Multicultural Is Show We Are: Literature as a Reflection of Ourselves

By Taylor, Sheryl V. | Teaching Exceptional Children, January/February 2000 | Go to article overview
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Multicultural Is Show We Are: Literature as a Reflection of Ourselves

Taylor, Sheryl V., Teaching Exceptional Children

What types of reading material should teachers select for students to read in school?

Why would teachers want to include multicultural literature In their teaching?

How does one begin to evaluate and select multicultural literature titles?

What are some titles of multicultural children s literature for possible use in the classroom?

This article explores these and other questions and addresses one way to provide students with the opportunity to connect with school through the inclusion of multicultural children's literature. Here, teachers can find the information they need to give learners in their classrooms the opportunity to see reflections of themselves and their lives in the stories that they read at school.

Three Tips When Selecting Multicultural Literature

Determine the current relevancy of the theme and characters.

Be sure the selected title(s) include a variety of genres.

Consider for whom and by whom the book is written.

Clearly, the choices teachers make regarding literature affect whether students see themselves reflected in the readings. If students are going to connect with school and school culture, they need to locate themselves, their life and learning experiences, culture, values, language, and physical characteristics within the books they are exposed to at school (see box, "What Does the Research Say?"). Multicultural children's literature provides the potential for students to make these connections.

What Is Multicultural Children's Literature?

Multicultural children's literature is grounded in the call for inclusion and curricular reform by groups who have been largely marginalized by society, today and in the past. Its roots began in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, spearheaded by AfricanAmericans. This effort was rekindled in the 1980s by Latinos, American Indians, Asian Americans, women, people of varying abilities, the elderly, and people of varying sexual orientations. Multicultural literature refers to literature that includes themes and main characters from many of these groups, as well as religious and regional groups (Bishop, 1997). It is literature that focuses on people whose identities, contributions, and histories "have been omitted, distorted, and undervalued in society and school curriculum" (Bishop, p. 3).

Why Would Teachers Want to Include Multicultural Children's Literature in Their Teaching?

All students need to see reflections of themselves and their lives in school and in the curriculum. Literature contributes to students' understanding of how they view themselves and how other people view and value them. Students who see evidence of their life and learning experiences mirrored in the books they read gain an affirmation of themselves and their identities (Bieger, 1996). In addition, by finding an appreciation of their own individuality, students face a strong possibility of valuing the diversity of others (Rudman, 1984). When students are excluded from or are devalued in the books made available at school, however, they learn that the teacher, school, and society do not value them or their experiences (Bishop, 1997). Without a connection between learner and school, "factors such as cultural dissonance and biased expectations can predispose culturally diverse students to failure in general education settings, and hence, referral to special education programs" (Voltz, 1998, p. 64).

Why Would a Teacher Select Literature That Doesn't Include Reflections of All Learners?

Our tendency as teachers is to be drawn to what is familiar to us. This is often true when we select the reading materials we use in our instruction. It is not uncommon for teachers to base literature choices on familiar themes, experiences, characters, and values. Consequently, as teachers we often select favorite titles that were read to us as children or titles that we have read to our own children.

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