Library:ADCLP/Self-study Approach to Multicultural Literature

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Teachers are left, for the most part, with the awesome responsibility of implementing provincial curricula while simultaneously having to respond to the needs and demands of multicultural, multiethnic and multiracial classrooms. The provincial curricula are not always up-to-date in reflecting changing social needs or in prescribing appropriate texts. It is therefore incumbent on teachers to seek out scholarly ways to respond substantively and ethically to social changes. In practice, teachers have had to make profound changes; sometimes, without the benefit of purposive analysis of the varied transformations which have happened as a result of their own interventions. The techniques of action-research are one initiative, which I believe, can enable teachers to do research on the job and exercise some autonomy in curricular innovation. They can set their own research objectives, collect the necessary data, and construct useful knowledge which can inform course content, instructional innovation, and cross-cultural interaction. These abilities are critical where knowledge gaps exist, as in the case of Africa and its Atlantic Diaspora.

One of the greatest barriers to transform a mainly Eurocentric language arts curricula to honor and reflect a plurality of cultures and perspectives is the lack of formal academic preparation in the literatures of Africa, Asia, Latin America and of Indigenous peoples. Without the formal study of a variety of literatures, in their own right, during pre-service, teachers are unable to give credence to a multicultural language arts program. To do so requires teachers to draw knowledgeably on works from various literary canons and their complementary expressive arts such as films, songs, and music. Where there is a knowledge gap in the discipline, teachers who are concerned about curricular equity, have had to find ways to add on, but rarely have they had sufficient knowledge to transform the curricula to be truly multicultural. A multicultural language arts curriculum, in my view, would include the literatures and oratures that are presented in their particularity, even as they join with the literatures from Europe to articulate the universal human condition and the historical processes within which the literatures are embedded. Presently, the literatures of Europe particularly Western Europe are presented as the universal, and consequently re-inscribe cultural imperialism.

Paula Mies (1994) provides a useful continuum by which to determine the scope and tasks of curriculum transformation. By applying action-research techniques, teachers can move from data-collection and theorizing to actual curriculum revisions and ultimately transformations. Her continuum involves notions of adding, shifting and transforming. Adding means starting with the provincial curricula and adding some missing pages, so to speak. Then as teachers become more knowledgeable they begin to shift themes, experiment with chronology, and choice of texts. Through self-study of the literatures of different cultures teachers can increase their familiarity with a variety of texts and cultural tropes. Teachers can also enrich their learning by simultaneous studying other cultural productions such as films, videos, and documentaries. The concomitant study of the related history, sociology, anthropology, theology and science, offer a strong possibility for the inclusion and integration of other literatures. Transformation happens at the points at which new knowledge and increased social consciousness are powerful enough to make exclusions of themes dealing with gender, race, class, sexuality, enslavement, exploitation, and the legacy of the past, painfully obvious.

Start by focusing on one culture at a time and build up a critical body of knowledge which will enable the move along the continuum – adding, shifting, and transforming. Over a five-year period of action-research, comparisons and contrasts of literary elements and conventions will begin to emerge. The higher levels of synthesis and evaluation of a variety of literary works will enrich the adding, shifting and eventual transformation to a multicultural language arts program.

The following self-study model is proposed as a means by which teachers and community members can form reading circles to enable self-study of different canons and to enable teachers to do action-research and to reflect on their practice. Individuals can implement this model alone, or in partnership with a colleague or as part of a study group or reading circle. If reading circles and study groups are culturally mixed, and members are prepared to study a different literary canon in its integrity, then the richness of intra-cultural and cross-cultural knowledge may be constructed. James Banks (1993) articulates a comprehensive knowledge typology by which to construct knowledge for multicultural literature. Briefly, he argues for school knowledge to be informed by personal cultural knowledge, popular knowledge, mainstream academic knowledge, and transformative academic knowledge.

Yvonne Brown, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia (2003)


  • James Banks. (1993) “The canon debate, knowledge construction, and multicultural education.” Educational Researcher, Jun-July , 4-14.
  • Paula Mies. (1994) “Understanding the Outcomes of Curriculum Transformation” in Fiol-Matta and Mariam K. Chamberlain. Women of Color and the Multicultural Curriculum. New York: The Feminist Press.

Toward a self-study model for researching the literatures of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and First Nations literatures – a focus on the literature of Africa and its Atlantic Diaspora

This model is designed for use by teachers and community members. In use, it is intended to be circular rather than linear. To complement and enable the focus on the literature of Africa and its Atlantic Diaspora five bibliographies have been prepared on fiction and non-fiction by and about African–Canadians, pedagogical resources, cinema and representation, and on the continent of Africa. Please share a book review, if you can. A book review form can be downloaded from this site.

  1. Read and analyze the Adult Fiction and Children’s Literature in heritage language and in English, if possible.
  2. Read the Literary Criticisms of both insiders and outsiders.
  3. Read the Non-Fiction works, written by both outsiders and insiders to gain cultural knowledge which will enhance the appreciation of the fiction: the history, anthropology, sociology, theology, travelogues, etc.
  4. View Films/Videos/Documentaries and read the reviews of insiders and outsiders.
  5. Initiate and sustain local Community Dialogue through visits, field trips and travel to the mother country, if possible.
  6. Read and listen to the Pedagogical Debates and critiques of schooling by each culture group under study.
  7. Write and publish findings and insights from action-research.
  8. Plan and deliver Workshops to share knowledge, enthusiasm and to celebrate accomplishments.