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Multicultural books in the social studies classroom: Which Caribbean?


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focuses on the portrayal of Caribbean culture in social studies books for young people that are widely used in North America and Britain in response to the demand for multicultureal materials to support the curriculum.

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Multicultural books in the social studies classroom: Which Caribbean?

  1. 1. b y Cherrell Shelley-Robinson, Ph.D Department of Library & Information Studies University of the West Indies, Mona 2011
  2. 3. <ul><li>Multicultural literature can be described as literature about racial, ethnic or other minority groups that are culturally and socially different from the majority population whose values and customs are most often represented… </li></ul><ul><li>For example, in North America it includes literature about African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans etc… </li></ul>
  3. 4. <ul><li>provides information about culturally diverse groups living in the same society </li></ul><ul><li>develops appreciation and respect for cultural diversity </li></ul><ul><li>by offering various cultural perspectives contributes to the way students view the world </li></ul><ul><li>allows children belonging to minority groups to see their life-styles positively portrayed which can boost their self-esteem </li></ul>
  4. 5. <ul><li>They are one of the major sources of information on the history, geography, social institutions, family patterns and the traditions and customs of the parent countries from which members of the various ethnic minority groups originate </li></ul>
  5. 6. <ul><li>They play an important in developing young people’s world view, including their sense of social and political place in relation to other societies, thus raising issues pertaining to racism, dominance and power </li></ul><ul><li>The likely impact these books can have on children from the majority group and children from the Caribbean Diaspora living in the developed societies as well as children living in the Caribbean </li></ul>
  6. 7. <ul><li>Research on Caribbean children’s literature </li></ul><ul><li>revealed that: </li></ul><ul><li>Majority of information books published between 1960-2004 were on social studies </li></ul><ul><li>Most were written by foreign authors, with little first-hand knowledge of the region </li></ul><ul><li>All of these books appeared under British (16) or American (9) imprints </li></ul>
  7. 8. <ul><li>“… historians, social scientists and geographers in selecting, ordering and interpreting social data, are influenced by their own biases, prejudices, beliefs, affections and experiences as well as the socio-cultural environment in which they live…” (Morrissey & King, 20) </li></ul>
  8. 9. <ul><li>Books are neither written nor read in a social vacuum, and so they are likely to reflect the majority view of the society from which they come, and social studies books are more prone to do this than others </li></ul><ul><li>Given the history of the Caribbean –the matter of accuracy becomes a very important issue </li></ul>
  9. 10. <ul><li>Sims Bishop (1997), a leading scholar in African American children’s literature, believes that multicultural literature should be promoted in order to counteract a tradition of distortions, inaccuracies, and omissions of the histories, heroes, literatures and, cultural traditions of people of colour (5). </li></ul>
  10. 11. <ul><li>Temple, Martinez, Yokota, and Naylor (2002) argue that multicultural books should be accurate and authentic as they seek to “… illuminate the experiences of members of a particular cultural group…[so that]… the nuances of daily life are captured accurately, reflecting language use, values, attitudes and beliefs of members of the group portrayed…” </li></ul><ul><li>(86 ). </li></ul>
  11. 12. <ul><li>1350 books </li></ul><ul><li>156 were nonfiction </li></ul><ul><li>62 were social studies books </li></ul><ul><li>42 or almost 2/3rd of the books had serious flaws re accuracy, authenticity and being written from a Eurocentric point of view </li></ul>
  12. 13. <ul><li>Scope of the work – balanced coverage </li></ul><ul><li>Accuracy – factual, use of broad generalizations and stereotyping </li></ul><ul><li>Information presented from a Eurocentric viewpoint </li></ul>
  13. 14. <ul><li>Cross-sectional approach used </li></ul><ul><li>Texts of necessity, very brief </li></ul><ul><li>Coverage uneven, often not reflective of the varied nature of the Caribbean countries </li></ul><ul><li>Not sure which Caribbean is being covered </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of balance, even for a single country </li></ul>
  14. 15. <ul><li>Mason’s (1989) The Caribbean from the People and Places series mentions by name at least sixteen countries representative of all four language groups and includes many of the smaller islands like Anguilla, Turks and Caicos and Cayman Islands so often overlooked by other writers. </li></ul>
  15. 16. <ul><li>Most are factually accurate </li></ul><ul><li>Some have outdated information </li></ul><ul><li>A handful with some glaring errors </li></ul><ul><li>E.g. wrong picture on cover for book on Barbados </li></ul><ul><li>Fisherman’s festival wrongly ascribed to Jamaica </li></ul>
  16. 17. <ul><li>“ Wealthy land owners have the largest farms, called plantations. Compared to Americans, West Indian workers are poor. They live in tiny huts…The only work allowed the people is farming and tourism…” ( Russell, 1994, 16 ) </li></ul>
  17. 18. <ul><li>Also written in a breezy, touristy style, ends up giving a very superficial picture </li></ul>
  18. 19. <ul><li>Most obvious were the illustrations that </li></ul><ul><li>repeatedly showed derelict looking buildings, shanties, huts, as typical types of dwellings </li></ul><ul><li>Scenes of people in markets, cane-fields, washing clothes at the river side etc. </li></ul>
  19. 20. The musical, happy-go-lucky negro…
  20. 21. <ul><li>“… the people of the West Indies love music, dancing and bright colours…” (27). </li></ul><ul><li>Slavery is mentioned in an almost casual tone “…as more and more sugar was needed, thousands more slaves were brought over from Africa …” and each one “… was called by the name of his owner…” (14). </li></ul>
  21. 28. <ul><li>Saunders writes a clear and easily read text, punctuated with data boxes containing recipes, songs and proverbs which lend a touch of authenticity. </li></ul><ul><li>Saunders’ residence in Jamaica is reflected in his first hand knowledge of details pertaining to weddings and funerals which the average researcher would not find documented anywhere and his reference to the “headman john crow”, (40) a rarely seen white vulture known mostly in the rural areas. </li></ul><ul><li>On a negative note, the cover picture of a half-naked Rastaman might still help to convey the idea of primitiveness. </li></ul>
  22. 29. <ul><li>Europe’s first encounter with the Caribbean </li></ul><ul><li>Treatment of the indigenous population </li></ul><ul><li>The forced migration of Africans to the region </li></ul><ul><li>Description of the slavery experience </li></ul><ul><li>Emancipation </li></ul><ul><li>Economic underdevelopment </li></ul>
  23. 30. <ul><li>History of the region only began with the arrival of Columbus </li></ul><ul><li>Columbus discovered the region </li></ul><ul><li>Indigenous population “died” out- the real reason rarely given </li></ul><ul><li>Africans were “brought” to the Caribbean </li></ul><ul><li>Slavery was not such a bad experience after all, slaves were well treated </li></ul>
  24. 31. <ul><li>The Europeans suffered greatly at the abolition of slavery </li></ul><ul><li>Failure to make any connection between past actions of Europeans and the present state of underdevelopment in the region today </li></ul>
  25. 32. <ul><li>Columbus and fellow Europeans : </li></ul><ul><li>“ discovered” the region, as if it was uninhabited </li></ul><ul><li>Claimed the various countries for their sovereign ignoring the rights of the indigenous people </li></ul><ul><li>Enslaved the indigenous people and caused their deaths by diseases and overwork, hardly mentioned </li></ul>
  26. 33. <ul><li>With regard to slavery, Wilkins expresses the opinion that : </li></ul><ul><li>“… they [the Europeans] imported slaves from Africa…, although to be fair, it seems as if the slaves were considerably better treated in Jamaica than in other parts of the New World.” </li></ul><ul><li>(F. Wilkins, 1987,17). </li></ul>
  27. 34. <ul><li>When describing the action of the British in forcibly transporting the Africans to the Caribbean, Brownlie (2000) uses the term “brought” which lacks the power needed to communicate the violent subjugation of a people taken captive and transported from their homelands against their will </li></ul>
  28. 36. <ul><li>James (1984) in The Caribbean , not only commented on the greed and cruelty of the Europeans, but also states clearly and briefly that: </li></ul><ul><li>… .The slaves who were captured from Africa were squeezed into the dark stinking holes beneath the ships’ decks. Slaves who lasted the awful journey were sold when they reached the islands… </li></ul>
  29. 37. <ul><li>“… they [the Europeans] imported slaves from Africa…, although to be fair, it seems as if the slaves were considerably better treated in Jamaica than in other parts of the New World.” </li></ul><ul><li>(F. Wilkins, 1987,17). </li></ul>
  30. 38. <ul><li>Campbell (1980) is forthright in his approach to the matter on the horrors of slavery and the unfairness of Britain regarding payments made to slave owners at emancipation. </li></ul><ul><li>“… Men and women were taken by force from their homes and families and shipped across the Atlantic to work as slaves on the Caribbean plantations. Conditions on the Caribbean islands were exceptionally bad, even compared to other slave societies …” </li></ul>
  31. 39. <ul><li>“… Sugar, which in some colonies had made people rich, now helped to make the same people paupers; for although some of the field slaves were willing to work on estates, many others refused to do hard work… [later some of them decided that ] working in the cane fields wasn’t so bad after all . But it was too late for many of the ruined owners …” ( Caldwell, 1978,34) </li></ul>
  32. 40. <ul><li>Few writers s quarely places some of the blame for present Caribbean underdevelopment on the slave owners of past centuries whom he accuses of never passing on the profits from the sugar plantations to the slaves. </li></ul>
  33. 41. <ul><li>Writes well researched, fairly balanced, accurate books. This one shows a: </li></ul><ul><li>good mix of rural/urban life </li></ul><ul><li>persons from humble and well-to-do backgrounds </li></ul><ul><li>does more than describe, also analyzes </li></ul><ul><li>Discusses socio-economic changes and implications for the future </li></ul>
  34. 42. <ul><li>Rigorously apply the criteria and not be distracted by the excellent physical qualities of these works </li></ul><ul><li>Resist the tendency to choose materials that might seem preferably because they present a perspective and world view that is familiar, even if it is inaccurate </li></ul><ul><li>Seek expert advice as to accuracy of contents from reliable reviewing sources, when possible </li></ul>
  35. 43. <ul><li>Seek to acquire more background information on these countries so you are better able to judge their quality </li></ul><ul><li>Involve members of the ethnic group who might be on staff in the selection process or ask them to evaluate this type of material </li></ul><ul><li>Check the credentials/authority of the author/find government websites for the country or get additional information from embassies, where possible </li></ul>
  36. 44. <ul><li>Apply the evaluation criteria to these books along with your knowledge of the region and reject those that do not meet the criteria for accuracy and authenticity </li></ul><ul><li>Write critical reviews for online book stores like etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Write to publishers about the inaccuracies misrepresentation </li></ul><ul><li>Suggest potential writers or consultants they can use to verify contents </li></ul><ul><li>Make sure your readers are taught how to critically evaluate their reading materials </li></ul><ul><li>Local publishers explore the possibility of developing a series of social studies book on the region </li></ul>