Using Multicultural Children's Literature to Address Sociocultural and Political Issues in Teacher Education

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  • This article was downloaded by: [The University of British Columbia]On: 10 December 2014, At: 09:52Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Using Multicultural Children's Literatureto Address Sociocultural and PoliticalIssues in Teacher EducationPhyllis Metcalf-Turner Ph.D. a & J. Lea Smith Ph.D. aa University of Louisville , USAPublished online: 06 Jan 2012.

    To cite this article: Phyllis Metcalf-Turner Ph.D. & J. Lea Smith Ph.D. (1998) Using MulticulturalChildren's Literature to Address Sociocultural and Political Issues in Teacher Education, Action inTeacher Education, 20:1, 70-87, DOI: 10.1080/01626620.1998.10462907

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  • Using Multicultural Children's Literature To Address Sociocultural and Political Issues in Teacher Education

    Phyllis Metcalf-Turner, Ph.D. University of Louisville

    J . L.ea Smith, Ph.D. University of Lousville

    Abstract

    Stories used for discussion and analysis in teacher education courses are known as teaching cases, and the pedagogical practice that employs teaching cases in teacher education is known as case method instruction. The use of story in teacher education has emerged as an effective strategy to help teachers understand the dimensions of their role in the classroom. This process of reading, listening, questioning, and responding to a story about instructional practice can create the foundation for initiating social action in a classroom setting. The primary objective of this study was to examine the viability of using multicultural children's literature as teaching cases with K-12 teachers to support their efforts to construct a knowledge base for working effectively with children from diverse cultural, linguistic, andlor socioeconomic backgrounds.

    Introduction

    Background

    With the demographic shifts of the past decade, the character of public school classrooms everywhere has changed significantly (Barry, 1990). Our classrooms are becoming a rich tapestry, interwoven with people from diverse cultural, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds who make-up America. The history of this nation tells us that we can trace as far back as the Native Americans who lived here first (Tiedt & Tiedt, 1990, p. 2). Later, European groups arrived from France, England, Germany, Italy, and Spain seeking freedom from religious and political persecution as well as prosperity. In more recent times, there has been a steady increase of people from China, Japan, and Latin America coming to the United States. By the end of this century, given current rates of birth and immigration, the Hispanic and Asian populations will have grown by 20 percent, the African American population by about 12 percent, and the European American by 2 percent. Projections for the year 2000, indicate that nonwhite groups will comprise one-third of all students enrolled in public schools (Hodgkinson, 1985) and by 2020, they will make-up 46 percent of the school population (Cushner, McClelland, & Safford, 1992).

    The teaching force in public schools is predominantly European American and will continue to be for some time to come (Grant and Secada, 1990; 1990). Howey and Zimpher's 1989 study (in Mussington, et al, 1995) of the RATE (Research About Teacher Education) suggests a preservice teacher profile that underscores this point. The demographic profile of teacher education depicted in this research showed that traditionally, 3 out of 4 (75%) preservice students were female. This figure has increased to 93 percent more recently . The ethnic distribution of these students across all strata was 93 percent White, 3.7 percent Black, 2.2 percent Hispanic, less than one percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and less than one percent American Indian or Alaskan Native (p. 27).

    The result is that the cultural and ethnic backgrounds of children in schools today are vastly dissimilar to those who teach them. The values and characteristics unique to each sociocultural

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  • group often are unfamiliar (Goodlad, 1990). This limited perspective may lead a teacher to evaluate students using their own cultural experience as the norm which could be erroneous and useless as well as destructive (Hinchey, 1994; Purcell-Gates, 1995).

    If our education system is to fulfill its obligation to teach all children and to do so effectively then teacher education programs will need to move beyond viewing multicultural education primarily as curriculum reform, which includes content about ethnic groups, women, and other cultural groups (Banks, 1993). But rather to provide teachers with extensive opportunities to examine sociocultural perspectives in order to consider, accept, and understand students unlike themselves (Liston & Zeichner, 1991). This construction of knowledge and perspectives is a long term process, which centers on personal re-education and transformation (Nieto, 1996).

    Eacher educat ion programs

    Schools of education, although aware of the changing demographics in public schools have done little to meet the challenges, which are natural to a diverse student population. Grant (1994) suggests that todays national social, educational, economical, and political crises are a direct result of the failure of teacher education programs to deal with the complexity of difference in todays classroom.

    Yet, a review of literature in the field of multicultural education indicates that there is a debate even among proponents regarding the concept of diversity itself (Gay, 1994). The literature pertaining to equity acknowledges and suggests the need for different emphases in multicultural education. That is, multicultural education is not merely a matter of meeting cultural and language differences (Ogbu, 1992) though these differences are important (Diaz, Moll, & Mehan, 1986; McDermott & Goldman, 1983). Indeed, this focus has spawned quantities of curricular materials, much of which have trivialized culture (Erickson, 1989) and, worst yet, have led to the formation of harmful stereo- types (Cazden & Mehan, 1989; McDiarmid, 1992). Still, other researchers argue for broadening teachers content knowledge, especially their understanding of the historical relationships among different groups in our society (McDiarmid, 1992), particularly the involuntary minorities, (Ogbu, 1992), such as African-Americans, Native Americans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans -- the very groups that have traditionally not done well in school.

    Purpose of the st udv .

    The purpose of this study was to examine the use of multicultural childrens literature texts as teaching cases with K-12 teachers in a graduate education program. Our thinking was that by reading and reflecting on carefully chosen literature texts, which depict authentic perspectives about different cultures, our students (teachers) might be able to gain an awareness of their own attitudes and belief systems as lenses through which new concepts and applied knowledge could be acquired. Specifically, it sought to consider the use of childrens literature to construct sociocultural perspectives. The questions guiding this study were:

    1. Does reading multicultural childrens literature create cognitive dissonance wherein teachers gain awareness of their own biased attitudes and tacit beliefs about diversity?

    2. When the literary content does not match the teachers belief system, what, if any, attitudinal change may occur?

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  • 3. What strategies may involve teachers in constructing an awareness and acceptance of others cultural perspective? and,

    4. Does the disequilibrium created by the protagonists perspective stimulate teachers to move beyond awareness to formalizing a repertoire of action for improving their . attitudes, behavioral interactions, and instructional practices?

    Common to all people is the basic need for story -- organizing our experiences into tales of importance (Dyson & Genishi, 1994). It is through literature, a teacher may share vicariously the emotions and aspirations of their students who are from other cultural groups. This heightened sensitivity to the needs and problems of others remote in temperament, in space, or i n social environment can lead to a greater imaginative capacity that may foster an awareness, acceptance and understanding about cultural issues (Rosenblatt, 1978).

    Multicultural childrens literature can become a lens through which we view human behavior, test the diversity of that behavior and construct new sociocultural values and understandings. In particular, through the voice of a cultural protagonist, readers look inside what it may be like to be different. This insiders perspective often creates a mismatch between reality as viewed by the protagonist and by the reader, thus creating dissonance. When literary content does not match the readers belief systems, an attitudinal change needs to take place if a different understanding is to occur. Thus, this dissonance or disequilibrium created by the cultural protagonists perspective stimulates a reader to recognize and subsequently respond to the complexity surrounding the differences and similarities all people share (Smith, 1996 under review).

    The use of story in teacher education has emerged as an effective strategy to help teachers understand the dimensions of their role in the classroom. This process of reading, listening, questioning and responding to a story provides a foundation to initiate reflective and critical thinking which, may lead to social action in the classroom. The use of story in the context of this investigation sought to extend the principles of teaching and learning to include a new perspective on teaching students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

    The required course readings introduced students to the current knowledge base and theoretical frameworks used to explain differential achievement rates between students of diverse backgrounds and students of the mainstream culture. The attempt was to offer new perspectives and the implications for fostering higher levels of literacy learning for students of diverse backgrounds using culturally responsive instruction. Course participants reviewed a synthesis of the research on current issues in education practice to facilitate the interpretation of the childrens text and how to use them in their own classrooms. The course reading list included selections by researchers i n literacy learning and teaching, education anthropology, teacher education and multicultural educa- tion. For example, Kathrine Au (1990), Shirley Brice-Heath (1983 & 1987), Lisa Delpit (1995), John Gee (1989) and Sarah Michaels (1981) on literacy learning and cultural and linguistic differences; Carl Grant (1990), Geneva Gay (1986) and Gloria Ladson-Billings (1996) on multicultural education in teacher education programs; and John Ogbu (1987), Henry Trueba ( 1 990), and Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu (1986) on anthropolical explanations of the differential achievement of minority students.

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  • Case Study Method in Teacher Education

    Qualitative research provides the framework for understanding case method instruction in teacher education. According to Mirriam, (1988) the case study approach provides an intensive, holistic description and analysis of a bounded phenomenon such as a program, an institution, a person, a process, or a social unit. Mirriam (1988) noted four critical characteristics of a case study. It is particularistic in nature in that it focuses on one person or social unit. It is descriptive because the result is a rich description of pertinent contextual and interactional features. Meaning making based on enlightened understanding is the heuristic feature of a case study. It is not uncommon, indeed intended, that the analysis of a case study is aimed at enlightening the readers understanding leading to their discovery of meanings previously. not considered. The fourth characteristic is its inductive nature because generalizations and hypotheses emerge from examples of the data.

    Case method instruction has a long tradition in business and law school programs which used it to help students link theory to practice. More recently, teacher education programs have begun to use it as a strategy to introduce novice and/or preservice teachers to the reality of class- room practice (Wasserman 1993; Shulman & Bains 1993; Silverman & Welty 1992). The use of case study analysis in preservice teacher education programs is an even newer development and employed as a pedagogical model to help teachers develop better insights and skills in working with students of color (Shulman 1993). The value of using this approach with preservice teachers is that it presents authentic portrayals of teachers and students and some of the problems they deal with in real-life classroom situations that require critical thinking about socio-cultural, linguistic, and instructional issues. Hence, the case study method can help students develop a deeper understanding of specific issues and problems related to diversity and educational practice.

    The case study approach to analyzing diversity-related education issues provides teachers the opportunity to reflect, discuss, hypothesize, and develop solutions based on particular situations that have potential application to other situations. Erickson (1989) states that, educators can learn from a case study even if the circumstances of the case do not match those of their own situation. Without generalizing to all cases, analysis of problem situations can help illustrate general problems in education. Through thoughtful, interactive participation in the reading of multicultural childrens literature, discussions and cooperative problem-solving students are able to create process of thinking that enable them to apply knowledge to specific problems (Wasserman, 1993).

    Generally, there are four primary reasons for using the case method approach in terms of its potentially instructive value for developing knowledge and sensitivity about diversity-related issues. These include:

    1. A story provides enough emotional distance wherein one is able to listen to multiple viewpoints and the interpretations of others through the voices in the story.

    2. It allows teachers to examine their own perceptions and beliefs and begin to deal with previously held prejudices and stereotyped attitudes toward people from cultural and linguistic backgrounds different from their own.

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  • 3. The context of the story provides the opportunity for teachers to reflect and began to use cultural information to inform their communication and interactional styles with students from diverse backgrounds.

    4. Finally, case study analysis allows an in-depth examination of how cultural attitudes and beliefs inform the tenor of the relationship between teacher and student.

    Although a childs story presented as a case study portrays only a glimpse of a particular situation, students begin to draw meaning from the stones. They begin to see how limited information may influence their attitude, communication style and interaction with children from diverse back- grounds. Their prior course readings on anthropological and sociological explanations of diversity- related issues help them to examine the storys content, conflicts, and message(s). Through this process of analyzing and reflecting students are able to examine how their own beliefs and values influence their views toward children and families of diverse backgrounds.

    Analyzing issues of diversity within the context of a story gives students enough emotional distance to be able to listen to the viewpoints of others through the voices in the story. The questions used to facilitate discussion and analysis were designed to focus attention on the cross-cultural issues and draw out the various viewpoints represented in the storyline. These questions were organized into three groups.

    1. IdentifcutiodSource Analysis questions help the reader identify the cultural conflicts, the individuals directly involved, the critical events, interactions, or communications central to the conflict, and specific descriptions of attitudinal and behavioral reactions to the issue(s).

    a. What are the culturally relevant issues in this story? (e.g. instructional, communication, interactional, structural, etc.)

    b. What are the major cross-cultural conflicts?

    c. Who are the key players in the cross-cultural dilemma?

    d. What might be some of the underlying anthropological and sociological understandings of the factors influencing this dilemma?

    e. What are some of the salient problems (not necessarily cultural specific) that seem central to the cross-cultural dilemma?

    2. Suggestions/Solution-Oriented Analysis questions that stimulate discussion of the impact of the issues identified in the first group. These questions provide students with the opportunity to explore, rationalize, debate, and decide. They include:

    a. What cultural differences need to be considered before a solution is proposed?

    b. What should be done? What is feasible immediately?

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  • c. What are some of the more positive and negative interpretations that may be applied to this analysis?

    d. Might there be clashes in beliefs and values by the different cultural perceptions of the dilemma? What could move the key characters beyond these tensions?

    3. Assessment Analysis questions help students evaluate the potential effectiveness of suggestions for resolving the issue(s). And, the potential impact of their suggestions from different cultural viewpoints.

    a. What are some of the risks associated with the proposed solutions?

    b. What might be another view about the potential effectiveness of each of the proposed solutions?

    c. What cross-cultural understandings can come from this case study analysis discussion?

    d. How can this information be applied to educational practice(s)?

    The objective of using multicultural childrens literature was to help students learn to listen without judgment, reflect deeply, question, and decide. Ultimately, the goal was to introduce students to a repertoire of strategies to help them develop competence and confidence in working children from diverse backgrounds.

    By selecting childrens literature as teaching cases, options increase as far as the type of cultural conflicts, range of diversity issues, and the broader array of settings addressed. The in-depth description of the storys context, the characters personalities, and multiple issues give the students a deeper understanding of specific issues and problems related to diversity and educational practice -- much more so than a typical case study focused on a single problem in a single context.

    To be sure, the purpose of case studies is not to generalize to all people or situations. No childrens story or case study of a single person or social unit can sufficiently or honestly illustrate the complexity essential to fully understanding a situation. Instead, this article provides examples that reflect some of the sociocultural, sociolinguistic, instructional, and interactional problems that are likely to occur between mainstream, European-American teachers and students and families from diverse backgrounds.

    The Subjects

    The subjects of this study were enrolled in graduate teacher education studies at a large, urban university located in the southeast region of the United States. They included practicing teachers, administrators, and educational specialists (n=25) who enrolled in an elective graduate level special topics course entitled, Literacy, Learning, and Cultural Differences during the 1996 spring and summer terms. Six of the students identified themselves as African American and 19 indicated that they were European American.

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  • Materials

    The literature selections were two fictional texts, Chevrolet Saturdays by Candy Dawson- Boyd and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. The researchers selected these books because of the major themes the authors chose to write about. That is, the salient issues presented in these stories included teachers differential expectations of children from diverse backgrounds, cross-cultural miscommunication, and some of the sociocultural, economic barriers to childrens sense of well being and school achievement.

    Dawson-Boyds Chevrolet Saturdays is set in a school with students, teachers, and parents as the central characters. This book reflects the impact of teachers low expectations and stereotyped attitudes toward students from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The main character, a 10 year-old, African American boy experiences difficulty with his teachers lack of recognition of his talents and abilities; her subsequent misinterpretation of his behavior which leads to a recommendation for possible placement in a special education program. At the same time, the story presents the young boys struggles to adjust to his parents divorce, his mothers remarriage, the role of his stepfather in his life, and his biological fathers rage and anger about encountering discrimination on his job.

    Esperanza, a Latina preadolescent, is the central character in The House On Mango Street which presents the reader with a look at inner city life in the Latino section of Chicago. The young girl shares her personal interpretations and those of others about life in her community. Specifically, the shame she feels about how her house looks is contrasted with the pride she takes in the individuals who are struggling to survive in their community. Through the eyes of a child, we read about living in urban poverty.

    The criteria used for the childrens literature selections focused on both the overall content of the story, authenticity, and instructional considerations like the relevance of the storys theme to the overall intent of the study -- portrayal of sociocultural and political issues. Also the use of several noted researchers perspective on good, multicultural childrens text was instructive. Specifically, Harriss (1993) notion that, a meaningful book used to address multiculturalism must delineate character, setting, and theme, in part by detailing the specifics of daily living that will be recognizable to members of the group it identifies (p. 44) was used to examine the stories content. Other basic considerations included:

    a.) whether the books were by and about people who are members of groups considered to be outside the sociopolitical mainstream of the United States (Bishop, 1993 p. 39); 2.) whether the books presented individual complexity and avoided stereotyping (Au, 1993 p. 177); 3) whether the books stimulated a social action approach to reading and discussion (Au,. 1993 p. 188); and 4) whether the books ... showred] the diversity within and across human cultures (Bishop, 1993 p. 49). The aim was to use literary texts that extended students perceptions and set them to asking questions, questions which may move them beyond what they already knew about diversity.

    Data Collection

    During the course of two terms, the students read and reviewed these four childrens literature selections as case studies. They were required to reflect and respond (orally and i n writing) to questions about each of the selections designed by the instructor. The questions were

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  • designed to help them contrast and analyze their attitudes and perceptions concerning the sociocultural, sociolinguistic, gender, and/or political issues of diversity presented in each story. For example, in Chevrolet Saturdays, some of the questions called for identification of the cultural conflicts experienced by the protagonist in his school, his perspective on the source of these conflicts, identification of similar cultural issues from the different perspectives for example, the teachers and also an examination of the feelings and reasons given in the story for differing cultural interpretations. Their written responses were collected at the end of each class meeting.

    Procedures: Small-and large-group discussions

    For the purpose of data collection, discussions were organized into small- and large-group formats. The students worked in small groups of three to four members for approximately 45 minutes each class session to discuss their responses to story excerpts selected by the instructor that typically highlighted cultural conflicts involving several of the main characters. For each small group discussion someone served as a recorder. Following their small-group discussions, the class resumed in a whole-group format to discuss their responses. Each group reported on the range and pattern of responses from their group. During the whole-group discussions the instructor attempted to elicit the different viewpoints and interpretations from members of the class. Each groups notes was collected at the end of each class session.

    Data analvsis

    Our first step was to examine the students responses and interpretations of the cultural conflicts they indicated in response to the IdentijkatiodSource Analysis questions. For each selected childrens story and group of questions, SuggestiodSolution-Oriented Analysis and Assessment Analysis, respectively the students responses were organized according to the individual question. Our analysis resulted from our own dialoguing and involved an interpretation of the two childrens literature texts, and the organization of the notes collected from the small- and large-group discussions. An example using the first set of questions, the researchers interpreted accurate identification as those responses which indicated major cross-cultural conflicts between the protagonist, Joey and his teacher, other African American students and the teacher, the Joey and the European American boy with whom he has frequent altercations throughout the story.

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  • Chevrolet Saturdays - IdentifcatiodSource Analysis Questions Student Responses N=25

    Table 1

    Accurate identification of Sources involved Made connections to cross-cultural dilemma(s) in cross-cultural dilemma other course material (Questions la & b) (Question lc) (Questions Id & e)

    13 students 9 students 11 students

    SuggestiodSolution- Oriented Analysis Questions

    Table 2

    Acknowledgment or Identification of strategies Identification of pluseslminuses to proposed strategies from Identification cultural differences multiple perspectives

    (Question 2a) (Questions 2b) (Questions c & d)

    9 students 7 students 4 students

    Assessment Analysis Questions

    Table 3

    Identification of risks to dentification of cross- Application of cross- to proposed solutions cultural understandings cultural understanding

    (Questions 3a & b) (Question 3c) (Question 3d) to practice

    7 students 14 students 11 students

    Discussion

    Responses to the first set of questions showed (Table 1) that many of the students accurately identified the major cross-cultural conflicts in the story which also indicated a pattern of agreement. Most of these same respondents were able to positively link the key characters with the appropriate perspective toward the cause of the cross-cultural dilemma. Almost an equal proportion of the students (n=12) did not identify the major conflict within the context of a cross-cultural conflict. In these cases, typically the response totally ignored the question's emphasis on this as an issue in the story. Instead, their responses focused on general instructional issues (i.e. the teacher being new to the field lacked experience in assessing students' abilities), classroom management (i.e. the inconsistent pattern of discipline used with the European American and African American students) and justification for special education referral (i.e. the fact that the student did not complete home- work assignments indicated a learning problem). To be sure, these also were some of the critical events andor issues but not the major ones. Also, a pattern did not emerge from this group of responses.

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  • In identifying the sources of the cross-cultural dilemma, student responses were multi- leveled with most of them focusing on characters who only influenced the conflict in a secondary manner. The pattern of responses (n=9) which showed consensus appropriately focused on the protagonist and the teacher. This was not the case with the majority of the responses. A review and analysis of the data indicated a random number of sources identified as causing the conflict(s) in the story. In several of the cases (n=4) three themes from the discussion of these questions were mentioned more than once and these were: making connections to their own experiences as an educator; relating what they knew about the impact of divorce on students behavior; and comparing the problems in the story with similar situations theyve experienced or heard about through others.

    Almost half (n=l l ) of the students made some connection to other course material (i.e. readings, videos, etc.) in their written responses. The remaining responses ranged from making no connections to only discussing personal experiences as a part of their analysis. In several cases, ( n d ) the responses focused on issues not presented in the story at all.

    Table 2 shows the pattern of responses to the second group of questions which focused on the students suggestions and proposals for resolving the cross-cultural dilemmdtensions presented in the story. Most of the students* proposals did not address the cross-cultural issues at all. Only seven students included direct approaches to cross-cultural issues. An even smaller proportion (n=4) of them attempted to examine their proposals from different perspectives. This was also evident in the group notes from their small- and large-group discussions.

    The same low response rate is noted in Table 2 can be seen in Table 3, the group of questions which called for students to evaluate their suggestions/proposals in terms of the risks involved. Seven of the twenty-five students indicated at least one risk as potentially influencing the effective- ness of their suggestion. Other students (n=6) indicated none or no risks involved. Still, some of the responses focused only on the value of their suggestion/proposal and the remainder (n=8) of the students left the question blank. A substantial proportion of the students (n=l4 and 11 respec- tively) wrote that they increased their understanding of another culture through reading this story and identified at least two constructivist-oriented strategies for incorporating the information into their practice.

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  • Results

    The House on Mango Street - IdentificatiodSource Analysis Questions

    Student Responses N=25

    Table 4

    ldentijication/Source Analysis Questions

    Student Responses N=25

    Table 4

    Accurate identification of Sources involved Made connections to cross- cultural dilemma(s) in cross-cultural dilemma other course material

    6 students 5 students 3 students

    SuggestiodSolution-Oriented analysis Questions

    Table 5

    Acknowledgment or Identification of strategies Identification of Identification of cultural differences pluseslminues

    (Question 2a) (Questions 2b) (Questions c & d) to proposed strategies

    8 students 5 students 4 students

    Assessment A ~ l ~ p i s Questions

    Table 6

    Identification of risks to Identification of cross- Application of cross- proposed solutions cultural understandings cultural understanding

    (Questions 3a & b) (Question 3c) (Question 3d) to practice

    6 students 8 students 7 students

    Discussion

    Overall, the number and quality of responses to The House on Mango Street were less satisfactory than those about Chevrolet Saturdays. For example, Table 4 shows that the number of students who accurately identified the cross-cultural issues in the story was only six. This was one- third less than the number of responses to the same question in Table 1.

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  • For the second and third categories of questions, only five and three respondents, respectively appropriately identified some of the sources of the cross-cultural tensions (i.e. economic, marginalization of the Latino community) and included previously taught course material in their written responses. An examination of the small- and large-group notes revealed the students struggle with these questions. Specifically, the discussions centered on their lack of experience with and knowledge of the Latino culture especially those living in urban America. Only one student indicated that she had prior experience (i.e. she grew up in a similar neighborhood in Chicago) with this particular culture. The majority of the responses to the questions indicated that the format of the storys text was difficult for them to comprehend which seemingly led to confusion in responding appropriately to the questions.

    Table 5 indicates the same low pattern of response as does Table 6. The former table shows approximately one-third of the students (n=8) either acknowledged or identified cultural differences which should be considered in terms of proposing suggested strategies. The majority of the students (n=l 1) indicated that they were not sure about what type of strategies should be used. Many of these same respondents discussed the problems of poverty and were able to relate to this aspect of the protagonists consternation yet, they did not see the issue of culture directly influencing this perspective.

    A minority of the students ( n d ) were able to take an objective or detached stance outside of their personal experiences to examine the advantages or disadvantages to their suggestions. Most of the students (n=12) left these two questions blank. The remaining responses indicated a range of ideas from some students indicating a desire for more knowledge about the culture (n=4); to others (n=2) stating that the government should do more; and some who felt that the books format being too difficult for such a process (n=4).

    The last group of responses presented in Table 6 indicate a similar trend in low response rate to the identification of risks involved from multiple perspectives. Yet, similar to previous frequency counts for Chevrolet Saturdays on this question (questions 3c & d) the number of students indicating increased cross-cultural understandings and the applicability of the new information in the classroom was higher, overall.

    Students Ouen -ended Responses

    The researchers reviewed and examined field notes from the small- and large-group discussions of each of the childrens literature texts and the students written responses for indicators of cognitive dissonance the focus of our first research question. More specifically, the analysis selected excerpts as representative examples of the majority (n=12+) of students increased awareness of their own biased attitudes about diversity, the focus of our first research question.

    ...There is a level of reflection, questioning, and even guilt that I feel when I think back over the five classes of students I have taught and which children I didnt teach hard enough. I can see many reasons for the type of situation Mr. Johnson [a character in the story] described to his wife. In my own experience, when I asked how to help or reach minority students who were struggling, I was encouraged to make referrals, look for help within the system, and sadly, blame the parents for not caring enough or providing a stable home life.

    There will always be some people who actively do everything in their power to end discrimination. As a teacher in one classroom, I can either perpetuate discrimination or eliminate it.

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  • In order to combat the problem of mislabeling children, teachers need to become aware of their own prejudices and preferences for children who are like them--who look and act like them.

    In many instances the students responses did not indicate whether their attitude changed. Many of their comments reflected sympathy for the characters directly involved in the conflict. However several (n= 11) of the students shared perspectives that might suggest enlightened attitudes toward diversity-related issues. Following are selected examples from this group of written responses.

    ... I do not believe that teachers and schools intentionally set out to harm any student. As a first year teacher, I referred two students to special education because I had no idea how to help them achieve. I felt like I was referring them to experts who would help them to overcome the problems that they were having. I have since learned that the so-called experts do not know that much more than I do and its not always worth labeling a child for the help that they end up getting. I no longer refer students to special education I may not be doing the best for those students who are having trouble but at least they are not being labeled.

    This race thing is not simple. Change does not come easily. Most people want to do what is right but they do not realize that what they are doing or not doing can affect many people. As a teacher, I have a responsibility to teach my students about racism and its effect on the lives of people of color. If people with the power do not do what they can to make some changes, then they are not helping but they are hurting the fight for equal rights.

    I am a woman and have experienced discrimination in my own life--as related to jobs, sexist remarks, and in exclusion from activities ... This unfairness can only be conquered as women and people of color continue to challenge the mainstream and seek fair treatment. Personal cost may be involved.

    ...I think as a person with white skin we often dont look deep enough to discover where problems lay. The problem that people who are minorities of any kind suffer from are the realities of whose in power. Consequently, in order for a change to occur, there needs to be a shift in power. Unfortunately, like Mr. Johnson [character in the story] pointed out it is not a simple matter. Those who are in power do not want to relinquish their position.

    The case study discussion allowed us to think about different understandings, and beliefs, which was helpful when trying to think of ways to resolve classroom problems.

    The cases were an eye-opener for me as a person. I learned so many things I should have learned many years ago. This class should be required for teacher education.

    ...Ive had to re-examine my ideologies, viewpoint, and be willing to accept responsi- bility for my racist views while changing my view (causing much shaking of heads at family reunions).

    The content of the childrens stories gave me much to think about and a goal to work on in my teaching.

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  • Although the majority of the students did not describe specific strategies aimed at resolving the cross-cultural dilemmas presented in the childrens texts, some of their qualitative comments caused the researchers to note a proactive nature to resolving their personal practices. Thus, our third and fourth research question sought answers to whether the disequilibrium created by the protagonists perspective stimulated the students to formalize a repertoire of action which moved them beyond awareness. In several instances the students responses were clear about what they needed to improve their skills. The following selected quotes are used to support this point.

    Since I am a European American, I see many situations through the eyes of my culture thus, I need to ask for help of those (particularly African Americans) who can enhance my understanding and skills in working with minority children.

    They [teachers] need to analyze their own track record and assess whether they refer Black children disproportionately to special education services ... They need to

    determine whether the lines of communication are open between Black students and themselves and be willing to learn new and effective means of communication with these children.

    Our interpretive analysis of the field notes and students written responses revealed that to some extent, students in the study began to think critically about many of the sociocultural and political issues presented in the childrens literature text. The value of using multicultural childrens literature as case studies was supported by the high ratings (4.1 to 5.0 on a 5.0 point scale) linked to specific questions about the merit of using the literature texts included in the course evaluations. The following selected comments from their responses to the open-ended question represent the general quality of their responses.

    The case study discussions allowed us to think about different understandings, beliefs, which was helpful when trying to think of ways to resolve classroom problems.

    The childrens stories helped us make practical applications to real [life] classroom situations.

    Im glad we read the childrens books, it caused me to think more critically about my instructional techniques.

    Conclusions

    Most of the students in this study were able to identify the major cross-cultural conflict presented in these two childrens literature texts. Although a substantial proportion found one the texts to be very difficult to comprehend due to the unusual format employed. This indicated to the researchers that the development of character has to be defined well enough so that students can see the connecting points that are crucial to understanding the experiences described in the storys content. Still, a potential problem is over-identification with the primary of secondary issues presented by the storys protagonist. In the first literature text, Chevrofet Saturdays, the students responses clearly showed a bias toward several of the secondary issues confronting the protagonist of the story. This seemed to present a barrier to their ability to deal with cross-cultural issues in a direct manner.

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  • Implications

    This study has important implications for teacher education courses and programs. It indicates that a course on improving understanding of cultural differences using children literature as case method instruction is worth investigating further. As a vehicle for improving self-reflection and increase cultural awareness and sensitivity it may be beneficial to preservice students, as well. A number of the responses (n=l 1) from students indicated that, more courses like this one are needed in teacher education. To be sure, addressing issues of diversity through the use of multicultural childrens literature did not necessarily change basic feelings about their biased attitudes or stereotyped perceptions of students from diverse backgrounds. Rather, clearly from their qualitative comments, the course, assigned readings, literature selections, and discussions stimulated critical thinking that may eventually lead to enlightenment and a desire to move beyond simple cursory know ledge.

    Teacher educators may want to use a similar process including student-developed life stories as a strategy for reflective analysis about student difference. Still, other methods could include selecting only one or two childrens texts for analysis and teaching. In this context there would be an equal focus on analysis and application a part of the curriculum. Finally, the field experience that preservice teachers are required to complete could include the development of case studies of students in their assigned classrooms ( with the appropriate consentual agreements, of course). These case studies could be presented (using pseudonyms only) as opportunities to analyze issues related to practice and/or learning.

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