Starting with Literature

Kumashiro’s book chapter presented ideas and guidelines that coincide with the anti-racist education we all should be striving for. I was really interested in this particular piece because it offered an English discipline-specific approach to integrative what he describes as an “anti-oppressive education” (2004). He explains, “teaching and learning English literature in ways that challenge oppression requires changing what we read” (2004). This quote resonated a lot with my own high school experience, where I read only one or two classics, and the rest being books like Things Fall Apart and American Born Chinese, for example. Having these perspectives available to me at such a formative age was really helpful in seeing and understanding experiences outside my own (also these books are way more enjoyable to read than Grapes of Wrath). These books were enjoyable and engaging because not only could I relate to certain elements, but also because I could “internalize and grapple with some of the social issues with which the characters in the novel were grappling” (2004). A professor once told me that books should be mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors, and this hung in my mind while reading this particular article.

Of course, there isn’t always the option to choose the books we’d like to teach, whether it be due to standardized curriculum, budgetary concerns, or other factors. This is something that concerns me a lot as I prepare to enter the educational field, but I found Kumashiro’s suggestion to be reassuring and helpful. The classics can be relevant texts, only if we incorporate critical theoretic lenses. This was closely tied to Appleman’s emphasis on theory in Critical Encounters, where she explains that theory can “reposition the study of literature that clarifies its relationship with the rest of the world” (2015). In taking classic literature and applying a critical lens, literature can appear newer, more interesting, and more applicable to students lives. 

Beyond introducing multicultural literature or revamping the classics, we must aim to give our students the tools to question oppression and the status quo. Simply introducing multicultural literature is not enough, nor is staying “neutral.” As Kumashiro explains, “when we label certain lenses (including feminist lenses and anti-racist lenses) as too political, we are allowing other perspectives to remain invisible, and therefore, the norm” (2004). Neutrality doesn’t exist, and if we pretend to not have opinions, then we risk perpetuating societal norms and oppressive systemic structures in our classrooms, ostracizing our students from various identities, specifically our students of color. Going off of Kumashiro’s suggestions for teacher lenses, we must name and disrupt our white privilege, learn from our students and get to know them, and “never assume we know enough” (2004). 

As many of us are white teachers entering a field dominated by whiteness, the onus is on us to ensure we are not perpetuating racism in our classrooms. The English discipline is fantastic for this pursuit, as we have the gift of literature to introduce people and perspectives that differ from our own. There will always be work to be done, but it is non-negotiable that every student feels seen, heard, and uplifted. There is no other option.

For my resource link this week, I chose an interesting blog post that gives great suggestions for how to engage with diverse texts as well as how to push the discussion further. It can be found here!

One comment

  1. Hi Lizzy! I had a great time reading your blog post. I feel like you articulated everything I was also thinking when reading Kumashiro perfectly. I found myself nodding in agreement to many things you stated throughout your blog post. I believe you did a really great job, specifically, at calling out “neutrality” and how, as teachers, there is no place for being neutral. I also really liked the attention you paid to Kumashiro discussing how white teachers have to always recognize their whiteness and know that they are always going to be learning. This is something I have been thinking about even more over the past few months in regards to my approach when teaching seemingly diverse texts. I need to keep my approach open when working with students because I have a lot to learn from them. AND the ways in which I approach teaching diverse texts is just as important in making those unheard voices heard. Great job on your post!


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