As a prospective future educator, who has received prior public education in the Essex County region, I have spent the last couple of years of my collegiate career taking classes that explore the realities of education. Many of these classes present astounding information; the most astounding by far being my Multicultural Children’s Literature class. Before entering college, I had no idea there was such a thing as Multicultural Children’s Literature, let alone there existing a semester-long course on the subject. But after taking the eye-opening course it became clear that there is a dire need for this information to be shared, just as there is a dire need for the inclusion of Multicultural Literature in classrooms everywhere.
The world is becoming increasingly diverse everyday, as are the children who are entering elementary classrooms each year. According to statistics taken from The National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of white students enrolled in elementary and secondary education decreased “from 59 to 51 percent” while other statistics showed that the amount of Hispanic/Latino students, Asian/Pacific Islander students, and even students who identify as two or more races increased in percentage. According to this same source, between fall 2012 and 2024, these trends are projected to continue, with white student enrollment decreasing, and minority student enrollment increasing in public schools. This goes to show that the literature found in the classroom should be just as diverse as the world we live in, due to the changing demographic. The reality is that minority groups are underrepresented throughout children’s literature and the amount of quality multicultural literature that is out there, is often not made available in elementary classrooms.
The encompassing thought for advocates of multicultural literature is that children should be able to see themselves in a book. When they look at the pages of a book they should see a character they can connect with on a personal level. That connection may come from seeing a character who has the same skin color or a character who takes part in the same cultural traditions. It may even come from seeing a character who has the same disability or a character who is adopted. When literature is limited, the worlds children can explore become limited. If a book has the power to transport a child to Pakistan to learn about their own culture, or the culture of a peer, why are these texts not being included in the classroom learning environment? One must begin to ask; What message is this exclusion of culturally diverse literature sending to students?
As a Mexican-American who grew up in the Essex County public school system, not seeing herself in the books she read, I am writing to make the community aware that this is a harsh reality many students face. A suggestion for improvement would be to advocate for texts that are culturally diverse in nature to be included in classrooms. This would not only encourage students to engage in reading texts where they are represented, but allow students in general to broaden their perspectives and encourage a deeper understanding of the people and cultures that make the world unique.