbar, 2013), which aides students in seeing how writers situate readers to characters and texts. Doing this in formal analysis helps focus dangerous dialogues of identity history and politics (Dunbar, 2013).
The Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching (CCRT) is an advocate group that believes culturally responsive education alters and enhances a student’s view of the world, offering rich and complex opportunities for reflection and growth. Through research-based professional development it helps school districts infuse curriculum, administration, and community to improve the progress of students considered outside the mainstream and have been marginalized. Recognizing that much of multicultural education has focused on ensuring students are heard, and not on instructional support (Dressel, 2005), CCRT offers three foundations for professional development: Mindset (teacher knowledge), Skillset (classroom instruction), and Systemset (collaboration). At the core of the three foundations is CCRT’s belief promoting hands-on, inquiry-based activities that have students reflecting “their own experience, language, and culture” (Peterson, 2009), creating an emancipatory curriculum. It is, after all, those experiences that provide students the “basis for analyzing the social forms that reconstruct the subjective character of the stories, memories, and meanings that are already in place when students come to school” (Giroux, 2009).
Taking inspiration from CCRT’s professional development model, one Mindset activity educators can participate in is autobiographical inquiry (Guillory, 2012). Teachers write reflective journals on what they learned about themselves teaching & tutoring culturally diverse students, with the purpose of critically examining multicultural pedagogy to better understand “how various [identity] intersections create varying degrees of privilege, and recognize how this privilege impacts their teacher identities” developing deeper understandings of who they want to become as educators (Guillory, 2012). An added hope is that teachers redevelop their teaching philosophies into dialogues and reflections with pedagogy “framed within the sociopolitical context of schools” (Giroux, 2009), and away from a sound-bite approach.
Once educators have done that they are better able to invest in their students’ lives to create a culturally responsive best practices approach to education, like the Multicultural Mosaic Program at a New Jersey school. The purpose of the program is to “not only infus[e] multicultural material, but also by encouraging feelings of tolerance toward others, and teaching the merits of accepting the universality of culture” (Brandwein & Donoghue, 2011). The program also expanded teachers’ Skillsets by involving student families in having students learn about their own and others cultures. The Multicultural Mosaic then implemented Systemset through a steering committee whose job is to collaboratively develop “multicultural education modules, met regularly to discuss implementation of multicultural modules throughout the curriculum and to ensure fidelity…and kept a binder with lesson plans used to provide multicultural education during the typical curriculum” (Brandwein & Donoghue, 2011). At its highest level of implementation students are empowered to identify problems and concerns, and create action plans for viable solutions (Salas, Lucido, & Canales, 2002).
By implementing multicultural literature educators reduce the social distance between the cultures by allowing students to gain understanding of each other’s differences, as well as discover and appreciate similarities. Multicultural literature possesses potential for reducing prejudice toward outlier groups and promoting positive awareness of diversity through "transformative learning" experiences (Brandwein & Donoghue, 2011). When teachers present multicultural literature for the purpose of social justice in the classroom becomes an open dialogue permitting students to accomplish the goal of cultural & societal development.
Brandwein, D., & Donoghue, C. (2011, September 1). A multicultural grassroots effort to reduce ethnic and racial social distance among middle school students. Multicultural education, 19(1), 38-43. Retrieved 24 2014, March, from library.esc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ986890&site=ehost-live
Dressel, J. H. (2005, May). Personal response and social responsibility: response of middle school students to multicultural literature. Reading Teacher, 58(8), 750-764. Retrieved March 27, 2014
Dunbar, A.-M. (2013, Win-Spr). Between universalizing and othering: developing an ethics of reading in the multicultural american literature classroom. CEA Forum, 42(1), 26-48. Retrieved March 27, 2014
Giroux, H. (2009). Teacher education and democratic schooling. In D. Antonio, M. P. Baltodano, & R. D. Torres (Eds.), Critical pedagogy reader (2 ed., pp. 438-459). New York: Routledge.
Glazier, J., & Seo, J.-A. (2005, May). Multicultural literature and discussion as mirror and window? Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48(8), 686-700. Retrieved March 27, 2014
Guillory, N. A. (2012, March 1). Moving toward a community of resistence through autobiographical inquiry: creating disruptive spaces in a multicultural education course. Multicultural education, 19(3), 11-16. Retrieved March 27, 2014, from library.esc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1001530&site=ehost-live
Kirova, A. (2008). Critical and emerging discourses in multicultural education literature: a review. Canadian ethnic studies, 40(1), 101-124. Retrieved March 27, 2014
Leithwood, K., & Seashore Louis, K. (2012). Linking leadership to student achievement. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Peterson, R. E. (2009). Teaching how to read the world and change it: critical pedagogy in the intermediate grades. In A. Darder, R. D. Torres, & M. P. Baltodano (Eds.), The critical pedagogy reader (2nd ed., pp. 305-323). New York: Routledge.
Salas, R. G., Lucido, F., & Canales, J. (2002). Multicultural Literature: Broadening Young Children's Experiences. In Early Childhood Literacy: Programs & Strategies to Develop Cultural, Linguistic, Scientific and Healthcare Literacy for Very Young Children & Their Families, 2001 Yearbook. Corpus Christi: Early Childhood Development Center.
Shor, I. (2009). What Is Critical Literacy? In A. Darder, R. D. Torres, & M. P. Baltodano (Eds.), The Critical Pedagogy Reader (2 ed., pp. 282-304). New York: Routledge.
van Garderen, D., & Whittaker, C. (2006, Jan/Feb). Planning differentiated, multicultural instruction for secondary inclusive classrooms. Teaching Exceptional Children, 38(3), 12-20. Retrieved March 27, 2014