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Fall 2011

POLICY BRIEF Cultural  Bias  in  Elementary  Reading   Textbooks:  A  Closer  Look  at  the  Failure  of   Multicultural  Education  Policies

Crystal Glover

University of North Carolina at Charlotte Summary  

The textbook plays a central role in American public schools. Textbooks serve as the primary tool for literacy instruction in 75- 95% of all schools (Apple & Christian-Smith; 1991; Gunning, 2002; Starr; 1990). Not surprisingly, textbook purchases constitute a significant portion of school budgets. In 2006, over 6 billion dollars was spent on textbooks for students in America’s public schools (National Center for Education Statistics, 2008). The prevalence of the textbook has relevance in the context of multicultural education. A large percentage of textbooks used in American public schools represent a Eurocentric perspective (Fields, 1996; vanBelle, 2005). According to Apple (1988), “It is the textbook which establishes the material conditions for teaching and…it is the textbook that often defines what is elite and legitimate culture to pass on” (p. 81). Given the diverse demographic make-up of U.S. schools, the cultural bias that exists in literacy textbooks can hinder the academic success of students of color.

Background American schools are largely comprised of students of color. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2008), over 43% of the U.S. public school population in 2007 were students of color. This figure is expected to continue to rise over the next two decades (Hughes-Hassell, Barkley & Koehler, 2009). As American schools become more and more diverse, it is imperative that the materials used to teach young students reflect the changing U.S. demographic. The use of socially conscious textbooks and instructional materials can help combat the negative messages that children receive about different ethnicities from other media forms (McNair, 2008). Numerous research studies suggest the powerful effects of children’s literature on the self-concept and world view of young children (Chall, Radwin, French & Hall, 1979; Hughes-Hassell, Barkley & Koehler, 2009; Jackson & Boutte, 2009; Sims, 1982). According to McNair (2003), literature is a socio-cultural product that reflects societal values, beliefs, and attitudes. When children of color are given extended access to multicultural literature


which features characters that look like themselves and realistic, relevant plots, they are more connected and engaged with the text (Hughes-Hassell, Barkley & Koehler, 2009). Children that lack exposure to literature that offers cultural relevance and perspective have lower reading achievement and motivation (HughesHassell, Barkley & Koehler, 2009). When African American children read textbooks that negatively portray Blacks, they are likely to internalize intentional and unintentional messages of inferiority (Sims, 1982). The situation is equally problematic for White children. In the predominately white world of children’s literature, White children are often portrayed as superior. For young white readers, children’s literature functions to perpetuate widely held hegemonic beliefs. Children of all ethnicities are exposed to “gentle doses of racism” through the negative portrayals of Blacks in biased children’s textbooks (vanBelle, 2005). This tainted view of society promotes cyclical marginalization of minority populations. The use of multicultural literature in textbooks can help all students develop an awareness and appreciation for diverse populations (Nilsson, 2005). Furthermore, multicultural literature encourages children to live harmoniously in an increasingly pluralistic society (Nilsson, 2005).

The landmark Brown v. Board of Education case which declared separate but equal schools to be unlawful, marked one of the first efforts at equalizing education in American schools. While the Brown decision prompted very little progress in the push for integration, Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s and 1970’s successfully advocated for equal distribution of resources and affirmative action in higher education (Johnson, 2003). Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination in schools, stating that ‘No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance (US House of Representatives, 1975, p. 40). Federal legislation of the 1980’s was centered on compensatory education, transitional bilingual education, and assistance for the education of students with disabilities (Johnson, 2003). By the mid 1990’s only 35 states had a basic multicultural curriculum policy in place. Current state policies on multicultural education focus solely on the inclusion of diverse cultural and racial groups in the curriculum and do not address institutional inequities (Johnson, 2003). Nebraska is one of the only states that holds districts accountable for documenting their implementation of multicultural curriculum (Johnson, 2003).

Mul0cultural  Educa0on  Policies

“It is the textbook which establishes the material conditions for teaching and…it is the textbook that often defines what is elite and legitimate culture to pass on” (p.81). Given the diverse demographic make-up of U.S. schools, the cultural bias that exists in literacy textbooks can hinder the academic success of students of color.”

Multicultural education was created to increase educational equity for students from diverse backgrounds (Banks, 1999). Multicultural education seeks to right the injustices that pervade school policies, procedures, assessment, and curriculum (Hills, 1996). Banks (1995) suggests five dimensions of multicultural education: curriculum integration; the knowledge construction process; prejudice reduction; an equity pedagogy; and an empowering school culture and social structure. State and local school districts have made attempts to infuse multicultural practices throughout the curriculum. Educational policy related to multicultural education has served to guide the implementation of culturally relevant pedagogical practices in American schools.



Multicultural Policy cont.

Local  Policy  on  Mul0cultural   Educa0on The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board policy on multiculturalism defines multicultural education as “that which recognizes, values and affirms diversity in a pluralistic environment” (Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board Policies, 2010). Education that is multicultural fosters: (a) acceptance and appreciation of diversity; (b) development of greater understanding of cultural patterns, (c) respect for people of all cultures, development of positive and productive interaction among people and experiences of diverse cultural groups, and (d) understanding of historical political and economic bases of current inequities” (Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board Policies, 2010). The policy states that “ C h a r l o t t e - M e c k l e n b u rg S c h o o l s w i l l acknowledge and appreciate the value of diversity throughout the curriculum, instruction, and staff development” (Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board Policies, 2010). The CMS multicultural policy does not mention the examination of instructional materials for cultural bias or the elimination of materials that present inaccurate or demeaning images of minorities. While the CMS school board is to be commended for acknowledging the importance of multicultural education in its official policy, the failure to include systems for monitoring the implementation of such policy is unacceptable. It is imperative that multicultural education policies be comprehensive and exhaustive in their attempts to promote the implementation of culturally relevant instruction through the use of diverse instructional materials.

Research  on  Cultural  Bias  in   Elementary  Reading  Textbooks Research studies on racism in textbooks have unearthed disturbing results. Samson (2011) found that students of color characters were vastly underrepresented in the textbooks she studied. Furthermore, she found that the number of stories written by African American authors was only 13% of the pages in the featured African American ‘incidents’. In a content analysis of basal readers, vanBelle (2005) concluded that the texts reproduced White, middle-class privilege, while marginalizing people of color, particularly working-class African Americans. Whites were presented as “largely academically successfully, printliterate, scientifically literate, mathematically literate, financially savvy, and middle-class”, while African Americans were portrayed as “working-class individuals who engage in labor that does not require or build these multiple literacies”. In addition, Whites were viewed as “gatekeepers to institutions and knowledge related to print-based literacy, science, mathematics, and money”. Brown-Levingston (2005) found a shortage of African American family portrayals in the state-adopted textbooks she researched as part of a detailed content analysis. Furthermore, she found that AfricanAmericans were portrayed mainly as filler characters, athletes, and musicians and were rarely used as main characters.

Recommenda0ons  for  State  and  Local   School  Boards • Conduct a needs-based assessment of culturally relevant instructional materials based on the demographic make-up and curricular materials presently being used in local schools. • Provide professional development opportunities for faculty and staff on the use of culturally relevant teaching tools. • Adopt policies that require close examination of cultural competency in basal readers as part of textbook adoption policies. • Devise a management system to supervise and monitor the implementation of multicultural policies. Figure  1.  The  public  educa0on  dollar:  Current   expenditures  by  func0on:  School  year  2001-­‐02   (Current  expenditures:  368  billion)

References ! Apple, M. W. (1991). Culture and commerce of the textbook. In M. W. Apple and L.K. Christian-Smith (Eds.). The politics of the textbook. p. 22-40, New York: Routledge. Banks, J.A. (1995) Multicultural education: Historical development, dimensions, and practice, in:J. A. Banks & C. A. M. Banks (Eds.) Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education (NewYork, Macmillan). Banks, J.A. (1999). An Introduction to Multicultural Education (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Chall, J.; Squire, J. (1991). Handbook of reading research. New York : Lawrence Erlbaum. Fields, J. D. (1996). Analysis of the multicultural content of the 1992 Texas approved reading programs. Ph.D. dissertation, Texas A&M University, United States -- Texas. Retrieved September 11, 2011, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 9718341). Hughes-Hassell, S., Barkley, H. A., & Koehler, E. (2009). Promoting equity in children's literacy instruction: Using a critical race theory framework to examine transitional books. School Library Media Research, 12 Retrieved from Jackson, T. O., & Boutte, G. S. (2009). Liberation literature: Positive cultural messages in children's and young adult literature at freedom schools. Language Arts, 87(2), 108-116. Retrieved from Johnson, L. (2003). Multicultural Policy as Social Activism: Redefining Who "Counts" in Multicultural Education. Race Ethnicity and Education, 6(2), 107-21. Retrieved from EBSCOhost. Larrick, N. (1965). The all white world of children’s books. Saturday Review, 48, 63-65, 84-85. McNair, J. C. (2008). The representation of authors and illustrators of color in school-based book clubs. Language Arts, 85(3), 193-201. Retrieved from Nilsson, N. L. (2005). How does Hispanic portrayal in children's books measure up after 40 years? the answer is "it depends."Reading Teacher, 58(6), 534-548. Retrieved from Sims, R. (1982). Shadow and substance: Afro-American experience in contemporary children's fiction Retrieved from US House of Representatives. (1975). A Compilation of federal education laws as amended through December 31, 1974. (Washington, DC. US government Printing Office). ! References

!Suggested  Cita,on:  Glover,  C.  (2011).  Cultural  Bias  in  Elementary  Reading  Textbooks:  A  Closer  Look  at  the  Failure  of  Mul?cultural  Educa?on  Policies.  (UNCC  UERPC  Policy  Report,   Aud, S., Hussar, G., Bianco, Frohlich, o L., Tahan,aK. TheCCondition EducationU2011 (NCES 2011-033). U.S. Department Education, National Center for September,   2011,  NW., o.  1Kena, )  Charlo?e,   NC:  K., University   f  NKemp, orth  CJ.,arolina   t  C(2011). harlo?e,   ollege  of  of EducaGon,   rban   EducaGon   Research   and  Policy  CofollaboraGve.   Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Blake, M. E. & Sickle, M.V. (2001). Helping linguistically diverse students share what they know. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44(5), 468-475.

Submission   uidelines:   Champion,GT.B., Rosa-Lugo, L.I., Rivers, K.O., & McCabe, A. (2010). A preliminary investigation of second- and fourth-grade African American students’ performance on the Gray Oral The  Urban  EducaGon   Research  aedition. nd  Policy   CollaboraGve   accepts  m anuscripts   Reading Test-Fourth Topics in Language Disorders, 30(2), 145-153.for  review  and  publicaGon  consideraGon  for  the  Research  Brief  series.  Submi?ed  manuscripts   Craig, H. eK., & Washington, J. A. a(2004). Grade-Related the Production of African American English. of Speech, M Language Research, 47(2), 450-463. should   not   xceed   1,000  words   nd  must   conform  tChanges o  the  gin uidelines   outlined   in  the   6th  EdiGon   of  tJournal he  Publica?on   anual  o&f  tHearing he  American   Psychological   Associa?on.  All   manuscripts  wDOI:10.1044/1092-4388(2004/036) ill  undergo  a  blind  review  and  refereed  process.  The  review  process  takes  approximately  3-­‐4  weeks.  Manuscripts  can  be  submi?ed  for  review  via  e-­‐mail  to  Dr.   Fogel, H. & Ehri, L.C. (2006). Teaching African American English forms to standard American English-Speaking teachers: Effects on acquisition, attitudes, and responses to student use. Chance  Lewis  (Journal of Teacher Education, 57(5), 464-480. Correspondence   regarding   this  rreading eport  results may  bshow e  sent   via  e-­‐mail   to: Johnston, J. (2010, August). Early substantial improvements in reading skills. Vanderbuilt University. Retrieved from: Jonsberg, S.D. (2011). What’s (White) teacher to do about Black English? The English Journal, 90(4), 51-53. Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (2011). Even start facts and figures: Student achievement and school accountability programs. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from: Pittman, R. (2007) Improving spelling ability among speakers of African American Vernacular English: An intervention based on phonological, morphological, and orthographic principles. Ph.D. dissertation, Texas A&M University, United States -- Texas. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from Dissertations & Theses @ Texas A&M System.(Publication No. AAT


Crystal Policy Brief  

Background 1 Summary 
  Policies ! Recommenda0ons

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