BEYOND PROMISE: Autobiography and Multicultural Education

By Wang, Hongyu; Yu, Tianlong | Multicultural Education, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

BEYOND PROMISE: Autobiography and Multicultural Education


Wang, Hongyu, Yu, Tianlong, Multicultural Education


Introduction

In studying the politics of identity, we find that who we are is invariably related to who others are, as well as to whom we have been and want to become. (William F. Pinar, 2004, p. 30)

Autobiography is not an unequivocally empowering medium but a contradictory form of cultural politics that has both progressive and reactionary forms. (Wendy S. Hesford, 1999, p. xxiv)

Reading and writing autobiography as a pedagogical mode of engaging multicultural education is no longer new. We also adopt this strategy in our own respective teachings at two universities where students are predominantly White and (lower) middle-class women.

We each use two autobiographical works: one is the highly celebrated I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by the renowned African-American poet and novelist Maya Angelou (2000/1975), which narrates an uplifting journey of a Black girl who rose above racism, sexism, and poverty to achieve her dream; the other is Invisible Privilege: A Memoir about Race, Class, & Gender by a Jewish, (upper) middle-class woman, Paula Rothenberg (2000), a noted scholar in women's studies and multicultural studies, who writes about her difficult journey of understanding White privilege and choosing to fight against social injustices and inequities.

These two books depict the lived experiences of two individuals who took on the task of fighting for social justice, albeit with distinctly different paths. The promise of using both books was to engage our students with their own identity politics as educators. Our experiences in teaching them, however, question such a promise because many students refused to read them in a way that would interrogate their own identities.

As Goodson (1998) points out, storytelling itself is not necessarily empowering but can be implicated in reproducing dominant discourses and structures. Reflecting upon our teaching stories, we intend to address the contradictions of using autobiography in multicultural education and envision new discourses for a transformative pedagogy.

Our adoption of an autobiographical approach in teaching multiculturalism was motivated by our efforts to go beyond the dominant approach to multicultural education, what James Banks (1991) would call a "contributions approach" or "heroes and holidays approach," which emphasizes teaching ethnic differences and cultural tolerance. While celebrating inclusion and stressing sensitivity training, such an approach fails to adequately analyze power relationships and leaves structural injustice and inequities unchallenged. Moreover, it is an essentialist model as it tends to define identities in static and fixed terms, failing to grasp the dynamic, complex, and changing nature of ethnic/racial/cultural identity. In addition, it tends to focus on making students aware of "others," not touching upon who they are as gendered, raced, and classed persons.

Disrupting such a promise, we shift our focus to the intersection between structure and person to examine identity issues: How is personal identity constructed socially, economically, and politically? Autobiography, when written and taught in such a way that the self is situated in social and cultural contexts, seems to be an excellent medium for engaging such work.

Ironically, our efforts to challenge the promise of the additive multicultural education approach through the focus on identity also leave us in an unsettling pedagogical process. Using autobiography to engage students with lived experiences turns out to be yet another promise with both possibilities and limitations. It is on this site of beyond double "promises" that we reflect, complicate, and re-situate multicultural pedagogy.

In this article, we not only reflect on our own teaching approaches, we also attempt to understand how teaching autobiographical works has influenced our own identities as teachers. Both of us are Chinese working at American universities as international faculty members. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

BEYOND PROMISE: Autobiography and Multicultural Education
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.