Teaching Diversity Responsibly

250px-Warp_and_weft

What the Weft Weaves: Why We Need Academic Activism  by P.B. White
NOTE: Weft comes from the Old English word, wefan which is defined as “to weave” while warp comes from the word varp, which means “to cast a net.”

When I read a novel, I’m increasingly trying to glean from the author’s sensibilities to construct and organize the intricacies which expose the subtext or what I like to think of as the “cultural weft” of the characters. To draw an analogy from the constructs of fabrics for clarification, if the genre and plot constitute the warp or “cast of the lot,” the weft is what the author “weaves” into the story line. This process of weaving may be done through dialogue, images, cultural interaction, and a myriad of limitless literary techniques like symbolism (the United States map in Gary Soto’s “Buried Onions” and the Chinese handcuffs in Chris Crutcher’s Chinese Handcuffs), or repetition of prose (“Now look” a rhetorical device called anaphora in Dana Reinhard’s A Brief Chapter in my Impossible Life (1). These are the elements which provide voice (a bit like Hemingway’s Iceberg theory) which further expands the weft or woven content therein exposing the authenticity of the text which oftentimes illuminates the cultural representation.

In her article “Outside Teachers” (2003), Yenika Agbaw maintains that whether inside teachers or outside teachers with “trained minds and hearts,” educators must be prepared for the “daily challenges of introducing books that explore our diversity”(1). Yenika-Agbaw cites the teaching of Carolivia Harron’s Nappy Hair and its resistance from the African American community due to the possible mishandling of culturally sensitive material from an outside teacher.

I do think it prudent to have curriculum changes that include the induction of any book examined by a review committee made up of teachers, administrators, and parents who would read the books beforehand. Undoubtedly, biases and limitations of the examiners would surface. Yenika-Agbaw’s suggests strategies in “Outside Teachers” (2003) productive for addressing prejudice tendencies of which “self-examination/reflection questions” (9) may possibly open “space” for discussion.

Botelho and Rudman maintain that “Critical multicultural analysis creates a space for adults and children alike to recognize their discursive constitution, as well as providing a site for resistance, subversion, and transformation of dominant class, race, and gender ideologies…, [and that these] question the subject positions offered by the dominant discourses…”(154). Questioning the dominant discourse will undoubtedly bring tension, but responsible teaching must anticipate and embrace this challenge as many will ask, “Can these books help teachers to  initiate discourse that will be helpful in illuminating dominant ideologies that may contain biases?”

As indicated in Draper’s book Out of My Mind, these preconceived prejudices can dominant otherwise logical discourse as evident in Draper’s characters of Mrs. Billings or Miss Gordon or Mr. D. According to Trites’s article “Defining the Feminist Children’s Novel” (1997) because Melody has the fortitude to defy the “social institution” of governing authorities through her “introspection to overcome her oppression,” Elaine Showalter may very well classify this as a feminist novel. This inclusion of “weft” or weaving of prejudices and oppression by Draper at once invite a reader to re-examine his or her own preconceptions on disability. If we as authors or educators do not help others question the discursive constitution and subtextual ideologies within children’s and young adult literature, or if we fail to provide tools to dismantle prejudices and “albeist ideology” (91) with “academic activism” (104) as Garland-Thomson recommends in Yenika-Agbaw’s “Reading Disability in Children’s Literature” (2003), than our examination of multicultural education is for naught.

In her article “Outside Teachers (2003), Yenika-Agbaw advocates that “teachers should pay attention to power relationships as represented in the print and picture text” (10). Examining these power relationships as McLeod does in Tangarine, Uprising, Kira-kira and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry  “invite discussion” to challenge the discourse which “can assist in the development of a language that speaks to class [gender and race] inequality, past and present” (77).

Works Cited

Botelho, Maria Jose, Masha Kabakow Rudman. Critical Multicultural Analysis of Children’s Literature. 2009. Routledge. New York., N.Y.: Print.

Soto, Gary. Buried Onions. San Diego, Calif. :Harcourt Brace, 1997. Print.

Trites, Roberta Seelinger. Waking Sleeping Beauty: Feminist Voices in Children’s Novels. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1997.

Yenika-Agbaw, V. (2003). “Outside Teachers:Children’s Literature and
Cultural Tension.” English Leadership Quarterly. 26 (2), 7 -11.
— (2011). “Reading Disability in Children’s Literature:Hans Christian Andersen’s Tales.” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies.  5(1), 91-108.

 

 

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