A Multicultural Sampler

Published April 1, 1999

In her book, Losing Our Language, Sandra Stotsky notes that new elementary school readers require children to spend their time unproductively, learning non-English words and symbols unique to the story at hand and unlikely ever to be encountered again. She provides an example of this in a story about young native-Americans, where the tribe’s word for “eagle” is pronounced WANG buhl, but spelled “Wanbli” with a unique phonetic symbol in place of the “n.”

Stotsky also illustrates the strident political agenda behind many of the new readers, using the following selection about a painting by Faith Ringgold from the Silver Burdett Ginn sixth-grade reader:

“Her painting U.S. Postage Stamp Commemorating the Advent of Black Power is a response to the unfair advantage that white people have. It exhibits one hundred faces: ninety are white, and ten are black. The words white power are spelled out in large white letters dividing the faces. Black power is also spelled out, in smaller black letters. . . . It expresses Faith’s desire to send a message: inequality is wrong and must be stopped.”

For a sense of the motives underlying the new reading instruction, a look at the teacher guide accompanying one widely used series is helpful:

“To help students begin to develop cultural awareness and understanding, they first need to learn who they are–their ethnicity, gender, and social class–and how they are viewed by society. Students need to begin to understand the contributions made by members of their group and other groups to the development of our culturally pluralistic nation. . . . Both students and teachers have participated in relationships of domination, submission, oppression, and privilege which have helped to shape who they are and how they see the world. This recognition of students and teachers as historically situated subjects with conflicting gender, race, and class interests is vital to understanding the possibilities and limits of the classroom.” [emphasis added]