ERIC/RCS: Understanding Other Cultures through Literature

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  • ERIC/RCS: Understanding Other Cultures through LiteratureAuthor(s): Anne AutenSource: The Reading Teacher, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Jan., 1984), pp. 416-419Published by: Wiley on behalf of the International Reading AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 24/06/2014 22:41

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  • JPt^t ERIC/RCS


    Understanding other cultures

    through literature

    Anne Auten

    According to Jamake Highwater (1978), "The greatest distance between

    people is not geographical space, but culture."

    In an era dominated by urgings for "minimal competencies" and for

    "survival skills," reading teachers might look askance at opportunities to

    widen their students' view of other cultures. However, an understanding

    of other languages and cultures is pointed out as an essential of education in a statement prepared by leaders of some 20 professional, educational

    organizations (Organizations for the Essentials of Education, 1982).

    Rationale Swift and Wahlstrom [ED 186 895], proponents of the concept of global education, envision a curriculum that will "promote an understanding of

    the values and priorities of the many cultures of the world, as well as the basic concepts and principles related to world communities."

    The understanding of cultures should be reflected in the elementary curriculum, according to Anderson [ED 065 367], who has called for the

    "globalization" of social and cultural education, a call echoed by many educators who see the need for the K-12 curriculum to reflect the reality of the "global village" or "spaceship earth." Anderson believes that

    "today.. .to fulfill their traditional mission in the social education of

    young people, the schools are expected to develop [curricula] whose

    geographical focus is the world as a whole...."

    Bibliographies Suggestions for developing such curricula are many. King [ED 052 094] urges joining the language arts, music, art, and literature with the social

    416 The Reading Teacher January 1984

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  • sciences and using that unity to foster "worldmindedness." Reading teachers interested in cultivating worldmindedness must still determine how they will promote it in their own classrooms. A traditional aid is the

    reading list. One such list followed an article by Hugh Lofting entitled "World

    Friendship and Children's Literature" in the November 1924 Elementary English Review. The compiler prefaced the list with the statement that the works were "the kinds of books on which children's hearts and minds should be nourished if they are to absorb ideals of justice and generosity, and breadth of interest, without which roots no international friendships can grow." A similar conviction may have motivated Tway [ED 199 745] to list more than 460 works of fiction under "World Cultures" in a

    section called "Appreciating Different Cultures." Tway annotates over

    170 titles for children of all ages. Urso [ED 210 225] has produced a bibliography that lists resource and

    instructional materials for classroom teachers who wish to design educational programs on worldmindedness. Urso defines worldminded individuals as those who are positively disposed to people with other cultural beliefs, perceive commonality in basic needs of all peoples, and

    develop their potential for the benefit of others as well as themselves. Urso's bibliographic entries include sections on the farther reaches of human nature including spiritual dimensions and holistic education,

    global education and futuristics, including world order and the United

    Nations, and interdependence and global problems, including development, energy, environment, and food. Entries include books, audiovisual materials, edited volumes, maps, teacher's guides, pamphlets,

    monographs, games, and religious tracts.

    Specific cultures Jones [ED 052 098] provides a collection of readings representing Latin

    American literature. Poems, short stories, songs, legends, and nonfiction

    have been translated from the originals and carefully selected for the intermediate and secondary grades. Many primary school children could also profit from some of the items when read by the teacher. The volume was funded by the Programa de Educaci?n Interamericana in the late

    1960s. Sims [ED 215 369] offers classroom teachers, librarians, and teacher

    educators information that will enable them to make better informed selections of recent literature for and about Afro-Americans. Her

    monograph reports on a survey and analysis of 150 books of

    contemporary realistic fiction about Afro-Americans published from

    1965-1979, appropriate from preschool through eighth grade. To

    emphasize images of today's children, books of historical fiction were excluded.

    Over 100 books by Indian authors about the culture of India are listed in an annotated bibliography designed primarily for teachers. It contains

    suggestions for using the books listed at the primary, intermediate, junior high, and senior high levels [Educational Resources Center, ED 055 943].

    Another annotated bibliography by Wagoner [EJ 271 116] lists fiction and nonfiction for children up to age 12 that deal with Mexican Americans. Wagoner notes that while numerous books about Mexican Americans were published from 1970 to 1973, only a handful have

    ERIC/RCS 417

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  • appeared since 1974. Slightly less than half were nonfiction titles on

    topics such as Chicano history, Cesar Chavez's life, and migrant workers. Titles range from picture books to longer stories and simple novels.

    Study guides A guide to a multicultural American literature component at the

    elementary school level by Ranta [ED 163 473] reflects the need to reorient both teachers and students to the pluralistic nature of U.S.

    society. Since an effective way to deflate the myth that there are "typical Americans" is to have students read and discuss the literature of the

    many cultures that contribute to American society, the booklists for the

    component include fiction about Blacks, American Indians, Puerto

    Ricans, Chicanos, Jewish Americans, and Oriental Americans. The activities on global awareness in a guide by Barrett et al. [ED 215

    923] are for use in elementary grades in social studies, reading, language arts, and creative arts. The guide's major goals are (1) to learn to

    recognize the interconnection between one's own life, one's society, and

    major global concerns such as environment, population, resources, and human rights; (2) to learn to understand basic human commonalities while recognizing the importance of individual and cultural differences; (3) to develop an awareness of how perceptions, values, and priorities differ among individuals, groups, and cultures; and (4) to develop the skills that enable students to respond creatively to local, national and international events, and to participate effectively at those levels.

    Conclusion Swift [ED 217 376] sums up the need for expanding the role of reading to include a global perspective:

    1. Change in all aspects of our lives is accelerating so fast we cannot keep

    abreast, but books can and do. We have, therefore, to diversify and intensify our reading to be prepared to choose those alternatives which will be most

    acceptable for us.

    2. New concepts of selective growth and technology will require the

    imagination and evaluative skills that are stimulated and fostered by reading and discussing that literary fiction which deals with such international issues.

    3. By encouraging an increase in well written, problem-oriented fiction, we can

    help achieve through reading the difficult goal of acclimating the younger first

    world generation to a new life style_

    Reading teachers who wish to expand their students' awareness and

    appreciation of other cultures can find additional material in the ERIC

    system by using the descriptor terms "Global Approach" and "Reading Instruction" or "Literature Appreciation," or by contacting ERIC's

    Coordinator of User Services.

    References Anderson, Lee F. What Contributions Can and Should the Schools Make to the

    International Education of Children and Young