After taking RLL 528: Multicultural Literature I believe that I have taken a different perspective on the concept of multicultural literature. I have learned many things that socked me during the past few months causing myself to focus on different
discriminatory pieces of literature that have been published. Next, while reading the standpoints that researchers and thinkers have taken I have formed my own opinions about the quality of multicultural literature. Finally, RLL 528 has changed me into becoming a more culturally fulfilled educator.
When I entered the RLL 528: Multicultural Literature Grades K-12 class I was overwhelmed in terms of not exactly knowing how to choose quality multicultural literature. Our class was looking at different books in order to examine the overall quality of the text, and I was in all honesty confused. I think that I never knew authors could publish cultured books that would be prejudiced in one form or another. However, now I know that I was naïve in believing that all writers are using accurate information to produce multicultural books. At the same time many authors are not doing proper research to give validity to what they are writing.
Once I realized that different authors were providing the audience with invalid information. I began doing my own research to determine if the books I was choosing were quality pieces. I started this process by reading the reviews that were provided by www.amazon.com, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, and newspapers or websites that were tailored to a culture group such as the Jerusalem Post. Then I also used the book, MULTICULTURAL LITERATURE FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS by Mingshui Cai to further validate the conclusions I formed. The information I found using all of these sources shocked me. I never noticed that the evaluation of multicultural literature is such an in depth process.
In the beginning of the semester we were given an article called, “ISSUES IN SELECTING MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S LITERATURE” by Junko Yokota. The article really set light on literary experiences students are facing in education. Since there are so many different issues students are facing educators must be careful in selecting multicultural literature for children. Yokota (1993) states that the definition for multicultural children’s literature is literature that represents any distinct cultural group though accurate portrayal and rich detail. The author also discusses the fact that teachers need to be culturally aware of mainstreaming going on in literature. Every teacher should include books that represent cultures other than mainstream cultures in their classroom, on booklists, and in the curriculum according to Junko Yokota. After reading these statements I realized that I needed to enhance my classroom library to provide more than just mainstreamed multicultural literary pieces. I was also able to have a concrete definition of multicultural literature that I could use to choose worthy books for my students.
Another concept that Junko Yokota discussed was the insider verse outsider perspectives originally provided by Bishop and Harris in 1992. Yokota further describes each of these views in her article (Yokota, 1993). She states that, “an insider perspective is one that portrays a cultural group from the point of view of one who is a member of the group. An outside perspective is the portrayal of a cultural group by one who is not a member of the group” (p. 158). She also talked about how an insider’s perspective is going to more often give an accurate, authentic view of what people in the cultural group believe is true. A writer is able to do this because of the cultural experiences they face as an individual living in that area. When I was researching where certain author’s were from I was able to notice that the “true” literature is produced from a person who is part of a particular culture because they are living the occurrences first hand. I also realized that the story seemed to be written in a better storytelling format because the author was retelling things that have happened in his or her own culture.
Junko Yokota also explains that a piece of literature should be rich in cultural details, use authentic dialogue and relationships, give an in-depth treatment of cultural issues, and include members of a minority group for the text to be complete (Yokota, 1993). When I read each of the elements Junko believed to be crucial in selecting literature I was better able to choose books that had proper multiculturalism in them. I ended up making a checklist that included each of Junko’s ideas allowing myself to pick better types of multicultural books. After reading Junko Yokota’s article I truly believe that I was given a more concrete idea of analyzing multicultural books for the students in my school.
The other book that was the main focus in our classroom was MULTICULTURAL LITERATURE FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS by Mingshui Cai. There were many issues discussed in this book that I truly believe helped me develop a more concrete definition on multicultural literature. The first concept that really stuck out in my head was the idea of cultural authenticity. According to Howard the purpose of authentic multicultural literature is to help us liberate from the preconceived stereotypical ideas that cause us to limit our boundaries. I never really analyzed multicultural literature until I took this class, and I did not know what to look for when choosing books. After reading Howard’s idea on the definition of authentic multicultural literature I was more able to understand why books are written for many different cultures.
A second concept that was discussed in chapter three of the Cai book was the idea of cultural boundaries. There are people who believe that having someone from outside the culture group writing about a specific culture may cause the information to be inaccurate. I was able to understand this concept much better after reading the ideas that Banks wrote about the four different levels of cross cultural capabilities. Banks states that at level one a person may have experienced a small amount of cross-cultural interactions causing them to only be partially aware of what occurs in the culture. Level two is when a person starts to incorporate some of the objects from the culture into his or her writings. At level three a person is fully included in both cultures. Finally, level four is when a person completely digests the other culture. After reading in detail about the leveling Banks presented I was better able to analyze if a multicultural book was adequate or not because I could look up information on the author to figure out which level they fit into. At the same time I was better able to understand the depths that an author should get into when writing a cultured book.
In chapter four of the Cai book I was interested to see the idea of uniaction, interaction, and transaction classifications between the reader and the text. During the uniactional period a reader has to make meaning of the reading on his or her own. I was able to notice in choosing books that sometimes it may not be good for a reader to make their own meaning out of the text because they may make assumptions that are not correct. At the same time I realized that if a book is classified in the uniactional stage the educator would have to provide proper research so the students are able to understand the information better. On the other hand the interactional and transactional theories call for the reader and the text to add to the reading experience, and in the end there is no central meaning assigned. I noticed that many times is was easier to have better classroom discussions when it came to reading interactional or transactional types of literature because there was a better reader/text interaction. At the same time I found myself looking for books that had a variety of concepts in them because it added information allowing educators to explain more ideas about the culture group at one time.
A fourth theory that I found rather interesting and beneficial was the ideas that Bishop had on multicultural literature. He stated that a positive culture view is good for an audience to read, but at the same time the positive view does not have to include only good things that are happening in the culture. An example of this would be a burial ceremony or a special cultural dance. Bishop was explaining that if one can walk away thinking positively about the culture then the book could be culturally correct. I do believe with this idea because we are promoting our students to be more culturally aware of other cultures, and if they are able to see both sides of a culture they are more likely to appreciate it. I also noticed that by picking books that show many different things that occur in culture students are able to see how their culture may relate to others, which truly helps in explaining multicultural groups.
The last idea that I took away from the Cai book was the reader response theory. The reader response theory states that a story may have more than one interpretation because of how the reader takes in the information. I thought that this was very beneficial to know because of the fact people from different cultures may not be as familiar with one specific culture group. At the same time I felt more comfortable doing classroom activities knowing that it was all right for children to take their own ideas away from the book after it was read. Also, I felt more confident in choosing books that I knew were culturally valid even if my students would take away their own meanings from the information provided.
After looking at many different researchers I truly believe that I have changed as an educator. I am more confident in finding books that explain different culture groups. At the same time I do look for books that define the culture in many ways. I always thought that reading books to the class with many different “colored people” in the story gave children the idea of multicultural literature, but I was wrong. I have learned that focusing in on a specific culture group allows children to see the culture inside and out in a very complex fashion. During this course I have found myself spending a great deal of time on the internet looking at different book reviews to determine if the literature I am reading to my students is valid. At the same time I noticed some of the materials I thought were wonderful were not because they were not stating applicable information. I have learned to fill my classroom with multicultural books because it is crucial for children to learn about all types of cultures in the world we live in. When I do go buy a book I find myself reciting the information that I learned from the theorists I suggested above to ensure that I am finding culturally correct books.
Another issue that I believe was crucial to my learning in this class was how I have changed over the semester. At the beginning of the semester I really thought I was not going to like the amount of work we had to do every week, but now that we are at the end of the semester I truly appreciate reading everything I read. I learned so much about analyzing books, and what to look for in a good multicultural book that I feel like a better educator. After our class met on Mondays I would go back to school and continuously analyze books because of the information I was presented with. This class was required for my masters program in language and literacy, but I do not look at in that way because I feel like I have learned such a great deal not only from readings but from the people in my class. Now that this class is coming to an end I have filled my classroom library with a great deal of multicultural books, feel that I have a concrete idea on what makes a good cultured book, and have received many ideas on how to incorporate these types of books in my classroom. A quote that I remember when I think of multicultural literature did not come from anything we read this semester, but the meaning reminds me of how important it is to teach a story fully and completely. The quote was found when I was looking some information up on the Internet for this course. Thomas De Quincey states, “ There is first the literature of knowledge, and secondly, the literature of power. The function of the first is–to teach; the function of the second is–to move, the first is a rudder, the second an oar or a sail. The first speaks to the mere discursive understanding; the second speaks ultimately, it may happen, to the higher understanding or reason, but always through affections of pleasure and sympathy.” I truly believe that when we help move our children through literature they are better able to understand to concept of multicultural literature. At the same time we will all be better educators because we are using a wealth of knowledge to inform the ones who will be the future of our nation.