Multicultural Literature: Literature Changes Lives

Dr. Darrel Hoagland is a former elementary and middle school teacher who lives in New Bedford, MA and Philadelphia, PA.

American society is now undergoing the most radical demographic shift in its history and we must reflect the reality of our time (Rasor, 2010) and the vastness that divided ethnic and racial groups is shriveling (Britt, 2010). Because American children need to develop a knowledge and worldview that appreciates the uniqueness and richness of their own culture and other cultures (Huck, Hepler, Hickman, & Kiefer, 1997), I strongly recommend the use of multicultural literature. Author and Nobel Peace Prize winner Toni Morrison (1995) said, “Narrative has never been merely entertainment for me, it is, I believe, one of the principle ways in which we absorb knowledge (p. 7).” Reading multicultural literature facilitates the celebration of multiculturalism as we read across our differences to become connected. Because literature is an extraordinary conveyor of ideals, values, and mores, it gives us the opportunity to become “literate in multiple ways of perceiving and speaking about reality” (Leistyna, Woodrum, 1996, p.  9). Multicultural literature teaches diversity, it is anti-racist, and it is transformative.

Multicultural stories teach diversity

Asante (1991) says teaching from a range of perspectives prepares students from diverse groups to work together.  Huck, Hickman, Hepler, & Kiefer (1997) say literature, even children’s literature, helps us “acquire human-ness” and it helps children to come to grips with the human-ness of others (p. 454). It enables “children to see human interdependence” and it encourages the idea that “we are all interconnected and interrelated” (p. 516). Using multicultural literature helps to highlight the perspective that “all human beings have contributed to world development and the flow of knowledge and information, and that most human achievements are the result of mutually interactive, international effort” (Asante, 1991, p. 340).

Using multicultural literature moves us away from the practice of designating stories about Caucasian Americans and those of European origin as canon while concurrently labeling stories outside of that tradition and perspective as “other” or miscellaneous readings or supplemental additions to the core curriculum.

Multicultural literature reflects the world’s myriad voices and it provides readers with a range of perspectives. We cannot, subconsciously or otherwise, continue to treat a particular monocultural lens as normative (Rasor, 2010).  Banks (1994) writes, “teaching from a range of perspectives will prepare students from diverse groups to work in a truly unified nation” (p. 4).
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News Spotlight: Justice, Juveniles and Alternative Sentencing

Thankfully, there are many other people and organizations out there that share the CLTL worldview. That is, a belief in the real possibility of personal transformation and an active commitment to improving the criminal justice system.

Here are just a few recent examples:

Shakespeare in the Courts

Shakespeare & Company of Lenox, MA has made news lately with their Shakespeare in the Courts project. “To be sentenced to perform in a Shakespeare play is a little, uh, unimaginable” says Shakespeare & Company’s Kevin Coleman in the video below from WBUR. Coleman goes on to say that “fixing” juvenile offenders is not the objective.

“Our goal is to give them this very risky, very valuable, very demanding experience… and that’s it.”

Watch the rehearsal video:

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