The Missouri Reader Vol. 42, Issue 1 - Page 27

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My question is, “Why do some teachers talk so little about the importance of cultural identity in the classroom?”

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The Black and White of Using Diverse Literature

Anita Lael

Practicing Teachers

There is little in the way of guidelines for practicing teachers regarding the selection of books they use to read aloud in their classroom. Encouragement to choose the classics, particularly Newbery Award and Caldecott books is widespread. However, as previously mentioned, those books have a predominance of Caucasian themes and characters. In the state of Missouri, there is abundant focus on the Missouri Association of School Librarian Award books. These are the Show-Me Award books for grades K-3 and the Mark Twain Award books for grades 4-6. There are also Truman and Gateway Award books for secondary students. These books, while lovely and enchanting, have no selection criteria referring to multicultural or diversity issues.

Teachers should become very aware of and more cognizant of selecting a wide variety of literature for their classrooms. In addition to different genres and levels, they should expose children to a lens on the world by using diverse, racially sensitive literature and leading conversations about the different characters’ cultural backgrounds and related themes. These are simple strategies that could have positive effects on the achievement levels of all students, especially in the literacy areas.

Summary

Is integrating more diverse, multicultural and racially sensitive literature into elementary classroom instruction a viable consideration for narrowing the achievement gap between black and white students? Abundant evidence indicates that it is. Should teacher education programs place an emphasis on using more diverse literature in the classroom when preparing teacher candidates and how can practicing teachers become more aware and savvy when choosing books to share with their students? These issues should be the focus of professional conversations and research as we continue to strive for equality of the achievement levels of all students.

References Cited

Pirofski, K.I. (2000). Multicultural literature and the children’s literary canon. San Jose University. www.edchange.org/multicultural/papers/literature.html.

Jencks, C. and Phillips, M. (1998). The black-white test score gap. Brookings Institution Press. www.brookings.edu/articles/the-black-white-test-score-gap-why-it-persists-and-what-can-be-done/.

Slater, D. (2016). The uncomfortable truth about children’s books. Mother Jones. www.motherjones.com/media/2016/09/diversity-childrens-books-slavery-twitter/.

Anita Lael is currently an associate professor

of reading education at Lincoln University.

She previously worked for the Missouri Reading Initiative and as a former teacher

and principal. Children's Literature has always been of enormous interest to her.

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