Teaching Diversity and Tolerance in the Classroom: A Thematic Storybook Approach

Article excerpt

Multicultural Globe and Literature

Many Americans believe racial disparities are a major problem in the nation (Whyy, 2000). Since our society is made up with various cultures, religions, and ethnic groups, it is bound to be diverse and multicultural. As globalization has sped up by the fast growing technology, the understanding, tolerance, respect and appreciation of each other's culture become an imperative for us to live peacefully as global citizens.

Everyone has a culture and cultures are learned, shared and adapted. Culture is a way of perceiving, believing, evaluating and behaving (Goodnough, 1987). Culture is so much part of us that we do not realize that not everyone shares our culture, its attributes, or its manifestations. Thus, learning about other cultures with their beliefs, values, behaviors, customs and traditions becomes one important step for us to take towards peace and harmony in the world.

From the current terrorist activities, racial conflicts and gender differences to schoolyard bullies, most of them arise because of misunderstandings and intolerance of differences and diversities among people. Thus, our global community in general and educators in particular are faced with the task of preparing the youngsters to live in today's diverse global community with each other harmoniously, successfully and productively. Our classroom teachers, administrators of schools, professional development staff and teacher training institutions are faced with the overwhelming challenges of working with students from extremely diverse cultural backgrounds. In multicultural countries such as the Unites States, both students and faculty populations in schools are getting more and more diverse. Thus, it is even more important for us to understand, accept and appreciate each other in school settings as well as in society.

To face and meet the challenge and demand of enhancing teachers' and students' awareness of diversity, we need to develop programs with multicultural components. Literature is the essence of communication. Through it, we share our opinions, values, experiences, and what makes us happy and sad. We share the most personal aspects of our culture and the ways in which we identify with a particular ethnicity, geographical region, religion, or other cultural groups. Thus, literature becomes a great resource for us to study our various cultures. The study of literature allows us to see that people of different cultures are more similar than different from each other.

Also the Advisory Board (Whyy, 2000) for "The President's Initiative on Race" developed a list of actions to take that could increase the momentum toward making "One America." The first action suggested by the Advisory Board includes the use of literature, "Make a commitment to become informed about people from other races and cultures. Read a book, see a movie, watch a play, or attend a cultural event that will inform you and your family about the history and current lives of a group different than your own" (Whyy, 2000).

Related Studies

Perini (2002) stresses multicultural children's books have the potential to support diversity in the curriculum and raise consciousness on cultural issues that are ignored in schools (Harris, 1991; Reese, 1996; Tatum, 1997). Sharing children's books with students can provide opportunities to make explicit and call into question the traditional, prevailing beliefs and views people hold of themselves and of others.

In 1998, Abound proposed, after conducting a study, that the attitudes of children towards diversity tend to remain the same unless they are somehow altered through life-changing events. Wham, Barnhart, and Cook (1996) reaffirmed Aboud's (1998) findings and in addition found that children in kindergarten, second and fourth grades, who were exposed to multicultural storybook reading in addition to school and home reading programs, seemed to develop the most positive attitudes towards differences. …