multicultural literature essay

multicultural literature essay

Exploring the Significance and Impact of Multicultural Literature

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1. Introduction to Multicultural Literature

Teaching the reality of this diversity in every subject and at every level becomes more significant in higher level education where teachers have to train for relevant lives in the first generation of children who will spend their productive years in the 21st century. Without a serious pursuit of the requirements of multicultural education, teacher education becomes irrelevant and the public schools lose their reason for being. To satisfactorily prepare the career-long needs of teachers of the 21st century, a trilogy of professional preparation, professional performance, and language and behavior of educators is as important as the basic skills involved in institutional curriculum.

Multicultural literature flourishes from the dual perspectives of racial and cultural diversity and the integration of all students into a single culture. Some students are damaged by being treated as inferior; others are stunted as active contributors to the growth of the native majority who plays the role of onlooker. The National Education Association’s Resolution on Institutional Racism and the Nation’s Public Schools declares that “the absence of a balanced portrayal of the racial and ethnic diversity that is a part of the life of this country is an institutional form of racism,” limiting students, their well-being and their future by denying them accurate and abundant information about their heritage and the contemporary contributions of the groups to which they belong.

2. The Importance of Representing Diverse Cultures in Literature

It is important for children who are members of a particular minority/ethnic group to see themselves represented in storybooks from school and public libraries. African American, Native American, Asian American, and Mexican children are particularly in danger of receiving an inadequate portrayal because of small numbers of published books available about their own culture and by the mass of stereotypes or limited reflection by majority publishers. The benefit for all children is meaningful. Young readers develop ideas, express who they are, will look at the world and at settings differently. Texts chosen for classroom should show many characters of diverse background living together, as part of the entire community. These characters can perform jobs, engage in life adventures, and solve problems related to the alternative lifestyle portrayed.

A purpose of books written for children and young adults is to introduce them to a world constructed from the values of communities different from their own. In the United States, such books will reflect the diverse cultures of this society, including the experiences and world view of people from Latin America, Asia, the Pacific Islands, Africa, Greece, Italy, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, France, Russia, China, Japan, Ireland, Israel, and the colonial legacy of England. Including relatively recent immigrations from Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey, as well as American Indian children. Publishers have made great progress in producing books which represent cultures and racial backgrounds of the United States. Stories are rewarding to read both because of the nationalities of the characters and the interesting plots of the stories. They lend themselves not only as classroom materials but also can be shared at home.

3. Key Themes and Techniques in Multicultural Literature

One of the techniques that readers might wish to notice in particular as they read multicultural texts is the narrating voice itself. By and large, narrators and writers are members of the dominant culture and readers are afforded few opportunities to encounter, involve themselves with, and, potentially, become familiar with the moralities and the energies of non-corporate narrators who might otherwise help share experiences. The narrating voice not only can provide fascinating texture and detail but also holds great weight as a force of political resonance. In whose name do these characters write, and why – whether from a storytelling perspective or from one that keeps their bodies and souls intact? How are these books similar or dissimilar to those of other cultural strands, and why should readers take notice of racialized voices? Where do the parameters for knowledge and understanding become set – not just the encoded information, but the textures in which we can witness their lives? These are varied issues, and readers of authors from different backgrounds ranging from Native American to first and second generation immigrants of color may each have different answers. Careful notation of these responses is therefore a good place to begin the reader’s journey.

Political and historical themes often surface in realistic texts, and works of multicultural concern are no different. These works include not only the historical and political experiences of marginalized peoples in the United States but the British, Cuban, Canadian, and multi-ethnic experience, and also provide a platform to explore how colonialism and warfare have influenced present land and power relations. Ethnic and class struggles are also common and recurring patterns in many multiethnic texts, not surprising when we realize that vast numbers of immigrants have arrived in the United States to find not a melting pot but a coal mine and have subsequently been oppressed at the hands of past American governments and their peers in the name of the same “white man’s” patriarchy that continually oppressed individuals based only on racial lines.

4. Case Studies: Notable Works and Authors

A common natural reaction to the idea of entering this forum is to ask the many legions of teachers who face a full daily schedule and are hard pressed for time when these “extras” are to be implemented. However, one of the great values of multicultural literature, be it picture books, poetry, essays, biography, historical fiction, magazine articles, or novels, is that it can often be connected to many curriculum areas simultaneously. It is thus a vital tool when, according to Olmstead, the three R’s are reckoned good but not sufficient. Little Brown and Glasgow list a variety of ways to use multicultural literature across the elementary curriculum. The actual experience of a teacher who used the above suggestions to incorporate a wonderful multicultural picture book about Aztecs into a unit on color suggests that embarking on a multicultural literature unit can indeed be an inspiring activity that can assuage concerns about a teacher’s preparation time and deficiency of resources.

Teachers often ponder the question of where to begin a multicultural literature unit. As Virginia McCormack suggests, “A good place to start might be with the students.” Planning a literature unit to coincide with a festival of the students and their families allows a teacher the opportunity to involve the entire class in learning about a particular culture. An effort to select picture books that appeal to the various cultures represented in the classroom is another place to begin. There are numerous anthologies that provide discussions, story summaries, and activities to connect students and teachers with folk and fairy tales from numerous ethnic groups. Once a teacher becomes comfortable with ideas, a foundation for an effective multicultural literature curriculum will have been made.

5. Conclusion: The Future of Multicultural Literature

Today’s children have the opportunity to select engaging, well-written stories that can also help them appreciate the richness of diversity and empathize with people from their own and other cultures. Once introduced to fine multicultural literature, students often seek out similar titles on their own. If a joy of exploring together the abundant varieties of the human experience can be kindled among teachers and their pupils, it offers some of the best hope for preparing future citizens who are relevant and responsible to a pluralistic world.

As the United States becomes increasingly diverse, its people have become more sensitive to the fact that effectively preparing future generations to live and work will require fostering respect and appreciation for all individuals. The study of multicultural literature can play a vital role in fulfilling this need. However, the often mediocre literary quality of the multicultural titles available to today’s students and the current constraints and potential dangers of teaching them have been contributing to a decline in the reading of reading. Fortunately, an increasing number of fine multicultural titles are being written. If today’s students can be introduced to these titles combined with instruction and activities that cultivate not only their understanding of and respect for other people, but also their literary appreciation, the results could help ensure an improved future for all.

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