Teaching Tolerance and Reaching Diverse Students through the Use of Children's Books

Article excerpt

This Idea-Sparker was submitted by Hani Morgan, Assistant Professor of Education, The University of Southern Mississippi.

Schools in the United States are more culturally diverse than ever before, and this trend is expected to continue (Gollnick & Chinn, 2006). Students of color constitute more than one-third of the school population today. By 2020, it is estimated that they will represent almost half the population. The racial, ethnic, and religious diversity in U.S. society sometimes creates challenges and conflicts for educators. Eck (2001) states that nations characterized by religious diversity, such as the United States, have a history of hostility and mistrust between people of different backgrounds. One of the reasons that problems relating to cultural, ethnic, racial, and religious diversity exist in schools involves the social and cultural distance between students and teachers (Hernandez, 2001). Schools have not hired enough teachers whose backgrounds represent these diverse students. A report from the U.S. Department of Education (2003) shows that 84 percent of teachers are white and 75 percent are female. As a result, many teachers have different frames of reference than their students do.

The Need for Culturally Sensitive Children's Books

One way to prevent conflicts related to differences in ethnic, racial, or religious background is by using culturally sensitive children's books. It is important for teachers to start using these books with very young children. Research shows that by age 5, some students have already developed high levels of racial intolerance towards others (Bigler & Liben, 1993; Doyle & Aboud, 1995). Children's books are more than just entertainment; they lead children to develop ideas about different cultures (Roberts, Dean, & Holland, 2005). Children are more likely to accept statements from a book as fact than adults.

Selecting Culturally Sensitive Children's Books

Although teachers can choose from many culturally sensitive books, some children's books are stereotypic and offensive; obviously, these should not be used. Roberts, Dean, and Holland (2005) argue that too many books present inaccurate depictions of Native Americans, for example. Other authors, such as Tunnel and Jacobs (2008), describe how other ethnic groups have been misrepresented. Even children's books written in recent years can be stereotypic because authors sometimes ignore the latest research (Roberts et al., 2005).

In order to avoid using books that inaccurately portray a given group, teachers should do research to find out how that group was stereotyped in the past. The suggested research papers listed at the end of this article and some of those used as references can be a good place to start. These research articles themselves often have lists of books that are considered authentic, and a similar list is included in this article. The website listed at the end of this article also offers examples of culturally sensitive children's books. In addition to using these resources, teachers can explore the latest research at education conferences.

Some Basic Guidelines

* The book should present accurate facts about specific groups.

* The characters should reflect the full complexity of men's and women's roles.

* The social issues of a group need to be described authentically and honestly.

* The illustrations should show an accurate cultural setting.

Using Culturally Sensitive Children's Books: Three Research-Based Strategies

Reading Aloud to Students. Students in elementary school often prefer read-alouds. When approximately 2,000 sixth-graders were asked what style of reading they most enjoyed, 62 percent reported a preference for read-alouds (Ivey & Broaddus, 2001). When teachers read aloud, it often motivates students to read the same book that was read to them, and students report that when teachers read to them, they often make a difficult book understandable by expressively using their voice and motioning while reading aloud (Ivey, 2003). …