From Borders to Bridges: Making Cross-Cultural Connections through Multicultural Literature

Article excerpt

In March 1493 Christopher Columbus sailed back to Spain with gold trinkets, parrots, and a few Indians. He left some sailors in the New World to search for gold.

Christopher was a hero to the people of Spain. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella named him Admiral of the Ocean Sea.

-Adler, D.A. (1991). A picture bookof Christopher Columbus

For Donna, a Native American descendant, the opening epigraph excerpted from David Adler's book, A Picture Book of Christopher Columbus (1991), is problematic. The two-paged illustrations displaying the "goodies" Columbus carried home to Spain proves even more problematic. The primary colors are infectious and the reader is drawn into the happiness portrayed. The Native Americans are depicted with smiles on their faces, as they carry some of Columbus' prizes in offering to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The dazzling gold trinkets and the multicolored parrot help to solidify the happy occasion.

This book is currently used in schools across the United States to celebrate "Columbus Day." The implicit message of this text and its illustrations is that Columbus is a hero. For Donna, the tension heightens. Does a hero kidnap people out of the arms of loved ones and force them across the ocean to a foreign land where they are enslaved and dehumanized? This story's representation of the Native American people still proves difficult for many.

The critical examination of Adler's book raises some pertinent questions. How are others-people who are not of the mainstream culture-represented in books for children? What are the common images often portrayed in reading materials in classrooms? How do we teach children about others who are different from them? Is it important to teach children about others who are different from them?

For those involved with preparing teachers for the classroom the most important question is, "How do teacher educators prepare preservice teachers to incorporate quality reading materials in their curricula, presenting their students with a balanced view of our multicultural society?"

In the remainder of this article, we attempt to address this important question. We investigate the fundamentals of multicultural literature and rationalize for its incorporation in schools' reading curricula. We also discuss how preservice teachers in a first semester children's literature class reflected on their experiences of learning about multicultural literature. Finally, we discuss the implications for incorporating multicultural literature in reading programs for teachers and teacher educators.

Multicultural Educationin Schools' Curricula

Shure (2001) reports that minority students make up about 40% of the student population throughout the United States, but they account for approximately 69% of the student population in urban school districts. Shure adds further that minority teachers make up about 36% of the teaching force in urban areas and only about 5% across the country. By the year 2020, approximately 47% of students in the United States will be members of a minority group (Banks, 1991).

While the student population is dramatically changing, the racial makeup of teachers remains overwhelming White, female, and middle and upper middle class (Chevalier & Houser, 1997; Johnson, 2002). With this astounding projection, it is important that schools' curricula reflect this changing culturally diverse student body.

Gay (1994) defines multicultural education as the "policies, programs, and practices employed in schools to celebrate cultural diversity" (p. 3). Nieto (2000) provides a broader definition that represents all forms of diversity found in society. Nieto argues that multicultural education "challenges and rejects racism and other forms of discrimination in schools and society and accepts and affirms the pluralism (ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, economic, and gender, among others) that students, their communities, and teachers reflect" (p. …