Saturday, November 15, 2014

10 More Reasons to Expand Your Use of Multicultural Literature

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There are at least 13 good reasons K12 students should read literature about many and diverse cultures and communities. The first three reasons are, or should be, obvious:

  • Kids are engaged and validated when they read about people like themselves - familiar faces, familiar experiences, familiar cultures. They are curious about their histories. All kids.
  • Global citizenship is unavoidable. Connected students view and engage in global conversations; the more they know about other cultures, the better the conversation. It is important for us to expose our students to different conditions and perspectives so that they develop cross-cultural understanding, not disrespect – so that they do not judge others based solely upon their own, perhaps dominant, cultural point of view (thank you to Willa Sky Freer for this phrasing).
  • Literature is a powerful medium for gaining a deeper understanding of one's own worldview through a negotiation of sameness and difference.
You may already include diverse, multicultural readings in your curriculum based on these points. Kudos! Many do not. The CCSS list of "story" exemplars is inadequate in terms of multicultural texts. Why is this?

The common definition of multiculturalism is narrow.  Multicultural means much more than race. The definition I like best is this: Multicultural literature is a representation of any non-dominant or underprivileged group.  

Let's face it. The dominant group in this country is competent white Christian men and their (less important) stable families. That does not mean this group represents the largest percentage of our population; it means that in our reality and its representations (media, literature, dreams) this group expects to and is allowed to overwhelm other groups as opinion-shapers, policy-makers, doers, users, protectors - as lead actors on the stage.  

Multicultural literature is written by a member of the wide non- pool that makes for the cultural, racial, sexual, medical, demographic, economic, familial, class and other diversities found in today's classrooms and communities. It puts non- group members and non-dominant cultures on the stage as independent, lead actors.   

More of it should be read in our schools. Why? In addition to the three reasons stated at the top of this post: 

  1. Because although Whites [currently] constitute the majority of the U.S. population, with a total of about 245,532,000 or 77.7% of the population, 93% of the population growth in the United States now comes from the non white populations. 50.4% of American children under the age of 1 belong to minority groups.   
  2. Because the US population is over 50% female. 
  3. Because we are increasingly urban, with 81% residing in cities and suburbs as of 2014.  
  4. Because there is a new Captain America, and he is not white, we have a new Muslim Ms. Marvel, we have Harley Quinn, and soon we will have Black Panther.  Watch out World for the new impact of diversity in the film, comic, and (or not) gaming and toy industries. It's time to 'Obliterate the Term Black Film', moving us slowly toward a new cultural normal.
  5. Because Obama Will Approve Immigrant Work Permits for Millions.  Or not. But Immigration (Reform) will be a battle to follow.
  6. Because 15% of Americans live in poverty. Of this, 10% are white. 22% of children in the U.S. live in families that are considered officially poor and child poverty rates are highest among black, Latino, and American Indian children.  The gap between rich and poor is at its highest and is getting larger. And by the way, the perception that the rich are smarter and harder working is at an all-time high.
  7. Because single parents account for 27 percent of family households with children under 18. Some of the trending family diversity might surprise you. Read more about The Changing American Family.
  8. Because "the United States is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country."  Find out more about religious diversity.
  9. Because 10% of the youth population is LGBT.  LGBT youth are twice as likely as their peers to say they have been physically assaulted, kicked or shoved at school, and 92% report that they hear negative messages about being LGBT - in school.  Read more about the profile and needs of our LGBT Youth.
  10. Because about 13% of public school students are receiving special education services. Learn more about Children and Youth With Disabilities.
We Need Diverse Books is one good place to find multicultural titles.  Bear in mind that multicultural literature is best when it is authentic - written by an author from the culture or very closely connected (parent, child, etc.) to the diverse community or character(s) central to the text. Most of the resources at We Need Diverse Books, at Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature (Best Books) and at SLJ's updated An Expanded Cultural Diversity Booklist do hold to this standard. Goodreads has quite a good multicultural literature shelf. There are many lists that don't hold to this standard of authorship or to a high standard of literary value. Do your homework.

And a last note. SLJ makes the essential point that multicultural literature reading means not only giving kids novels [poems, drama] and picture books featuring a varied cast of characters but also ensuring a nuanced, multicultural view of our whole society: in other words, bringing diversity to nonfiction series titles.  So take a good hard look at your informational text selections.  Are they promoting multiculturalism as well?  

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