Using Fiction to Enhance Multicultural Education

Article excerpt


Many educators are calling for teachers to promote a more in-depth understanding of other cultures that exist within our own society. This emphasis has commonly been referred to as multicultural education. NCSS guidelines point out, for example,

American society itself is pluralistic.

The mores, roles, and expectations of

cultural and national groups other

than the students' own should be

identified and other implications and

merits explored. To seek

understanding of any culture without

the perspective of its own set of

values is to do an injustice to that

culture (p. 340).

Kniep (1989) has added in this regard that such an emphasis upon multicultural education should include "the study of human values-both universal values defining what it means to be human and diverse values derived from group membership and contributing to unique world views" (p. 400). However, such notions are not easily carried out in the classroom. For example, a history class may briefly mention the Irish, Polish, or Eastern European Jewish immigrant without giving the history student any sense of what these cultures were like. Significantly, many subcultures still exist in American society today.

Gibson's View of Multicultural Education and the Use of Fiction

Gibson's (1976) research suggests that four approaches to multicultural education are typically used in the classroom. Gibson goes on to suggest a fifth approach in which she argues that multicultural education is best taught by incorporating an anthropological view of education into the process. This would solve several problems that she believes exist with the other approaches. Specifically, in this regard, she says,

We may now define multicultural

education as the process whereby a

person develops competencies in

multiple systems of standards for

perceiving, evaluating, believing,

and doing. Such a definition has

important implications for our analysis

of the meaning of multicultural

education and allows us to overcome a

number of the conceptual weaknesses

of the four approaches presented

previously (p. 112).

Reading fiction about other cultures can enhance the fifth approach Gibson proposes as well as help overcome some of the problems she perceives with the other approaches. The novelist, Gardner (1983), in writing about the art of fiction, gives insight into how this may occur:

If we carefully inspect our experience

as we read, we discover that the

importance of physical detail is that it

creates for us a kind of dream, a rich

and vivid play in the mind. We read a

few words at the beginning of the book

or the particular story, and suddenly

we find ourselves seeing not words on

a page but a train moving through

Russia, an old Italian crying, or a

farmhouse battered by rain. We read

on dream on - not possibly but

actively, worrying about the choices

the characters have to make, listening

in panic for some sound behind the

fictional door, exulting in characters'

successes, bemoaning their failures. In

great fiction, the dream engages us

heart and soul; we not only respond to

imaginary things sights, sounds,

smells - as though they were real: We

sympathize, think, and judge. We act

out, vicariously, the trials of the

characters and learn from the failures

and successes of particular modes of

action, particular attitudes, opinions,

assertions, and beliefs exactly as we

learn from life (pp. …