Harvard Educational Review
  1. Winter 1995 Issue »

    Crossing Borders/Shifting Paradigms

    Multiculturalism and Children's Literature

    By Elaine G. Schwartz
    If we lived in a democratic state our language would have to hurtle, fly, course and sing, in all the undeniable and representative and participating voices of everybody here. We would make our language conform to the truth of our many selves and we would make our language lead us into the quality of power that a democratic state must represent. (Jordan, 1987, p. 24)

    June Jordan's words bring forth a utopian vision of a future in which issues of language, voice, truth, power, and democracy all come together in the creation of a culturally diverse democratic world. She speaks in the language of a critical multiculturalism, one in which words such as representation, many selves, power, and democracy are integral. In this article, I develop a broad understanding of the basic epistemological positions underlying the discourse of multicultural education and, in particular, multiculturalism in children's literature. Multicultural education draws on the call for cultural pluralism in the early twentieth century (Banks, 1994, p. 21). The Intergroup Education movement of post-World War II America is also part of this history. This was "a curriculum movement related to cultural and ethnic diversity that became known as intercultural education or intergroup education. Its main goals were the reduction of racial and ethnic prejudice through the introduction of factual knowledge and pedagogical techniques" (Banks, 1994, p. 24). More recent influences on today's multicultural education movement may be traced to the development of ethnic studies during the politically active late 1960s and early 1970s. Ethnic studies programs focus specifically on one ethnic group, and have been criticized for their lack of emphasis on the complexities of social life; that is, they do not go beyond the simplistic nationalisms and single-focus studies to look more closely at the complexities of social existence that include class, race, gender, ability, age, regionalism, and so forth (Banks, 1994, p. 33). Changing demographics, economics, social pressures, and the rising consciousness of women and of people with disabilities have contributed to what is now commonly known as multicultural education (Banks, 1994). However, it is important to remember that "multicultural approaches do not represent a single cohesive theory of education. Rather, [they] suggest a continuum of theories and practices that are significantly modified by their application in unique historical and cultural contexts" (Vincent, 1992, p. 302).

    Sleeter and Grant (1987) identified five approaches to multicultural education that represent a diversity of curricular, pedagogical, and social justice perspectives: 1) Teaching the Culturally Different; 2) Human Relations; 3) Single Group Studies; 4) Multicultural Education; and 5) Education That Is Multicultural and Social Reconstructionist. It is my contention that the first four approaches to multicultural education fall well within what Vincent (1992) refers to as "mainstream multiculturalism" (p. 303), that is, multiculturalism that attempts to reform rather than transform schools, communities, and society at large. It is an epistemological, ideological, and political position that accepts the rationalism, binary thinking, and capitalism of twentieth-century modernism. Vincent (1992) notes that "when mainstream multicultural education focuses on the school as the main site of understanding and intervention, it effectively divorces the importance of wider social, economic and political agendas from the possible discourses available to students and teachers" (p. 303). The discourse of such mainstream multiculturalism remains politically safe, non-confrontational, and well within the dominant ideology of modernism.

    Thus, as long as "multiculturalism is generally about `Otherness,' as long as it does not question the ideological hegemony of the dominant culture" (Giroux, 1992, p. 118) and does not interrogate the root causes of White Anglo-Saxon privilege, the social effects of such approaches may be viewed as transitory and reformist at best.

    In Sleeter and Grant's fifth approach, "Education That Is Multicultural and Social Reconstructivist," social change becomes an integral part of the curriculum. The systemic causes of social inequities and issues of gender, social class, race, and culture are considered a main focus (1987, pp. 434-435). Sleeter and Grant note that this approach has also been termed emancipatory education (Gordon, 1985), transformative education (Giroux, 1985), and critical teaching (Shor, 1980). This approach, which addresses the social construction of inequity and inequality across gender, social class, race, and culture, foreshadows the paradigm shift currently taking place in multiculturalism from the culture of modernism to that of postmodernism, and specifically to a critical postmodernism. The values inherent in the culture of modernism include the following: an unquestioning belief in progress; linear, rational thought processes viewed as the epitome of intellectual achievement; a belief in the neutrality of science; a belief in market economics; a belief in the dualisms of mind/body, and human/nature; a belief in humankind's right to exploit nature; and the belief that society is best controlled when all power is centralized (Bowers, 1993a, 1993b; G. Smith, 1992).

    Multicultural education within the paradigm of modernism contorts cultures whose epistemologies differ from this paradigm in order to fit them within a modernist frame. For example, indigenous cultures whose epistemology may differ from that of the dominant culture would be either excluded, assimilated, or viewed as "the exotic other." The same analysis applies to cultures that have demonstrated over time the success of decentralized, small-scale economic systems, which have been viewed as a threat to the dominant, capitalist political economy.

    In contrast, critical postmodern multiculturalism, or "border pedagogy" (Giroux, 1992), is built on an "explicitly stated agenda of progressive education" (Aronowitz & Giroux, 1993, p. 196). Such multiculturalism does not view "diversity itself as a goal, but rather argues that diversity must be framed within a politics of cultural criticism and a commitment to social justice" (Estrada & McLaren, 1993, p. 31).

    Contested Space: The Struggle/Debate between Modernism and Postmodernism in Multiculturalism

    Three pieces published in the Spring 1994 issue of the Journal of Children's Literature illustrate the differences between these two cultures in multiculturalism. In "I Am the Canon: Finding Ourselves in Multiculturalism," Shannon (1994) offers a spirited critique of recently published works by Bishop (1982) and Harris (1992). Shannon specifically addresses their tendency to define multicultural children's literature as literature that is by and for "people of color" (p. xiv), which he maintains is an exclusive definition that reduces the concept of multiculturalism to racial essentialism. Shannon's theoretical perspective and his experiences with pre-service and in-service teachers lead him to insist on the need for an inclusive rather than an exclusive multicultural children's literature. For Shannon, multiculturalism becomes problematic when it is treated as if it were synonymous with race. This treatment allows teachers to stand apart from multiculturalism, "as if it were only about The Other and not themselves" (p. 2).

    In "A Reply to Shannon the Canon," Bishop (1994b, p. 7) emphatically states that her definition of multiculturalism is not an attempt "to exclude . . . [but] to call attention to the voices that have been traditionally omitted from the canon." She warns against the "potential risks of being all-inclusive," fearing that this inclusiveness will reduce multicultural children's literature to just "children's literature." Yet, she notes that her "discussions of multicultural literature generally focus on books that feature . . . `people of color.' That is the chunk of multicultural literature that I choose to focus on."

    Harris's (1994) response to Shannon parallels Bishop's. While adept in the use of the terminology of multiculturalism, Harris frequently conflates race and ethnicity. For example, she insists that although "multiculturalism is not limited to issues of race . . . the decision was made to focus on race/ethnicity" (p. 11). Race and ethnicity, however, are not synonymous. The historical and anthropological definition of race is a social construction used to explain the meaning of physical traits across cultures. Ethnicity refers to socially constructed national and cultural patterns that may or may not include people who are physically indistinguishable from one another (Schaefer, 1993).

    It is clear that while Harris acknowledges the multiple dimensions of difference across society, her main focus is on those groups that have been defined as "parallel cultures," that is, "people of color" (Harris, 1993, p. xvi). It is this use of terminology that is confusing. Reducing the definition of multiculturalism to "people of color" demonstrates a disregard for the interrelationship of culture, language, and power in the creation of difference, and appears to contradict Harris's hopes that readers critically interrogate issues of difference.

    The critical interrogation of difference and its relationship to culture, language, and power is essential to this discussion of multiculturalism and children's literature. It is important to understand that the ways in which we come to know the world, and the ways in which we become cultural beings, are tied directly to forms of language representative of socially constructed power relations. Within the ongoing transmission, creation, and recreation of culture, these power relations both contribute to and directly represent the social construction of difference. However, when this is taken into consideration through a critical postmodern definition of culture, that is, culture as a form of protest (Aronowitz & Giroux, 1985; McLaren, 1994), the issue of difference is open to critical interrogation. This is one issue that underlies a growing controversy among progressive educators.

    What is the real basis of this controversy? Why is it that neither Bishop nor Harris seems to grasp that Shannon is calling for a struggle against the canon, a struggle to foster an inclusive multiculturalism within a full-fledged social analysis of the relations between language, culture, and power? Given their disregard for the significance of the interrelationships between language, culture, and power, Bishop's and Harris's definitions of multicultural children's literature as encompassing only those groups considered "people of color" leave the reader facing the issue of racial essentialism or biological determinism.

    These articles, and the continuing controversy they represent, are indicative of broader and more complex epistemological positions within and across the fields of multicultural education and multicultural children's literature. They represent the two discourse communities of modernism and postmodernism. It appears that Shannon, Bishop, and Harris are all dedicated to multicultural education, yet their underlying belief systems, values, and social analyses differ substantially. While Bishop and Harris are functioning within the broad paradigm of modernism, Shannon has taken (or is in the midst of) an epistemological leap into a critical postmodernism. Thus, this emerging controversy is representative of the broader social transition from modernism to postmodernism in multiculturalism and, more broadly, in late twentieth-century Western intellectual thought.

    Border Pedagogy: Developing a Critical Postmodern Multiculturalism

    Borders are sites of interlinguistic play and liminal identities where many realities come together. There exists a borderization of the United States in which borders are widening, creating cultural sites of instability - sites that are not Anglo and not not-Anglo; not Chicano and not not-Chicano. La frontera is a place where cultures can collide creatively or destructively. (Estrada & McLaren, 1993, p. 28)

    A central focal point of border pedagogy is the reconceptualization of multiculturalism as part of an explicitly stated "agenda of progressive education" (Aronowitz & Giroux, 1993, p. 196), for "multiculturalism without a transformative political agenda can just be another form of accommodation to the larger social order" (Estrada & McLaren, 1993, p. 31). The progressive agenda of border pedagogy must be attentive to the notion of difference. Difference is always a product of history, culture, power and ideology" (Estrada & McLaren, 1993, p. 31). "Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged" (Lorde, 1992, p. 99). Difference becomes reconceptualized as part of "a broader politics of difference and democracy" (Aronowitz & Giroux, 1993, p. 197). As such, border pedagogy

    is attentive to developing a democratic public philosophy that respects the notion of difference as a part of a common struggle to extend the quality of public life. It presupposes not merely an acknowledgment of the shifting borders that both undermine and reterritorialize different configurations of culture, power and knowledge. It also links the notion of schooling and the broader category of education to a more substantive struggle for a radical democratic society. (Giroux, 1992, p. 28)

    Thus, multiculturalism becomes reconceptualized by a "radical notion of cultural differences and citizenship that recognizes the essentially contested character of the signs and signifying material we use in the construction of our social identities" (Giroux, 1992, p. 32). Culture is no longer viewed as static, one-dimensional, and uncontested, but as having multiple layers. This significant reconceptualization of multiculturalism interrogates the creation of difference within the context of history, culture, power, and ideology (Estrada & McLaren, 1993, p. 31).

    The language of border pedagogy (Giroux, 1992, p. 32) aids us in beginning to reconceptualize ourselves as historicized, contextualized subjects - cultural beings created within the broader constellations of culture, language, power, and ideology (Estrada & McLaren, 1993, p. 29). Yet our subjectivities are not fixed; as cultural beings, we are endowed with human agency by which we critique, challenge, resist, create, and recreate our social worlds.

    With the understanding of ourselves as historicized subjects comes the reconceptualization of "The Other." No longer is Anglo-Saxon privilege the standard by which "The Other" is measured. Rather, "The Other" itself comes under scrutiny; it is a historicized representation of Eurocentric power and privilege that has relegated minorities to the political and cultural margins of society (Schaefer, 1993).

    The new politics of difference in which students and teachers alike begin to reflect upon the social construction of their subjectivities and/or privilege is birthed in a critique of current social conditions and in a vision of a multicultural critical democracy. And while individuals may not speak as others, or for others whose experiences they do not share, they may speak about the "issues of racism, sexism, class discrimination, and other concerns as historical and contingent issues" (Giroux, 1992, p. 35). Thus White, middle-class students may begin to reflect upon where and how they may be situated within the broad web of social relations that determines their socially constructed "spheres of privilege and subordination" (Giroux, 1992, p. 35). Multiculturalism then comes to mean not just analyzing stereotypes, but also demonstrating how, through the constellation of language, culture, power, and ideology, society and institutions reproduce racism and other forms of discrimination.

    Ultimately, border pedagogy, or a critical postmodern multiculturalism, "performs a theoretical service by addressing curriculum as a form of cultural politics that demands linking the production and legitimation of classroom knowledge, social identities and values to considerations of power" (Aronowitz & Giroux, 1993, p. 208).

    Discourse in Multiculturalism and Children's Literature

    Language is more than a reflection of the structural arrangement of communication in society, it is intimately linked to the creation and perception of reality itself. (Council on Interracial Books for Children [CIBC], 1980, p. 3)

    The discourse used in the field of multicultural children's literature exemplifies the shift from the culture of modernism to that of postmodernism, and specifically to a critical postmodernism or border pedagogy. In order to understand the epistemological basis of the evolving paradigm shift, in the following section I critique the central terminology that both identifies and drives the modernism and postmodernism paradigms in multiculturalism and children's literature. This critique is based upon a review of the works of more than thirty authors and educators who work within the field of multiculturalism and children's literature, and crosses the fields of education, children's literature, and library science.

    The Modernism Paradigm

    Within the culture of modernism, one fundamental issue was evident: the promulgation and/or use of exclusive or inclusive definitions of multiculturalism in children's literature. The use of the term multiculturalism ranged from precise and specific definitions to an almost arbitrary inclusion and admixture of terms in a seeming attempt to get on the "multicultural bandwagon" (Schwartz, 1994), a bandwagon on which confusion abounds.

    The most exclusive definition of multicultural children's literature came from Ramirez and Ramirez (1994). The authors, substituting the term multiethnic for multicultural, suggest the following definition:

    multiethnic children's literature is children's literature for [my emphasis] and about America's four major nonwhite populations (Latinos . . . African Americans . . . Asian Americans . . . and Native Americans). (p. 1)

    This narrow, parochial view intentionally limits the readership of the literature to these four cultural categories.

    Stotsky, in a 1994 English Journal article, attempts to provide clear and "unambiguous definitions of these terms" (p. 27). However, she only adds to the confusion by creating her own definitions of multicultural and multiethnic, using "multicultural" to signify "works that arise in the context of other cultures or peoples geographically separated from the fifty states of the United States of America" and "ethnic" to describe "all the non-indigenous groups in this country" (p. 28). Stotsky's definitions only add to the profusion of definitions that are not based on a broad and deep understanding of the concept of culture.

    Within the broader epistemological framework of modernism, the term "minority" receives varied treatment as well. While the term is used widely in the field of multiculturalism and children's literature, there are some who question its use (Bishop, 1992a, 1994 ; CIBC, 1980; V. Harris, 1992, 1993, 1994; Kruse & Horning, 1989; Lindgren, 1991). Bishop (1992, 1994a), Harris (1992, 1993, 1994) and Hamilton (1992) are foremost among those in the field who have chosen to substitute the term "parallel cultures" for "minority." Hamilton (1992), who coined this term, explains its significance in relation to what she considers the focus of her work as an author of children's "liberation literature" (p. xii). She considers the United States to be "a country of parallel cultures, rather than the more traditional, narrower view that portrays it as a land of the majority surrounded by minorities" (Hamilton, 1992, pp. xii-xiii).

    Hamilton (cited in Bishop, 1994a) further elucidates the meaning of this term:

    I use the term parallel culture to describe groups formerly called minority, to suggest to you that so called minorities - those blacks, browns, and yellows - make up a vast contingent in the world view. It seems fitting to acknowledge that all peoples stand as equals side by side. Thus parallel culture is a more apt term than minority, which imposes a barrier and a mighty majority behind it. (p. 105)

    Harris (1993) uses a social analysis in the process of further developing the concept of parallel cultures.

    Parallel cultures exist along with the dominating American culture with its hegemonic institutions and institutionalized structures. . . . The power of the dominating culture is maintained because of stratification and differential access to institutions and cultural knowledge. Many of the parallel cultures make enormous contributions to the dominating culture which are appropriated, omitted, ignored, or valued negatively. (p. 189)

    Bishop (1992a) defines multicultural literature as "literature by and about people who are members of groups considered to be outside the sauce-political mainstream of the United States" (p. 39). According to Bishop, this definition of multicultural literature most frequently refers to "people of color," such as Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics. She also refers to these four groups as "parallel cultures," which she has popularized through presentations, articles, and her frequently published Horn Book column (1994a) entitled "Books from Parallel Cultures."

    Lindgren (1991), in the preface to The Multicultural Mirror, notes that at the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin in Madison "we define multicultural as referring to people of color, including African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Hispanics" (p. viii).

    Howard (1991), writing on multiculturalism and children's literature from an author's perspective (p. 41), seeks to effect social reform through the inclusion of these four major groups defined as "people of color."

    The notion of "parallel cultures" as being composed of "people of color" eliminates the critical issues of power and the interrelationship of subordinate and dominant social groups. While "people of color" may be currently in vogue, the phrase is problematic, in reality signifying that white is the normative term against which all other groups are defined as "Other." Furthermore, "people of color" is an exclusive term that signifies a social group based on perceived differences and described in the idiom of biology as opposed to the idiom of culture. This ultimately leads to the exclusion of other issues that may be represented within multicultural children's literature, such as issues of class, gender, disability, religion, and sexual orientation. Thus the use of terms such as "people of color" and "parallel cultures" may ultimately be more divisive than liberating and more disempowering than empowering within the full context of inequitable power relations in western capitalist society. We must leave this exclusive definition behind as we move towards a more inclusive definition of multiculturalism and children's literature.

    There are educators working within the paradigm of modernism whose visions of multiculturalism and children's literature extend beyond exclusive definitions. MacCann (1992) notes that "multicultural literature can be seen as inside the social sphere that influences all literature but extends beyond ethnic self involvement" (p. 43). Klassen (1993) offers the following explication of multiculturalism and children's literature:

    Literature that is multicultural provides students with opportunities to reflect on their own cultures (mirrors) and examine other ways of perceiving the world (windows). Specific cultures explored must be examined through multiple viewpoints that investigate their unique, diverse, and universal characteristics. There is an accompanying need for monocultural books that authentically represent a specific perspective. Teachers need to carefully consider the accuracy and authenticity of cultural information presented in books, based on a knowledgeable understanding of these cultures. A collection of multicultural literature consists of accurate, monocultural books from a wide variety of cultures, not simply books outside the mainstream culture.

    Of equal importance to the selection of multicultural books is the multicultural experience with these books. As students and teachers maintain a reflective stance toward ideas shared in books, they critically consider new information in light of prior understandings. Literary experiences with literature that is multicultural transform students' and teachers' orientation toward multiculturalism and create a critical consciousness of their world experience. (pp. 283-284, emphasis in original)

    Klassen's definition borders on the transition to a postmodern perspective. It is broad, inclusive, and demonstrates an understanding that multiculturalism and children's literature include more than written texts. It also incorporates multicultural experiences, reflection, and the development of a critical consciousness. This perspective, as well as the others discussed above, all have contributed to the ongoing transition to a critical postmodern multiculturalism.

    While Klassen speaks to the issue of literature that is multicultural, my use of the phrase "multiculturalism and children's literature" reflects my belief that humans, as cultural beings, are not one-dimensional. We are all the products of a multicultural history, in which even the notion of a "White Anglo-Saxon culture" can be interrogated and understood as a product of many cultures, many ethnic groups, and many linguistic influences (Linton, 1936, pp. 326-327). Thus all children's literature is a direct reflection of our multicultural history.

    The Critical Postmodernism Paradigm

    It is a waste of time hating a mirror or its reflection instead of stopping the hand that makes glass with distortions. (Lorde, 1992, p. 85)

    As discussed above, Shannon's (1994) article in the Journal of Children's Literature is part of the ongoing transition to postmodernism and the application of a critical postmodernism to theory and practice within the area of multiculturalism and children's literature. Shannon is not alone in this transition. An early forerunner of this paradigm shift can be found in a statement from the Council on Interracial Books for Children (1980), which noted, "Our terminology is inconsistent, political and evolving" (p. 18). Yet, even in the midst of change, they provided guidelines that extended beyond the limited notion of "parallel cultures" to embrace a much broader consideration of multiculturalism, which included different ages, social classes, genders, physical abilities, and also addressed issues of neo-colonialism, culture, institutional racism and sexism, and an understanding of the complexities of power (p. 18). While the Council recognized that literary quality must be considered, they also recognized the need to consider human values and social issues (p. 21). Thus, writing in 1980, the Council foreshadowed critical postmodernism by explicitly questioning materialism, values, individualism, competition, status and work, escapism, and conformism as reflected in children's and adolescent literature (p. 18).

    Rohmer (in Martinez, 1991), who founded Children's Book Press of San Francisco, has consistently striven to publish inclusive, socially conscious children's picture books and has also worked on "the cross-cultural use of her books in schools . . . [such as] how to use a book about African American inner-city life with Asian children who have felt black resentment about an Asian family taking over the corner store" (p. 68). Rohmer's work is indicative of a growing consciousness about the complexities of the many issues in the field of multiculturalism and children's literature.

    Taxel (1992), in the context of an introduction to the issue of multiculturalism and children's literature, notes that it is "essentially a movement to expand subjects . . . to include the experiences of previously neglected and oppressed groups" (p. 3). Taxel, building upon critical theory, has set forth two valuable concepts or heuristic devices by which to categorize such literature: the selective tradition and the oppositional tradition. The selective tradition in children's literature is exemplified by literature that represents the dominant worldview. The oppositional tradition in children's literature provides a counter hegemonic perspective of the world. It is through the exploration of these two traditions that we may come to gain a better understanding of the power of the written word to promote such ideologies as sexism and racism and to provide the opportunities for viewpoints that lead to social justice, rather than injustice. Taxel's heuristics provide an analysis based on a critical postmodern understanding of the interrelationship of language, culture, and power - an analysis integral to a critical postmodern multiculturalism.

    In her recently published book, Against Borders: Promoting Books for a Multicultural World, Rochman (1993) provides an analysis of the issue of multiculturalism and ethnocentrism vis-à-vis children's literature. Rochman's perspective is based on her experience of growing up under the South African apartheid system, where she faced borders and barriers, both metaphorically and literally. She experienced life in a police state that tried to eradicate multiculturalism under the guise of ethnic purity (p. 9). While Rochman does not directly address the socioeconomic and political basis of apartheid, her book reflects a deep analysis of this period in South African history. Rochman's book carries the message that young people need to be allowed to read freely and widely across many cultures and many borders - including those of class, ethnicity, and nationality. For Rochman, "the best books break down borders. They change our view of ourselves; they extend that phrase `like me' to include what we thought was foreign and strange" (p. 9). Rochman offers what I will term a critical postmodern understanding of multiculturalism: "multiculturalism means across cultures, against borders; multiculturalism doesn't mean only people of color" (p. 9).

    In an article on liberation literacy, Babb (1993) speaks to the issue of culture and power within a literacy-based culture (p. 39). The term "literacy-based culture" signifies that the ability to read and write is tied to the social construction of success and achievement. Where the dominant culture is "literacy based," there tends to be a devaluation of cultures based on oral tradition. Babb adds another dimension to the discussion of multiculturalism and children's literature, one that questions the positive and/or negative effects of literacy, even a multicultural literacy, across diverse social contexts. As literacy cannot be viewed separately from social power, canonical texts must be re-envisioned "in light of constructions of race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and access to literary and social power" (pp. 37-38). Babb poses questions that focus on the significance of power relations: What does literacy mean within and across numerous social contexts? How does literacy preserve or eradicate elements of race and ethnicity (p. 47)?

    Vandergrift (1993) brings a feminist perspective to a thematic issue of Library Trends, which focused on multiculturalism and children's literature. Vandergrift emphasizes the influence of feminist theories on the development of theories of multiculturalism and children's literature. In feminist theories, the primary focus has been that "the subjects need to define themselves rather than be defined by others" (p. 355). Thus the ways in which women have defined themselves, as documented in feminist texts, may provide insights into how others outside the dominant culture have defined and empowered themselves (p. 374). Vandergrift extends the considerations of subjectivity and the crisis of representation beyond feminism to an all-inclusive critical postmodern multiculturalism.

    Mohr (1992), while in the process of tracing the "awakening of Hispanic consciousness to the civil rights struggles of the 1960's" (p. 64), notes that along with the social issues came a great deal of self-examination and reflection. One question that arose is whether Puerto Ricans and other Spanish-speaking Americans were Black or White. Mohr notes that:

    Being black or white created a dilemma for many Hispanic families, where one child was white and the other brown, such as my own, or where the pigmentation of one's kin was academic. We were now - whether blond, brown or black, whether immigrant or migrant - all Hispanics. (p. 64)

    Mohr, while not discounting the social significance of race, emphasizes that it is Puerto Rican culture that is central to her role as an author, as someone who creates what Anzaldua terms "images in our heads" (1987, p. 87).

    Anzaldua, writing from the perspective of a critical postmodern multiculturalism, speaks to the power of culture in relation to subjectivity and the crisis of representation:

    The struggle is inner: Chicano, indio, American Indian, mojado, Mexicano, immigrant Latino, Anglo poor, working class Anglo, populated by the same people. The struggle has always been inner, and is played out in the outer terrains. Awareness of our situation must come before other changes, which in turn come before changes in society. Nothing happens in the "real world" unless it first happens in the images in our heads. (1987, p. 87)

    Changing "The Images in Our Heads": A Critical Postmodern Multiculturalism Curriculum

    In school I learned of heroic discoveries
    Made by liars and crooks. The courage
    Of millions of sweet and true people
    Was not commemorated.

    Let us then declare a holiday
    For ourselves, and make a parade that begins
    With Columbus' victims and continues
    Even to our grandchildren who will be named
    In their honor.
                (Durham, 1993, p. 11)

    In a recently published review article entitled "Good Intentions Are Not Enough: Children's Literature in the Aftermath of the Quincentenary," Bigelow (1994) uses a critical postmodern lens to analyze five books that were published in 1992 to commemorate the Colombian Quincentenary: Morning Girl by Michael Dorris, The World in 1492 by Jean Fritz, The Tainos: The People Who Greeted Columbus by Francine Jacobs, 1492: The Year of the New World by Piero Ventura, and Encounter by Jane Yolen.

    According to Bigelow, these books "suggest the possibilities and pitfalls of what is fast becoming a mass-market multiculturalism" (p. 266). The books proved problematic in a number of ways. As he explains:

    Despite breaking with the more obvious manifestations of the Eurocentric approach of old, many of the new multicultural books maintain a deeply Eurocentric bias in their descriptions of non-Western societies and these cultures' relationship to Europe. The books that describe a wider world in 1492 admire stratified and unjust societies, and downplay or ignore important divisions within societies. . . . In failing to describe or explain the inequities within and between societies, the books implicitly endorse these inequities. (1994, p. 266)

    Bigelow notes that while the heroic deeds of the elite are emphasized in a number of the books, popular resistance to injustice is either slighted or ignored. Due to the emphasis on normative male-dominated Western society, women's roles are limited or stereotyped in the literature. Perhaps the most serious fault that Bigelow noted is the neglect within "all the new literature to link history to contemporary social problems" (p. 266). The books never address "the most important questions of a critical multicultural curriculum: So what? How does history help us understand and improve our world today?" (pp. 266-267). As Bigelow emphasizes, it is

    not that the books ignore troubling issues - The World in 1492 touches on slavery and racism; 1492: The Year of the New World, Encounter, and The Tainos consider genocide of indigenous peoples. They simply bury all wrongs in a distant past . . . [and] the books' failure to link past and present injustice disables children from thinking critically about their place in the world today. (p. 277)

    All of this needs to be taken into consideration when working to create a critical postmodern multiculturalism or border pedagogy, one that is an integral part of a "wider movement for social change" (Bigelow, 1994, p. 277) that can change "the images in our heads" (Anzaldua, 1987, p. 87).

    Such a critical postmodern multiculturalism must be centered on "issues of identity and cultural difference" (Aronowitz & Giroux, 1993, p. 208). It should aid children in creating a more profound and inclusive "we" (Bigelow, p. 277) within a broad understanding of the historical and contextual ways in which subjectivities are created. This critical postmodern multicultural curriculum should create a critical, reflective sense of agency and enable students to learn how to critique inequality both within and between cultures. Such a curriculum should highlight those individuals and groups who have struggled for greater equality (Bigelow, 1994, pp. 277-278). "A [critical] multicultural curriculum should be a rainbow of resistance, reflecting the rich diversity of people from all cultures who tried to make a difference" (p. 278). It should facilitate the struggle to eliminate ethnocentrism, while simultaneously opening a pathway to other cultures through an understanding of cultural relativism. Lee (1991) notes that such a curriculum must enable students to "recall history with enormous accuracy and with great specificity" (p. 20).

    Ultimately, the goal of a multicultural curriculum should be to empower students to make the world a better place, to become visionaries who question, analyze, reflect, critique, and engage in social action that leads toward a more equitable postmodern democracy for the twenty-first century. In my judgment, Shannon, Bishop, and Harris agree with this goal.

    "Wind Swayed Bridge[s], Crossroads Inhabited by Whirlwinds"

    It is crucial to its usefulness that we view multiculturalism not as an obdurate and unchanging ideological position, but as an opportunity for ongoing critical debate. (Wallace, 1994, p. 182)

    The paradigms of modernism and postmodernism are inexorably connected to human history; issues emphatically put forth in the articles by Shannon, Bishop, and Harris represent only one brief moment within this span of history. In the midst of the paradigm shift from modernism to postmodernism, I focus on the immediate contextual and historical issue of multiculturalism and children's literature through a critical postmodern lens. To return to the point articulated in the title of Shannon's (1994) article, "I Am the Canon: Finding Ourselves in Multiculturalism," we as humans are all cultural beings. As such, we must come to understand where we are situated in relation to border pedagogy and the multiplicities of borderlands found throughout our own society. How does our specific contextual, historical situation provide us with privilege and power, or designate us as "The Other"? What role will we, as educators, take in interrogating our own subjectivity and expanding the "we" to be inclusive of all students as we struggle to understand further the historicized creation of "The Other"?

    Mirrors and windows do not suffice. A critical postmodern pedagogy, a border pedagogy, implies a much more global understanding of our place in social reality. To gain control of our destiny we must not be content to be mere reflections in mirrors constructed through the dominant ideology; we must act to create and recreate mirrors that more accurately reflect our visions of a future postmodern multicultural democracy.

    This shift to postmodernism carries within it a sense of urgency. Culture, as our ancestors have experienced it, no longer reflects the immediate realities of daily life. Culture as we know it is now greatly impacted by global, political, and economic issues, the accessibility of international travel, and communications. Technology has metaphorically shrunk our world, while simultaneously devaluing the significance of our interdependence with our borderlands. Meanwhile, these borderlands have grown exponentially, both in size and number. This growth, as represented by the current transition from a late twentieth-century culture of modernism to the postmodernism of the twenty-first century, requires that educators fully grasp these dramatic changes and interrogate their own place within this transition. Anzaldua aids in framing our current condition:

    To live in the Borderlands means to
                put chile in the borscht,
                eat whole wheat tortillas
                speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent,
                be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints.
                                                                   (1987, p. 195)

    Anzaldua indicates that we may experience daily the diverse cultures that have created this rapidly changing society. Yet, all of this is embedded within a clear sociopolitical dimension in which la migra, or another form of "border checkpoint" in the identification of "Otherness," may await us.

    Anzaldua also offers a critical postmodern optimism, one that challenges us to reconceptualize this new postmodern world. We as educators must face this challenge ethically and with intellectual rigor in order to aid our students to understand, critique, and survive the transition to a postmodern future. As we come to realize the many dimensions of our own cultural roots, perhaps we can heed Anzaldua's words:

    To survive the Borderlands

    you must live sin fronteras
    be a crossroads.

    (1987, p. 195).

    To learn to live sin fronteras, to be a crossroads, to build bridges rather than walls - that is our task. The foundations of these crossroads and bridges will be forged in sometimes difficult discussions about multiculturalism. At times we may feel like "wind swayed bridge[s], a crossroads inhabited by whirlwinds" (Anzaldua, 1981, p. 205). Yet we will "do this bridging by naming ourselves and telling our stories in our own words" (Moraga & Anzaldua, 1983, p. 23). We must encourage our students to follow our example, to learn to live sin fronteras, to build bridges, as we jointly explore the rich multicultural web of our society.

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  2. Winter 1995 Issue


    Uncertain Allies
    Understanding the Boundaries of Race and Teaching
    By Marilyn Cochran-Smith
    The Four "I's" of School Reform
    How Interests, Ideology, Information, and Institution Affect Teachers and Principals
    By Carol H. Weiss
    Total Quality Management in the Academy
    A Rebellious Reading
    By Estela Mara Bensimon
    A Postmodern Vision of Time and Learning
    A Response to the National Education Commission Report "Prisoners of Time"
    By Patrick Slattery
    Crossing Borders/Shifting Paradigms
    Multiculturalism and Children's Literature
    By Elaine G. Schwartz

    Book Notes

    Urban Sanctuaries
    By Milbrey McLaughlin, Merita Irby, and Juliet Langman

    By John Edgar Wideman.

    Children Solving Problems
    By Stephanie Thornton

    The Smart Parent's Guide to Kids' TV
    By Milton Chen

    New Directions in Portfolio Assessment
    Edited by Laurel Black, Donald A. Daiker, Jeffrey Sommers, and Gail Stygal.

    The Tao of Teaching
    By Greta Nagel

    Emergent Curriculum
    By Elizabeth Jones and John Nimmo.

    Teaching Hand Papermaking
    By Gloria Zmolek Smith.

    Postmodern Theory
    By Steven Best and Douglas Kellner.

    Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes
    By Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw.

    Towards Inclusive Schools
    Edited by Catherine Clark, Alan Dyson, and Alan Millward.

    Fabled Cities, Princes and Jinn from Arab Myths and Legends
    By Kharirat Al-Saleh; illustrations by Rashad Salim.

    Educational Action Research
    Edited by Susan E. Noffke and Robert B. Stevenson.

    By Terry Eagleton

    Call 1-800-513-0763 to order this issue.