In this article, authors Arlette Ingram Willis and Julia Johnson view literacy as a socially constructed process that takes place within an interpretive community of learners, and examine in depth the political and sociohistorical limitations of the Eurocentric literary canon. As educators and researchers, they reframe and embrace multiple ways of knowing, interpreting, and responding to multiethnic literature, focusing especially on how students respond as readers to African American literature taught in an upper-level high school class. The results reflected in their study and research indicate that by critically framing multiethnic literature, we can realize an enriched space for learning--a space where, as teachers, we can learn to respect and listen to, speak with, and read and write different voices, cultures, and texts, enabling our students to do the same and to blend their community knowledges, practices and voices to reframe and redesign texts.
Using reader response theory, the authors encouraged and created multiple opportunities for students' interaction and interpretation with multiethnic texts through reading, writing, thinking, speaking, listening, and viewing experiences.
Their results in the classroom support research (Giroux) that suggests literacy cannot be viewed as merely an epistemological or procedural issue, but must be defined primarily in political and ethical terms--political in that how we "read" the world is always implicated in relations of power, and ethical in that people read the world differently depending, for instance, on circumstances of class, gender, race, and politics. The authors add, too, that we read the world within spaces and social relationships constructed between ourselves and others that demand actions based on judgments and choices about how we are to act in the face of ideologies, values, and experiences that constitute "otherness."
Agreeing with Giroux's assertion that "student experience should qualify as a legitimate form of knowledge, and that racial class, gender, and ethnic differences extend, rather than threaten, the most basic principles of a democratic society," Willis and Johnson established two pedagogical goals for their study: (1) to encourage students to move beyond personal responses to multiethnic literature by supplying sociohistorical information not found in the texts, and (2) to encourage students toward social action. They used a wealth of resources (video, guest speakers, insider knowledge of culture and language, and Internet sources) to provide a context for study of the African American text selected for their study, A Lesson Before Dying.
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Ohio English Language Arts Standards (2001)
Reading Process: Concepts of Print, Comprehension Strategies and Self-Monitoring Strategies Standard
Reading Applications: Literary Text Standard
Writing Process Standard
Writing Applications Standard