One of the most notable and positive trends in young adult literature in the past five years or so has been an increase in books written by and about members of diverse cultural backgrounds. For example, the November, 1994,National Council of Teachers of English Convention and ALAN Workshop in Orlando, Florida, featured keynote speakers and panelists such as Lensey Namioka, Marie Lee, Walter Dean Myers, Gary Soto, Chiam Potok, and Sharon Dennis Wyeth. These are authors who speak about life experiences from positions that are outside the mainstream of American culture, experiences that enrich personal and literary experiences for readers of any ethnic and cultural background. This trend has brought wonderfully diverse characters into classrooms where young adult novels are read and enjoyed. It has introduced students to ways of living and believing that are different from their own and has helped create an understanding among students and teachers that to be different is not a bad thing, that different does not mean inferior. It has also allowed students to recognize universality in human concerns; and, in many cases, it has given support and a sense of belonging to groups that have been marginalized in United States educational systems.
The Research ConnectionPamela Sissi Carroll, Editor
Florida State University, Tallahasssee, Florida
Seeking Our Students in Literature:
On the other hand, some educators recognize that this trend in young adult literature, and the parallel trend in literature anthologies to include work by writers from under-represented groups, is contributing strength to the rebels' position in a philosophic, ideological, and pedagogic battle over the literary canon. And the canon, long one of the constants of secondary school teaching,has begun feeling the weariness of battle fatigue.
Which works of literature are being taught in today's secondary schools? The question necessarily transcends concern with young adult literature to include all literature that is used in classrooms and read by adolescents. Are teachers able and eager to expand the traditional literary canon to include writers from ethnic and cultural minority groups? Do they view expansion of the canon as a means of providing students with a more complete glimpse at the picture of American society as it exists in the last years of the 20th century? Or do they see it as a way to merely assuage those who clamor for equal representation, given our ethnically and culturally mixed society? Do today's secondary school teachers embrace a diverse group of writers and share them with their students, or are they skeptical about or tired of attention to"political correctness"?
As teacher educators in Florida, a state with an ever-increasing multicultural population and with a legislature that tends to mandate changes in public education without looking into classrooms to study what is happening there, we believe it is important to examine the attitudes and practices of teachers in regard to "multicultural education." We have begun our examination by surveying the teachers in our home state, and we suggest that teachers in Florida may be used as a barometer for teachers across the United States.
In 1992, the Florida legislature passed the Multicultural Education Act, an amendment to the state's Education and Accountability Act. The Multicultural Education Act seeks to increase the "effectiveness of services to all Florida students regardless of their ethnic, gender, socioeconomic or cultural background" ( Betty Castor , Commissioner of Education, 1993 Multicultural Task Force Review). Florida's Commission on Education Reform has since been charged with the responsibility of measuring the extent to which Florida's school districts are providing multicultural education to students, monitoring the performance of students from various cultural groups, and providing multicultural training for teachers. Clearly, multicultural education has been identified as an area of political and social concern in Florida. But it has not yet been treated as an educational priority in a state with a minority student population that continues to grow beyond the 40% reported in 1993.
The 1993 Report of the Task Force on Multicultural Education indicates that neither pre service nor in service teacher education programs have adequately prepared teachers to manage multicultural issues. Teachers need an opportunity to express their needs and concerns in regard to multicultural education before they are asked to "manage" multicultural issues in their classrooms. This need has drawn the attention of, among other groups, the Florida Council of Teachers of English Multicultural Commission. As Chair and members of the Commission, we have developed a survey, "Multicultural Education in Florida's English/Language Arts Classes: Attitudes and Practices," that asks teachers of English/language arts in our state what they know about, are confused about, and need to learn more about regarding teaching culturally diverse students. The survey focuses on the teaching of literature because we believe that the most obvious and direct means of bringing multicultural awareness into classrooms is through the study of literature by writers from under-represented groups who write for both adults and adolescents. The survey was published for response in the FCTENewsletter, Spring, 1994, and members of the FCTE Multicultural Commission have circulated the survey to teachers in their counties across the state; the survey was also distributed at the 1994 Florida Council of Teachers of English meeting in Orlando, Florida. Teachers were asked to submit only one survey each. The 176 teachers who responded are typically the teachers who are professionally active beyond their classrooms: they attend state conferences and participate in the Florida Council of Teachers of English. Therefore, the survey was not distributed to a random sample of the state's English teachers:our goal was to establish a vehicle for professionally active teachers to speak about their attitudes and practices in terms of multicultural education.
A simple survey of teachers' attitudes and practices is indeed a modest beginning in working toward an understanding of the impact of a politically potent issue that challenges traditional definitions of the "appropriate" canon of literature for today's classrooms. However, the survey gives Florida's teachers of English/language arts a voice and an ear. Our goal is that the concerns they identify become the ones that receive attention in the state. As teachers and teacher educators, we must take stock of our strengths and weaknesses in teaching our multicultural student populations. Our imperative first step is to identify what we are working toward. We do not know until we ask one another.
Below we have included results of the survey. We have added questions that emerged as we began to think about what teachers' responses may indicate about attitudes and practices regarding multicultural literature. And perhaps more important, we have raised questions about teaching in a time when demographic and social changes demand an examination of our philosophies and pedagogies.
Multicultural Education in Florida's English/Language Arts Classes:Attitudes and Practices
The results of the 1994-1995 survey follow, in two parts. For the thirteen items of Part I, respondents assigned a number to represent their response, using the following Likert scale:
0 = no opinion
1 = strongly disagree
2 = disagree
3 = agree
4 = strongly agree
In this report, we have collapsed the responses for these thirteen survey items into three broad categories: agree , disagree , and no opinion . The percentage of responses that fall into these categories follows a restatement of every survey item. In Part II, respondents replied to open-ended questions. We have developed broad categories of their responses,and list them in the narrative.
We invite and encourage readers to check their own responses against those of the survey respondents and to think through their own answers to the questions we raise.
The Survey: Part I
1. The literary canon should be stable, defined by classic works which have withstood time.
agree = 43% disagree = 54%
no opinion = 3%
The fact that 43% of the respondents agree with this statement is an indication that many teachers are loyal to the literary canon. Are these teachers who protect their curricula from change? Are they teachers for whom mandated lists from departmental, county, and state offices influence curricular decisions more than do students' reading interests and ethnic backgrounds? Do these teachers feel comfortable acknowledging the social and aesthetic contributions of non-mainstream writers?
The fact, however, that 54% of those who responded to this item disagree with the statement seems to indicate that many teachers are willing to accept change in the standard curriculum. Are these teachers those who include or may consider including young adult literature and multicultural literature in their literature curricula? Are they teachers who may seek works outside of the approved/adopted textbooks to bring into their classrooms? Do they feel confident in using their critical judgment to make selections for their students, and are they likely to consider students' interests and backgrounds when selecting literature to be studied by their students? Are they teachers who use their curricula to respond to swiftly and sometimes dramatically changing demographics, changes that will result in 40% of the nation's school-age youth being children of color by the 21st century ( Zeichner, 1992 )?Do they believe that students can develop self-identity through literary experiences?
Other questions raised by the responses to this first item include the following: Do teachers make selections primarily based on what is most readily available in their textbooks? Do they rely on literature that they studied when they were doing degree work and updating certification? As teacher-readers, do they actually prefer canonical works? Are teachers' attitudes toward the canon determined by their own reading interests or by the notion that all students should share a common literary heritage in order to be"culturally literate" -- in the E. D. Hirsch sense? Which agents of curricular change are most influential? Which are least effective? Does the degree of community and family involvement in schools influence teachers' choices?
2. Teaching of multicultural literature should include attention only to works written by members of racial and ethnic minorities.
agree = 6% disagree = 94%
The high number of disagree responses leads us to believe that teachers are less concerned with the ethnic/cultural identity of an author than with other factors related to the works of literature that they use in their classes. The responses also seem to indicate that teachers accept literature about minority people when it is written by those outside of the minority.
Responses to this statement lead us to ask these questions: Should teachers make strong efforts to include works by ethnically diverse authors, as well as works that feature multicultural protagonists and foreign settings? If the goals of using multicultural literature include helping minority students develop self-esteem and look to authors as role models who have voices, should literature that represents a culturally diverse group of writers be, for the most part, by writers from under-represented groups? Do students from under-represented groups feel affinity toward stories written about their cultural group even when they are written by authors who are not members of that cultural group? Do student readers even pay attention to the identity of the writer? Do students respond to literature with content that includes attention to ethnic minorities, written by authors of the mainstream, as"multicultural" literature?
Related questions focus on students' expectations when they approach a literary work: How might the author's identity affect the way students react to literary works? If the author is writing about his/her own culture, do students approach the work as a valid representation of a particular culture?On the other hand, if the author is writing about a culture outside of his/her own, is the literature regarded as an accurate representation of that culture?
3. Teaching of multicultural literature should include attention to works written about members of racial and ethnic minorities, regardless of the author's racial/ethnic background.
agree = 90% disagree = 8%
no opinion = 2%
Overwhelming agreement to this statement, especially in light of the responses to the preceding statement, suggests that the subject, characters, setting,themes, and tone of literary works are more important for teachers than is the author's racial/ethnic identity.
The questions raised regarding item two apply here, also.
4. Teaching of multicultural literature should include attention to works written by and/or about members of minority groups such as the elderly,physically challenged, gays, and lesbians.
agree = 63% disagree = 27%
no response = 10%
The distribution of responses to this survey item points to the controversial underpinning of the statement, one which may be read as a challenge to some teachers' definition of "multicultural." This item evoked quite a number of penned comments, such as "I am a conservative" on a survey in which "gays and lesbians" had been marked through, and "Gays and lesbians aren't a cultural group; cultural identity is something you are born with and cannot change."
In retrospect, we wonder: would the survey have done a better job of allowing teachers to express their opinions about the inclusion of particular components of a multicultural curriculum if we had written a separate statement for each group we included in the list of examples? Do teachers who agree that the elderly, for example, are to be given attention under a "multicultural" rubric also agree that attention to physically challenged people is to be included in a "multicultural" instruction component? How many teachers deal with gay/lesbian characters in literature, especially now that many young adult books include gay/lesbian characters? How does this number vary from one community to another?
5. In selecting multicultural literature, artistic (literary) merit is the primary consideration.
agree = 60% disagree = 40%
The fact that teachers appear to be divided in their responses to this item raises several questions, including the following: Do the teachers who agree see their primary responsibility as one of introducing and teaching high-quality literature to their students? For these teachers, are concerns for the social, political, and historical contexts of the work, or attention to the author, secondary concerns, or perhaps absent? Conversely, do those who disagree view literature instruction as inextricably bound with social and cultural issues? For these, is concern for artistic merit sometimes subordinated to concern for the themes and issues receiving attention in a piece of writing? For both, the definition of "artistic (literary) merit"must be questioned.
6. In selecting multicultural literature, the desire to expose students to writers and characters from other cultures is the primary consideration.
agree = 74% disagree = 23%
no opinion = 3%
Because 74% of the responses to this survey item agree with it, we find ourselves asking which cultures teachers feel their students should be introduced to through literature. We are led to ask, too, whether literary introduction to people from other cultural groups has any actual and/or lasting effect on adolescents' understanding of people from different backgrounds.
7. I read literature by minority writers in order to expand my base of knowledge about possible literary offerings for my students.
agree = 91% disagree 8%
no opinion = 1%
We read the overwhelmingly positive response to this statement as encouraging news. Teachers are aware that they must continue to read and learn about literature in order to keep up with current offerings for their students. Again we see the question emerge, "What provisions do schools and school systems make to encourage teachers to remain current in their areas of interest and expertise?"
8. Ethnic literature by minority writers should be separated from the"regular" curriculum and taught with direct attention to the background of the writer.
agree = 7% disagree = 89%
no opinion = 4%
Does the high percentage of disagree responses mean that today's teachers are unlikely, for example, to segregate African-American authors for study during Black History month but not during the rest of the year, or to teach Mexican-American writers only while the school is celebrating the community's Hispanic heritage? When teachers do teach works of non-traditional literature in segregated, isolated, chunks as a bow toward political correctness, do students receive any benefits? Should the "heroes and holidays" approach toward multiculturalism ( Banks, 1988 ) be discontinued in favor of a pluralistic curriculum? Do "hero and holiday" practices trivialize the literature of the cultures that receive temporary attention to the point of doing damage to the students' appreciation for and understanding of other people?
9. The literature that I teach is written by culturally diverse group of writers.
agree = 85% disagree = 13%
no opinion = 2%
We can infer from the strong percentage of respondents who agree with this item that teachers are using literature by a multicultural population of writers. Are teachers satisfied, then, with the literary offerings of their textbooks? What changes have occurred in the contents of literature textbooks during the past few years when multiculturalism has emerged as an important issue for educators? Are teachers in communities that have populations with greater cultural diversity than other communities more likely to teach works written by authors from cultures represented in their schools' populations?
10. My students are, for the most part, members of the racial and ethnic majority.
agree = 49% disagree = 49%
no opinion = 2%
In retrospect, we realize that this survey item fails to take under consideration the fact that what is "majority" for the state as a whole is not necessarily what is the "majority" population in any particular community or school. For example, in Dade County, Florida (Miami) more than 50% of the current school-age population is Hispanic. In addition, the ethnic makeup of some schools in Dade County is well over 90% Hispanic. However, these demographic figures are unlike those found in most other counties and schools in Florida.
Despite the problem with the survey item, the responses do highlight the fact that teachers across Florida, as in many states, work in disparate conditions.Many teachers work with student populations who, in terms of state or national averages, would be called members of a minority group. Many, on the other hand,teach a majority of Anglo students. Some have cutting-edge technology available for the using; others struggle to keep a mimeograph machine operating. Some are filled with parent and community volunteers; others have little or no help beyond the faculty and staff. Two questions suggested are these: Is enough being done to eliminate economic differences that privilege one school over another within a particular community? Are schools in which the student population is comprised predominantly of non-native speakers of English, for example, equipped with staff and faculty who can meet those students' particular needs as well as the needs of other students?
11. Students from the majority race benefit by reading works by and about people from other races and cultures.
agree = 99% disagree = 1%
Virtually everyone agreed with this statement. Perhaps those surveyed believe that presenting points of view from under-represented groups will enhance students' critical-thinking skills. Or, perhaps they recognize that our demographics are moving toward a "majority minority" society ( Henry, 1990 ). If they are reacting to this change in society, do the teachers believe that their students will be unprepared for interaction in a multicultural society unless they begin to understand people's differences through literature? Do they fear that their students will be culturally deprived if they withhold multicultural literature from them?
A few other questions emerge in relation to the statement, including these:How often do we talk with students about what they and what we perceive to be the "benefits" of literature instruction? Do we value students' responses to literature; and, if so, do we indicate that stance through the instructional and evaluative strategies that we employ during literature lessons? Do we consider students' goals in reading literature when we develop plans for teaching literature?
12. The author's ethnic identity is important to me when I am considering including his/her work in my literature curriculum.
agree = 40% disagree = 51%
no opinion = 9%
These responses are similar to the ones given for items number 3 and 6. In responses to each, it is evident that teachers consider the nature of the literary work from another culture -- its themes, settings, characters, and soon -- as more important than the cultural identity and ethnicity of the author.Once again, the question that comes to the forefront is the way teachers view literature written about cultural minority members, but by members of the cultural mainstream. In short, do teachers accept such literature as representative of minority cultures?
Other questions also rise from consideration of these responses: Which sources do teachers use when they wish to find information about the backgrounds of authors who are not as well-known as those who have found places in the standard school canon? Would a greater availability of reference sources increase the attention teachers give to the background of the artists whose works are studied? Are teachers who disagree with the survey item less familiar with minority authors than mainstream authors?
13. I am confident that I can make appropriate choices of literature written by less-known minority authors in order to include those works in my curriculum.
agree = 91% disagree = 8%
no opinion = 1%
Although these responses seem to suggest that teachers see themselves as capable of making informed choices for their students, we wonder: How do teachers gain the confidence necessary in order to enable them to select and introduce to their students literary works and authors who are new to them,too? Do university English and teacher-education courses typically empower teachers with knowledge and confidence for selecting and teaching works that have not been studied in those courses (by providing, for example, literary experiences in which aesthetic stances toward literary works, and critical thinking about them, is stressed over "correctness" in interpretations of literature)? Are teachers allowed to exercise their judgment in curricular matters? If not, are the obstacles "real" or imagined constraints? What can schools and school systems do better to empower teachers to use their professional judgment in selecting less-known literature for their students to read? How is professional judgment acquired and developed?
The Survey: Part II
The second part of the survey consists of open-ended questions to which respondents wrote their own answers. After reading and recording every answer per question, we developed categories that were broad enough to account for types of responses. The questions asked and the categories of response which emerged (with sub-categories when necessary) are listed below.
A. Responses to the question, "I define the term `multicultural literature 'this way: ____," fall into seven (7) categories and are given below in descending order:
1. Works by/about members of minority or varied cultural groups; works that articulate universal themes and promote global representation
number of responses: 53
2. No response
number of responses: 33
3. Works by and about groups outside of the traditional canon of dead white European males/Anglo Saxons/White Anglo Saxon Protestants/British/mainstream
number of responses: 23
4. Works that authentically depict the experiences, customs, values, needs,and interests of people from varied groups, using membership in one or more of the following categories as indicators of diversity: culture, race, ethnicity,gender, age, economic status groups
number of responses: 15
5. Works that present all walks of life/views of various cultural milieus, to students
number of responses: 8
6. Works that deal with diversity within or outside American society through the use of the voices of minority protagonists and/or through the use of regional or foreign settings
number of responses: 8
7. Sample of 16 other responses
a. "topics about race not necessarily written by a member of that race"
b. "material that will relate to my students, written in standard English"
c. "mixture of American ethnic cultures"
d. "literature that presents any culture that students are ignorant of"
e. "the blending of many cultures and histories to be learned by students"
f. "works that promote the premise that literature is a part of every culture"
g. "an intelligent alternative, supplement, and foundation for the growth of students"
h. "literature that contributes to the American experience"
i. "literature that includes senior citizens [among other religious, national,racial, or cultural groups] and BOTH genders"
j. "literature with characters from foreign countries"
B. Responses to the question, "I teach these works of literature and consider them to be multicultural ____ ," fall into seven (7) categories:
1. different authors listed, without specific titles -- fifty-six (56)different authors listed
2. Authors listed ten times or more
Only two (2) authors were listed 10 or more times:
a. Langston Hughes, listed 13 times
b. Maya Angelou, listed 10 times
3. Authors listed three to nine times
4. different titles given -- two hundred one (201) different titles listed
Ten (10) Authors were listed 3-9 times authors number of
a. Gary Soto 7 b. Alice Walker 6 c. Toni Cade Bambara 5 d. Sandra Cisneros 4 e. Gabriel Garcia-Marquez 4 f. Toni Morrison 4 g. Amy Tan 4 h. Gwendolyn Brooks 3 i. Zora Neale Hurston 3 j. Maxine Hong Kingston 3
5. Of the 201 titles, these seven (7) titles were listed ten (10) times or more:
* Excerpts or full versions of these works appear in literature textbooks that are on the list of state-adopted texts.
Titles number of
a. House on Mango Street 17* b. Their Eyes Were Watching God 14* c. A Raisin in the Sun 13* d. Black Boy 12* e. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 11* f. The Joy Luck Club 11 g. Night 11
6. Of the 201 titles listed, these nineteen were listed three to nine times:
7. No title or author given -- twenty (20) respondents left this item blank
Titles number of
a. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry 8 b. Diary of A Young Girl: Anne Frank 6 c. To Kill a Mockingbird 6 d. Native Son 5 e. The Perez Family 5 f. "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" 5 g. "Blues Ain't No Mockin' Bird" 4 h. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 4 i. Cry, The Beloved Country 4 j. Invisible Man 4 k. When the Legends Die 4 l. Woman Warrior 4 m. Bless Me, Ultima 3 n. A Light in the Forest 3 o. Like Water for Chocolate 3 p. Old Man and the Sea 3 q. The Outsiders 3
C. Responses to the question, "I use these sources to help me identify good literature for my students, including multicultural literature: ____," fall into seven (7) categories :
2. Professional (Teaching)
source number of
a. colleagues 50 b. my students 15 c. my own reading 15 d. university professors'
6 e. school media specialists 5 f. others (friends, spouses,
department chairs, etc.)
a. English Journal is listed forty-four (44) times
b. Other professional (teaching) journals are listed by title twenty-five (25)times
c. Other professional (teaching) journals, not listed by title, are listed fifteen (15) times
3. Magazine/Newspaper Book Reviews
4. Department/County/State Resources
source number of
miscellaneous sources 17 New York Times Book Review 11 various book award lists 5
5. Publishers' Brochures/Catalogues
source number of
department/county/state lists 20 county/state in-service
8 other department/
References to publishers' brochures and catalogues are listed twenty nine (29)times.
6. Other sources, such as conferences, anthologies, etc.
References to sources such as these are listed eighteen (18) times.
7. Perusal of book stores, libraries, and book fairs
These sources are listed sixteen (16) times.
D. Responses to the question, "I would like to know more about these aspects of teaching multicultural literature" fall into ten (10)categories .
requests number of
1. Lists (miscellaneous--no particular culture identified) 26 2. Strategies for instruction 22 3. Lists (of works by/about particular cultural groups) 14 4. Any/All aspects of teaching multicultural literature 6 5. Negative response to learning more about teaching multicultural literature 6 6. Better understanding of various cultures' mores and customs 3 7. Where to get money for purchasing multicultural literature 3 8. How to overcome students' prejudices toward some people in some cultural and ethnic groups 1 9. Strategies for dealing with gay/lesbian literature 1 10. No response given 104
E. Responses to the question, "I am pleased with attention to multicultural education" for these reasons fall into seven (7) categories
response number of
1. Multicultural Education helps students understand the people and world around us 26 2. Multicultural literature encourages harmony, tolerance, and a cooperative attitude. 11 3. Multicultural literature helps students helps students of all backgrounds relate to literature. 10 4. Multicultural literature is more readily available in approved literature texts. 7 5. Multicultural education helps develop the whole child as a critical thinker. 6 6. Multicultural literature increases student interest in learning by adding texture to the literature curriculum. 5 7. Multicultural literature provides positive role models for all students. 3
F. Responses to the question, "I am concerned about attention to`multicultural education' for these reasons: ____," responses fall into eight(8) categories
response number of
1. Inclusion of multicultural literature detracts from teaching the traditional canon of school literature. 13 2. "Multicultural Education" reinforces stereotypes by categorizing people into ethnic/cultural/racial clumps. 12 3. The "politically correct" approach forces a particular curriculum to become a goal in itself. 8 4. There is still a lack of fair representation in literature that is available and teachable. 7 5. Multicultural education puts cultural/ethnic issues above concern for artistic merit. 5 6. State-adopted textbooks do not promote inclusion of multicultural literature into curricula. 3 7. Price of multicultural novels, story collections, and poetry is excessive. 1 8. I do not know enough multicultural literature; I need to update my knowledge base. 1
Fifty (50) of those who turned in surveys did not respond to this survey item, "I am pleased with/concerned about attention to multicultural education for these reasons: ____."
Where Do We Go From Here?
What do the responses to the statements and open-ended questions tell us about teachers' attitudes and practices regarding multicultural literature?First, because we are human, teachers differ in their opinions about what is to be included within the rubric of "multicultural" literature. We also have different socio-cultural backgrounds, different academic experiences,philosophies, communities, schools and departments, goals and motivation. We agree that people with different language backgrounds and homelands are to be included; but we disagree, sometimes vehemently, about the place for literature that focuses readers' attention on the elderly, physically challenged, and those who are gay or lesbian.
Second, regardless of what we label "multicultural," teachers tend to pay more attention to the themes, topics, settings, and characters of books, and to the texture that works from diverse cultures can add to our lessons, than to the ethnic and cultural identity of the authors. Many of us are pleased that multicultural issues are receiving attention in school curricula, because we see that multicultural literature has a potentially humanizing effect. Many of us are also convinced that reading about others can promote harmony and tolerance and thus help all of us appreciate people's differences and celebrate their similarities. And many of us believe that through the presentation of multicultural literature, we can increase the potential for students to turn to literature as a mirror of their lives, or a window into others' lives. But we are concerned, too. We worry that multicultural literature may promulgate stereotypes, that we may grow to be more focused on the social issues in literary texts than on the artistic qualities of those works. We are concerned,too, that the curriculum can be manipulated in the name of "political correctness" to the point that it becomes a tool for airing our own sociopolitical persuasions.
Third, as teachers we feel confident that we can make informed choices that will expand the literary canon, but certain conditions must be satisfied to enable us to do so: We need lists of current young adult and adult works that are by and about people from under-represented populations. We need to learn strategies for helping our students engage in personal literary experiences with literature that at times seems far-removed from their lives -- to find what is universally human through the literature of varied cultures. We need help in determining whether or not works of literature from writers outside of the established school canon of British and American writers should find a place in our curricula, or if adherence to the traditional canon is a sufficient reason to omit works from less-known and contemporary writers. We need deeper knowledge of writers than the helpful but introductory biographical facts presented in literature anthology. We need to find ways to encourage teachers to talk more often among themselves about the literature they select.
Fourth, because we are a practical group, we wonder about how we can afford to bring new books that honor cultural variety into our classrooms (we define"afford" in terms of time constraints as well as budgetary ones). Can we spend time teaching less-known literary works despite pressure from outside our classes to teach the classics, the basics, to the tests, and so on? Also, the high cost of books published by small presses, including houses that publish many multicultural works, is prohibitive in many cases. For example, a teacher in Florida was unable to buy a class set of Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me,Ultima, (1972) published by Tonatiuh-Quinto Sol International of Berkeley,California, because the paperback version of the novel costs approximately$16.00 per copy. Further, if the textbooks that are in use in our schools do not adequately represent cultures beyond the main stream, we need to know where to turn for authoritative help in making wise decisions about supplemental sources. We need to find resources that will allow us to develop greater understanding of the contexts in which literature by under-represented people is written so that the teacher's edition of a textbook is not the extent of our background information about any particular writer and/or culture. And we need to explore sources of money, including state and federal, and private funding, to purchase the new books with which we will expand classroom and school library collections.
Fifth, we recognize that we must continue to ask questions and develop answers that lead us into the 21st century with attitudes and practices that enhance the education of our students. To this end, we must be active politically, even though many of us have traditionally shied away from the political dimension of our career. The politics of multicultural education as they relate to teaching literature to adolescents reach far beyond questions about which works of literature will be studied, which works will be ignored, and which works will be shunned. The politics also involve economic questions: teachers who need more education in order to be better able to teach multicultural student populations need financial and administrative support for returning to school and attending workshops. These teachers need time away from their classrooms --paid time -- in order to update their own reading and study. They need to meet with publishers of texts and trade books who will listen to their needs for more accessible collections of literature. The politics of multicultural education also involve administrative issues: teachers need to be freed from an overdose of mandatory testing and the concomitant pressure to prepare students (in other words, to "teach to the test") so that the test results do not bring embarrassment to the school, or questions about the teachers' ability to teach "the basics." Teachers need help garnering community support for enrichment of schools' physical, technological, and human resources.
And most important, we must accept and embrace the fact that we are multicultural educators -- not because of the literature that we teach,but because of the students whom we teach.
(We wish to thank Mr. Jeff Stein of the Florida State University Statistical Consulting Center for his help with analysis.)
Pamela Sissi Carroll, Research Editor, The ALAN Review , is an Associate Professor of English Education at Florida State University,Tallahassee, Florida. Gail Gregg is an Assistant Professor of English Education at Florida International University, Miami, Florida. Elizabeth Watts is a teacher of high school English in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who is on leave as she pursues a doctorate in English Education at Florida State University,Tallahassee, Florida.