Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tales of Disenchantment (Part One)

NOTE: It is not my intention to question or insult the good intentions of any children’s authors or educators.  But we all make mistakes and need to discuss and learn from those mistakes in order to improve children’s literature, education, and multicultural awareness.

I never really thought about critically analyzing picture books when I was a teacher.  Well, I did in that I was careful to avoid using blatantly racist texts (à la Little Black Sambo) in my class, and I also encouraged my students to evaluate books: “Do you like this book?  Do you think this character did the right thing?”  But even though my class was very diverse and therefore an environment fit for fruitful discussions about cultural awareness, justice, and equity, I avoided introducing books that could foster discussions about race, family diversity (LGBT parents, divorce, adoption, etc.) and other taboo topics.

Yes, I was the teacher who hung posters depicting people of different ethnic backgrounds in my classroom.  I stocked the play areas with multiethnic dolls and action figures.  I praised my international students’ bilingual abilities and asked them about their experiences in their home countries.  But actually talking explicitly about diversity?  Nope.  As a new teacher, I cowered at the thought of parents  yelling at me for being too controversial.  I was also terrified of accidentally doing or saying the wrong thing, of being accused of playing the race card for not subscribing to the “Let’s Be Blissfully Colorblind” agenda. 

As a result, I feel that I missed out on being a better teacher.  Instead of making the effort to critically analyze books, I relied on “classics” that had been my favorites as a child.  Many of these books seemed to be multicultural – after all, they portrayed different cultures and didn’t (seem to) contain any stereotypes.  However, when I started my master’s program and began taking children’s literature courses, my choices as a teacher came back and punched me square in the nose.

No comments:

Post a Comment