Understanding Other Cultures Through Books
Brought to you by The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Books of many cultures help students broaden their knowledge of the world and learn more about themselves in the process.
"Wow! This book is easy to read and the stuff is about the Motherland. Way to go, Mrs. Van. I can take this assignment!"
It was Ngugi Wa Thiong'o's Weep Not, Child that sparked Jerome's interest. A nonreader, a reluctant student, a young man with an attention deficit disorder -- and a parole officer -- Jerome was eager to read this assignment. We had struggled through Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, and now we moved on to this novel of revolution set in 20th century Kenya. The themes, characters, and plot parallel Dickens' tale of the French Revolution, and the novel's setting spoke to Jerome's African roots.
Validating Student's Lives
I teach in an inner-suburban community rich in diversity. Located just outside St. Louis, University City borders the wealthiest suburbs on one side and low-income areas on the other. Demographically, the community has an equal number of blacks and whites, as well as a large variety of people from throughout the world -- from poor refugees to middle-class professionals working in local businesses and universities.
The need to make classroom materials relevant to the students' world and to speak to the future world students will face weighs heavily in my daily routine. Our classroom mirrors the diversity of ethnic groups and nationalities in our society. Therefore, I must find materials in the many voices not included in a traditional curriculum if I am to reach these students; create opportunities for them to increase their self-esteem, and expand their minds, speak to their world, and to the conditions they will find throughout our planet, and give them the skills and hope they need to survive.
Exploring "Good" and "Bad"
I encourage them to be personal or universal in their responses, whatever's more comfortable. Their responses vary dramatically--from "Nuclear energy provides necessary power, but also produces toxic waste," to "My father is so much fun, except when he's drunk." These writings are included in their daily journals, along with other responses to philosophical statements in the novel.
As part of cooperative learning projects, my students investigate places in the world where people's rights are abused. As we read and discuss ATOTC, students can identify events in the novel that parallel real-life human rights abuses. One group of students gave a presentation that compared Dr. Manette's 18-year secret imprisonment to the disappearance of children in Argentina and their mothers' protest march in the town square. Another group related the hunger of the people in St. Antoine to the starvation of famine victims in Somalia. The latter group then participated in our school's annual fast for world hunger and collected canned goods for the local food pantry.
Communicating One on One
As the students read the novel and study current events, they respond in their journals, which is where the real one-on-one communication between us happens. Since they can write whatever they like and are allowed to fold over pages they don't want me to read, students can either maintain their privacy, or reach out for help. Students know that teachers are legally required to refer any serious concerns we might have about their safety to outside professionals, but they're also aware that I'd take those steps only after speaking with them privately.
More on: Kids and Diversity