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Reading for social change: Using young adult literature to teach about racism

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Abstract:

An important component of any educational project that seeks to liberate entails engaging critically with the pervasive social inequalities and oppressions that permeate our communities. Working from an anti-racist critical framework that understands racism to be systemic, and anti-racist education to therefore require more than simple affirmations of diversity and multiculturalism, this paper takes a close look at the possible role of young adult literature as a tool for learning about, and teaching against, racism.

For the first half of the paper, I use a case study based on Bifocal, a young adult novel written by Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters, and published in 2007, and highly praised for its role in asking difficult questions about racism. The methodology used for this research involved both a close reading of the novel itself and interviews with two teachers who have both used the novel in their classrooms. Focusing on some of the major themes that arose in both classrooms, I argue that Bifocal does indeed raise some critical questions about issues of race and racism within Canadian society, but fails in other ways effectively challenge racist social structures.

The second half of this paper looks at work by anti-racist scholars of education in order to propose strategies for fostering critical and anti-racist readings even where the texts themselves may be lacking. With the understanding that no text will be perfect, I argue that even the text’s weak points may provide valuable opportunities for encouraging critical conversations around issues of oppression and social justice, and that educators can play a vital role in challenging students to look beyond only that which appears in the text itself.
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Association:
Name: 55th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society
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http://www.cies.us


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p493888_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Riley, Krista. "Reading for social change: Using young adult literature to teach about racism" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 55th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society, Fairmont Le Reine Elizabeth, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, May 01, 2011 <Not Available>. 2014-11-26 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p493888_index.html>

APA Citation:

Riley, K. , 2011-05-01 "Reading for social change: Using young adult literature to teach about racism" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 55th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society, Fairmont Le Reine Elizabeth, Montreal, Quebec, Canada <Not Available>. 2014-11-26 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p493888_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: An important component of any educational project that seeks to liberate entails engaging critically with the pervasive social inequalities and oppressions that permeate our communities. Working from an anti-racist critical framework that understands racism to be systemic, and anti-racist education to therefore require more than simple affirmations of diversity and multiculturalism, this paper takes a close look at the possible role of young adult literature as a tool for learning about, and teaching against, racism.

For the first half of the paper, I use a case study based on Bifocal, a young adult novel written by Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters, and published in 2007, and highly praised for its role in asking difficult questions about racism. The methodology used for this research involved both a close reading of the novel itself and interviews with two teachers who have both used the novel in their classrooms. Focusing on some of the major themes that arose in both classrooms, I argue that Bifocal does indeed raise some critical questions about issues of race and racism within Canadian society, but fails in other ways effectively challenge racist social structures.

The second half of this paper looks at work by anti-racist scholars of education in order to propose strategies for fostering critical and anti-racist readings even where the texts themselves may be lacking. With the understanding that no text will be perfect, I argue that even the text’s weak points may provide valuable opportunities for encouraging critical conversations around issues of oppression and social justice, and that educators can play a vital role in challenging students to look beyond only that which appears in the text itself.


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