Children's Literature: culturally responsive teaching

This weblog is a project for Education 642, Children's written and oral genres, a course for elementary education students at UNBC (Prince George, BC). Its purpose is to provide an opportunity for students to experience how literature "opens up worlds"-- the social, emotional, imaginative, spritual, the cultural and the aesthetic.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

OK, first, for you fellow humorists/politicos, Rick Mercer's blog is now linked to the mainpage of this blog.

Secondly, I still have not got my audio blog to post... I think I am going to have to re-set my password and try again. Anyone out there with any ideas on what the problem could be? The system says I have successfully recorded the post, but it doesn't appear anywhere on the page so that you can see/access it. I don't see a "help" page anywhere, so any advice you might offer would be appreciated.

Thirdly, I thought it might be useful for me to reflect for a moment on some of what I've been thinking about since our last class and its focus on social justice in children's literature. And I'd also like you to feel free to comment on this posting by responding to some of my questions or musings on the topic.

One thing I am never sure about is how much of what I espouse as central to good teaching practice is already well canvassed by other teachers in our program. For example, the social justice question: for me, the role of social advocate and acting as an educator for social change is a central function of teaching. The obligation to represent the many expereinces and identities of the children we teach in order to have a fully inclusive classroom has been part of my own pedagogical beliefs for some time. As some of you know, my own research is centered in issues related to social justice, activism and student learning. But, if it is a topic already dealt with in a substantial way by another instructor, then I don't want to duplicate that effort, but simply add to your base knowledge by considering how children's literature and story telling might be tools for enacting this curriculum in your classroom. So anything you could offer in the way of advice about this point would be very useful to me.

One of the writers that has impressed me in thinking about social justice issues and our orientation to them as teachers is a person called Dei. He wrote in his 1996 book "As a society we can address questions of social justice, equity, and power sharing by first understnading ourselves and how we see our social obligations and responsibilities". For me, this means doing a lot of self reflective thinking, asking critical questions, and looking within my self to identify my own assumptions about race, ethnicity, gender, ability/ disability or other forms of "difference". And as teachers, we are one of the primary tools used by society to ensure such equity is achieved.

As teachers, however, we have the additional responsiblity for knowing how our own belief systems influence our teaching choices and how this reinforces particular understandings; or if it fails to adequately consider how our own priveleges as white, middle class Canadians are continuously represented in the curriculum (hidden and overt). As we began the dialogue in class yesterday about what equity means and how it might relate to our pedagogy and decisions as teachers, I felt the beginnings of a very powerful conversation that I hope you will continue to reflect on and consider as you prepare for your own teaching career. This is an ongoing process, not one that happens all at once. It often means asking hard questions of ourselves, and trying to see through the eyes of others how our words and actions are interpreted. It means being open to considering how issues of power, privilege, domination and tradition act as barriers to the full inclusion of "others". Gary Howard (1999) says it well: "We cannot hlep our students overcome the negative repercussions of past and present racial dominance if we have not unraveled the remnents of dominance that still lingers in our minds, hearts, and habits... We can't teach what we don't know, and we can't lead where we won't go... The function of education is to inculcate into the minds and hearts of each generation those fundamental values and principles that defind our unique character as a nation. The transforming function of education, on the other hand, is to critically interpret those founding values in light of ever changing social realities and to continually challenge the discrepencies between our stated beliefs and our national behaviour" (p. 4-5).

Your thoughts?


  • At 10:05 AM, Blogger liz said…

    Thank you for the email from Heather. It is always helpful when we discover new sites that could help us in our search for good literature.
    I must confess, I am guilty of not wandering into many different genres,especially multicultural childrens books, and in not doing so, I have deprived myself of learning and growing in this field . That is not to say I have not formulated my own opinions and views about multiculturalism through life experiences, but it also means that my views are shaded by my past. Because I am not extensively read in this subject, when I do read a multicultural book to my class, I have to rely on my own beliefs and what I know personally to teach my students about diversity. There in lies the rub because what Gary Howard says, our views of equality are in some ways mired in the beliefs of our parents and social thinking of our past. I am proud of the fact that my parents were quite liberal in their thinking of other cultures but yet, in some small way they would not have liked it if I had married a man of color. So were they not racially prejudiced then? And did they not impart in me the same beliefs? I try not to think so but we cannot shake our past that easily and perhaps what Howard meant is that even though we radically might have changed our views there is still a tiny part of us that thinks like our parents did. I believe that the more knowledge we have of our diverse students and their cultures, the more we can teach about equality and exceptance. In order to do this we must choose literature which uniquely and honestly represents people of color and their cultures. And we should continually reflect on our own beliefs and feelings about equality in order to foster caring and exceptance in our students.


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