Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Multicultural Readings of Multicultural Literature and the Promotion of Social Awareness in ELA Classrooms

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Multicultural Readings of Multicultural Literature and the Promotion of Social Awareness in ELA Classrooms

Article excerpt

National literature reflect what is on the national mind.

-Nobel laureate Toni Morrison-

Even at the tender age of two, children can make meaningful connections to literature. As a young child, one of our son's favorite books, Busy Toes, by C.W. Bowie, features African American children using their toes in amusing and creative ways. Midway through the book is an illustration of a toddler with skin tone, hair texture, and facial features similar to our son. Each time we turned to the page featuring this child, our son would point and excitedly repeat, "That's me!" Making connections to literature can begin at a young age and with thoughtful and careful planning, we can provide many opportunities for our students to connect with multicultural literature, in ways that afHrm their sense of self, their awareness of the world around them, and their connection to academic language and literacies. In this short essay we make the case for centering multicultural literature in English language arts classrooms. Further, we argue that students not only need access to diverse texts, but a set of reading skills that allow them to bring multiple cultural and critical perspectives to any texts they read. We call this idea multicultural readings. Finally, we offer several examples of how we and our colleagues hare attempted to create spaces for multicultural readings of multicultural literature.

The importance of multicultural literature in today's classrooms

According to the Center for Public Education, with birth and immigration trends, soon there will be no majority ethnic group in the United States (www.centerforpubliceducation.org). Already in the nation's largest 60 school districts, the population is more than 75% non-White with no single ethnic group comprising more than 40% of the school population (Council of the Great City Schools, 2011). But these numbers are not just occurring in our "urban schools". It is important to understand that diversity is everywhere. Nationally our schools are already almost 45% non-white and according to the National Center for Education Statistics, these trends are expected to continue (NCES, 2010). And while for these introductory statistics we've focused on racial and ethnic diversity our classrooms also have religious diversity, socioeconomic diversity, diversity of family and home life, and diversity in language and country of origin to name a few. Given the diversity of our K-12 student population and the importance of children seeing themselves from various perspectives through the texts that they encounter in school, powerful teaching of multicultural literature can empower individuals and transform beliefs. And the idea that multicultural literature is most appropriate or only useful for children of historically marginalized groups is now outdated (Landt, 2007). Weaving multicultural literature throughout the curriculum has the potential to promote cultural pluralism and challenge assimilation to dominant belief systems and canons of knowledge (Yoon, Simpson, StHaag, 2010). This, we believe, is a benefit to all students at a crucial moment in their lives when they are learning to accept themselves and to understand others. From a broader perspective, incorporating multicultural literature fulfills the purpose of multicultural education, which is to help students, "critically analyze their cultural, social and political worlds and understand pluralistic perspectives of different cultures in the minority groups" (Yoon, Simpson, oc Haag, 2010, p. 110).

While there are various definitions of multicultural literature, when broadly defined, multicultural literature is about people from diverse cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, who have been marginalized, and are considered outside of the mainstream of society (Salas, Lucido, oc Canales, 2001). High quality multicultural literature should offer authentic representations of marginalized groups and their experiences, and "showcase beliefs, perspectives, and experiences previously overshadowed by dominant communities" (Graff, 2010, p. …

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