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Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

The Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature


Morgan A. Hulst
Grand Valley State University

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

An eye for an eye and we all become blind. We are better than this (Holton as cited in
Baltimore Sun, 2015).
This quote is from city councilman Helen Holton in the Baltimore Sun article following
up on the Baltimore riots, which ensued as a result of Freddie Greys death back in late April
2015. Grey died due to a spinal injury after being arrested by police following a foot chase in his
neighborhood. These riots came about because Grey, according to a few community members
within Baltimore and the country as a whole, was unjustifiably portrayed as a thug by different
news outlets and the cops who were on the scene. Stories like Greys do nothing but perpetuate
inaccurate stereotypes about the association between African American males attire and them
being perceived as thugs. This shows the devastating effects of them. These African American
stereotypes do not only develop pertaining to the African American culture, but within American
society as a whole. It is important to consider what steps we can take to ensure that these
stereotypes are not perpetuated further in society, and as a result, bridge the gap between the
cultural understandings that resides within the American society as a whole.
Educators ultimate goal is to eliminate stereotypes within future generations. Teaching
more authentic multicultural literature is one way to eliminate these stereotypes. A common
debate in the United States has focused on what types of multi-cultural literature should be
taught in the classroom. The biggest debate has been on who is qualified to write multicultural
literature. In order for there to be authentic representation of different cultures within this genre,
one must consider what qualifications an individual must obtain in order to validate their ability
to write multicultural literature. This leads to the question of whether ethnic similarities, between
the author and the culture being written about, are more important than an anthropological
understanding of the culture being written about. Not only are educators worried about what

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

authentic books they should be teaching in their classrooms, but what version they should be
teaching. Do they teach the oldest version? The newest version? All of them? Within the past
decades, millions of multi-cultural literature pieces have been published, and many have
portrayed misleading information leading to serotypes being created. Newer versions of stories
have been brought to the table and have been causing a huge dispute within the education
community. Educators are wondering what versions of the texts they should be teaching.
Because the authenticity of published books educators teach in the classroom has been an ongoing issue for an extended period of time, it is of vital importance that those involved in
education be aware of the literature they are instructing to students. To best instruct these
students, educators should teach the version seen to be the oldest as well as the most modern to
assess and discuss the progression of cultural understanding that is seen within these pieces of
multicultural literature.
Multicultural Literature and the Whiteness of Most Curricula
Multi-cultural literature can most accurately be described as distinct pieces of literature
set and originating within certain cultural settings and understandings. This literature must
display certain distinct cultural characteristics and, in some prominent way, educate those outside
the culture on language, cultural norms, and diversity of other cultures. Bishop (1997) posits that
some people perpetuate the idea of the white middle-class American as being the norm. With this
view of the American as the norm, authors have to learn how to relate to this view by producing
multicultural literature outside of the United States distinct cultural understanding. Although this
literature can be written to educate an outside audience, it can also be written for people within
that same culture in order to enhance their own learning. Bishop states that this view of
American as the norm can be best described as books that reflect the racial, ethnic, and social

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

diversity that is characteristic of our pluralistic society and of the world (p. 3). In other words,
books need to be authentic in the way they represent a culture.
In contrast, Dansenbrock (1987) describes multicultural literature [as including] both
works that are explicitly about multicultural societies and those that are implicitly multicultural
in the sense of inscribing readers from other cultures inside their own textual dynamics
(Dansenbrock, 1987, p. 10). Strictly speaking, Dansenbrock is saying that multicultural literature
teaches people about another culture through their own limitations of understanding. As
Dansenbrock has the same ideas of what multicultural literature should incorporate, he does not
defend the viewpoint of Americans as being the norm. He does, however, explain that the
encountering of the English language is an increasingly global occurrence (p. 10). Though
English is becoming a global occurrence, the interpretation between literatures can be altered
between cultures. For example, if an American reading a Spanish literature book saw the words
camisa azul they would read it as shirt blue where as in the Spanish culture it means blue
shirt. With the increase of globalization and the interconnectedness of both economic and
political activity, English is becoming more and more the common language between many
countries. While this is true, not all countries have English as a native language, and as a result
each country may have a slightly different interpretation of words and phrases. Because of these
differences, Dansenbrock clarifies that authors in other countries may simply be misinterpreted
when it comes to writing multicultural literature. This misinterpretation may, as a result, lead to
misunderstandings of forms of conversation like the one stated above in the blue shirt
example. Because interpretations between cultures can be altered, readers will not always
understand every piece of multicultural literature. Dansenbrock adds, Ready intelligibility is not
always what the writer is striving for; it therefore cannot be what the critic always demands

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

(Dansenbrock, 1987, p. 11). Dansenbrock argues that intelligibility cannot be made the sole
criterion in our understanding of multicultural texts, hence the reason multiple versions of a text
can be created. Because cultures and understandings of cultures are constantly shifting, stories
are warped and re-created to please the newer audience. There are, more often than not,
numerous versions of any given text. He claims that many authors write according to the
audience they are trying to capture. Dansenbrock, however, argues that above everything a story
has to offer, every reader simply cannot understand it. Every audience is for certain books are
different. These things that not every reader can understand should be seen as the implicit
cultural understandings that are lost in translation from the original language of the multicultural
literature to the English language that they are taught in. All in all, Dansenbrock acknowledges
that multicultural literature will have its own textual dynamics, but not every book will be
understood completely by every reader, due to the fact that interpretations and translations
between cultures have been altered.
In addition to Dansenbrock and Bishops idea, Violet Harris states that the lack of access
to literature continues to be an ongoing issue because of the over abundance of white control in
childrens books. with the field of childrens book publishing and the academic study of
childrens literature remaining overwhelmingly in the control of whites (Fox and Short, 2003, p.
19). White privilege in childrens literature has been an ongoing topic of conversation, as
previously discussed.

The Origin of Multicultural Literature


Young, Oda and Cambell (1995) state, Multicultural literature is literature by and about
other people belonging to the various self-identified ethnic, racial, religious, and regional groups

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

in this country (p. 376). That is, that multicultural literature in the eyes of Young, Oda, and
Cambell, is literature that is about an ethnic group different from ones own. However, this
straightforward definition leads many authors to state their refuting opinions. As authors may
agree that multicultural literature is written about another culture that is different from their own,
they may want to alter the definition mentioning a detail about who is eligible to write about
another culture. Is multicultural literature considered authentic if it is not written by someone
who genuinely belongs to a certain culture? This literature must be seen as authentic to the
culture in order for it to properly argue against and correct stereotypes pertaining to that culture.
With this in mind, the proper teaching of this material will help to create a generation that
doesnt have prejudices and stereotypes associated with different cultures.
Societies Exposure to Multicultural Literature
When societies are exposed to multicultural literature, it can open eyes to many new
opportunities and ideas. Landt (2006) can attest to this statement as she states, Doors open,
eyes see, and minds grasp, as young adolescents encounter self within other- a kaleidoscope of
opportunity (p. 690). This quote sums up nicely the effect multicultural literature has upon
readers. Although there is huge debate over the true definition of what multicultural literature is,
such as the authenticity of who can write the piece of multicultural literature, there seems to be a
common understanding between people on why we should be teaching multicultural literature in
classrooms. For example, Landt (2006) believes that all books offer a new delight for readers
minds. While this can be true for all genres of books, it can also be proven effective for
multicultural literature as well. Upon supporting Landts accusations, Salvner (2001) writes,
Literature has the capacity to enter our lives, to interact with what we already know and believe,
and perhaps even to change us (p.9). This is suggesting that teaching many varieties of

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

multicultural books offers many different ways of looking at the world and understanding how to
interact with it.
Students Need For Multicultural Literature
Multicultural literature gives students a better understanding of other cultures as well as
their own. Louie (2006) agrees in these assertions as he states, Multicultural books offer
countless opportunities to engage in learning and allow students to make deeper connections
between cultures (p. 438). Landt (2006) compares the childrens reading of multicultural
literature to a kaleidoscope. A kaleidoscope does not offer one true picture; it morphs and
changes at every move, proffering a multifaceted, prismatic perspective (p. 691). This is equally
as true as students read multicultural literature. A piece of multicultural literature does not just
offer one fact or lesson; it offers a new perspective to students. Children are young and
inexperienced with the cultures and the world around them. Reading multicultural literature has
so much to offer students as it helps prepare them for the world around them.

The Need for Authenticity


One of the largest debates within teaching multi-cultural literature is deciding what
literature is authentic and which is not. In this case, there are two types of authenticity, ethnic and
historical. Ethnic authenticity is when the author belongs to the group he/she is depicting.
Historical authenticity is the measure of how close a custom, culture, or representation is to the
actual time period being depicted. How can educators teach their students multicultural literature
if they do not know if what they are teaching is authentic? Some educators question whether the
literature they teach needs to be authentic. Herbert Kohl would disagree with those educators
questioning historical authenticity. He writes an excellent article explaining how educators

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

sugarcoat historical stories when teaching students. For example, he claims that many
textbooks taught in school teach that Rosa Parks was a tired lady and the night her movement
started, she was just exhausted from a long day and did not want to give up her seat, while in
reality it was something quite different. In reality, what we are not teaching students is that she
was not the first woman to not give up her seat, and that Parks had been an activist for years
before this incident. Parks was not the only person involved in beginning the Montgomery bus
boycott. If students were not given the sugarcoated details, they would have discovered that
many other African Americans chose not to get up from their seat on a bus long before Parks did.
This inaccurate portrayal dismisses and diminishes the actual events that took place and
undermines the point being made by events. Historical accuracy of events portrayed necessarily
ties in with the authenticity that is able to be understood about multicultural pieces. Kohl (2005)
responds to the way educators are teaching the story of Rosa Parks by writing,
Rosa Parks, the humane activist, is challenging us today to do more than just
memorialize the past but to act in the present and in the future. However, when the story
of the Montgomery bus boycott is told merely as a tale of a single person, it leaves
children hanging or searching for someone to follow, when they should be the actors...
(pg 13).
This quote allows us to see that when teachers fail to teach the whole story or even sugarcoat the
true story children end up with a certain perception about an incredibly important historical
event. Educators need to make sure what they are teaching is authentic, true and not just taught
with raw details, but enriched with heavy detail teaching the full true story.
Lessening Stereotypes with the Help of Multicultural Literature

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

As previously discussed in the introduction, stereotypes have become a major source of


conflict and conversation in the United States. In addition to just making students more aware,
multicultural literature will push students into taking social action. Many scholars can attest to
this statement. Rasinski and Padak (1990) claim, literature presents readers with new worlds,
new ideas and new optionsstuff to reflect upon and to use to better themselves as people as
well as readers (p. 576). They move forward with explaining that through this genre, students
will be able to learn about other cultural understandings and take action in their own lives, which
can lead to reducing inaccurately portrayed stereotypes. Students will read about behaviors,
attitudes and selflessness and be able to explore them within their own culture, as well as others.
By reading about all of these things, students will learn how to be tolerant and have appreciation
for other cultures, leading to a decrease in stereotypes. For example, when a child observes that
children of a different culture celebrate a different holiday than them they may find it strange.
They might automatically assume every child of that culture celebrates that holiday when that
might not be true. Without learning about each culture in depth, humans cannot make an
assumption based on what they see from one person within a particular culture. Mendoza and
Reese (2001) found several problems when examining popular picture books written by
European Americans, in which Native Americans people play a central role. Their article states,
the texts and illustrations together present a set of images of Native Americans, and thus a
particular way of thinking about them, that is inaccurate and potentially misleading (Mendoza
and Reese, 2001, pg. 7). This statement reiterates the problems previously discussed regarding
unauthentic literature leading to stereotypes.
Norton (1990) believes that developing an understanding of literary heritage is one of the
most important tasks for educators. She agrees that teaching multi-cultural literature allows

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students to realize the similarities and differences between cultures, gain a better understanding
about different beliefs and values, and discover the threads that weave the past and present
together. This then allows students to appreciate where they come from and the specifics of their
culture. Norton also explains that the teaching of other cultures can be integrated into other
subjects within the curriculum. Teaching this genre can help students expand their horizons
within geography and history (pp. 28-29). It is crucial that educators are teaching multicultural
literature as it can be integrated and used throughout the entire curriculum.

Teaching Authentically
Kohl, Padak and Rasinski (1990) agree that through this genre of literature, students are
being exposed to important people and contributions specific to their culture. However, what we
are teaching them needs to be real and authentic. Yakota (1993) states that there are numerous
authors that write about a culture that is not native to them. Though, he does claim that these
authors do, in fact, have extensive research regarding the cultural outside group. He doesnt
necessarily agree that you must be born within a certain culture in order to write about it. Yakota
asserts that, Being born into a cultural heritage does not give expertise in it if one has essentially
lived outside that culture (Yokota, 1993, p. 159). He gives the example that there may be a child
who was born into a Chinese family, but grew up in America with American culture, completely
void of any Chinese culture. Because that child was not raised in the Chinese culture, the child
does not have the authority or understanding of Chinese culture to accurately depict it with any
accuracy of that culture.
It is often said that children will play with action figures or dolls that look similar to
them. Boys seem to play with boy action figures and girls gravitate towards female dolls.

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Rudman (1976) made this connection as well in literature. He sees that children tend to drift
toward stories that are familiar to them, or they chose stories that reflect their own culture and
understanding. This is why it is so important for teachers to fill their classroom libraries with
variety of cultures, lifestyles, etc.
Yoo-Lee, Fowler, Kim and Davis (2014) write that having cultural authenticity within
books is essential to the success of students. They write, authentic books allow young children
opportunities to develop their understanding of others, while affirming children of diverse
backgrounds (p. 325). Within their article, they find Violet Harada (1995) agreeing upon their
assertions. When she assessed cultural authenticity within literature, her list of criterion included
the absences of stereotypes, derogatory language and accurate illustrations of cultural
information. Guidelines for educators really benefit the students when taking on the task of
learning multicultural literature.

Availability of Authentic Multicultural Literature


It has been discovered that although educators may want to incorporate authentic multiethnic literature in their classrooms, they have a hard time finding available literature for
students. As there are many books teachers have noticed that lead to inaccurate representations,
teachers have also noticed that there is an extremely limited supply of multicultural literature out
there that is truly authentic.
A study conducted by Maria Elena Martinez (2014), found that when looking at multiple
school districts the number of multicultural pieces of literature within their library, there was a
very limited amount for children to read. This is because of how much multiethnic genre is truly
available to readers. Nancy Larrick wrote The All-White World of Childrens Books. Upon her

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many hours of research, she found an excruciating low number of multicultural books that have
been published over the years. During her study she writes, Over the three-year period, only
four- fifths of one per cent of the children's trade books from the sixty-three publishers tell a
story about American Negroes today. Twelve of these forty-four books are the simplest picture
books, showing Negroes in the illustrations but omitting the word from the text (Larrick, 1965,
p. 64). As you can see, this could be the result as to why educators simply cannot find literature
of this genre to teach to students. Larricks study really hit home for many publishers. Since the
study, the multicultural literature available increased. Kathleen Hornings article, Childrens
Books: Still an All White World? states that since Larricks article, the publishing industry has
come a long way. As of July 11, we had received 1,509 trade books published in 2013. I found
that 1,183 (78.3 percent) were about human beings. And just 124 of those (10.5 percent) featured
a person of color. And that also means that 1,059 of the books about humankind (89.5 percent)
are about white people (Horning, 2014). We can see that the publishing industry still has a long
ways to go to produce this genre of literature, but progress has been made.
Guidelines to teaching authentic literature that has limited availability
Since there is limited availability of multicultural literature out there, it has been a
difficult task for educators to decide what book is best to teach. In Reading Horizons, some
guidelines to for educators to think about include picking good literature that has a good plot,
strong characterization and offers a strong worthwhile theme. (Young, Campbell & Oda, 1995, p.
386). While educators want to make sure the stories they are teaching are authentic, Yokota
(1993) creates a list that should help teachers narrow down the literature they so chose. Some of
these criteria Yokota describes, as being that good authentic literature should be rich in cultural
details. These criteria will help students gain a sense of the culture they are reading about.

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Authentic literature should also have authentic dialogue and relationships. Books should also
have in-depth treatment of cultural issues. Yokota (1993) writes, There are many issues that are
central to each culture. It is important to give these issues a realistic portrayalso students have
formulated informed thoughts (p.160). He also writes that it is important for all characters
within a story to have a role and partake in a role so the last criterion educators should look for is
the inclusion of members of minority group for a purpose. (p. 160). These pieces of criteria
will help students develop pride within their heritage, and will also help students partake in the
understanding of other cultures. As these criterion help guide teachers, its important that what
they are teaching is authentic and accurate.
Teaching Authentic Multicultural Literature in the Classroom
As educators, its important to make sure that what we are teaching challenges the minds
of our students, embraces all cultures and successfully achieves teaching goals. In supporting this
assertion, Sleeter and Grant (1987) claim, the lack of attention to goals and social stratification
presents a rather serious problem. A teacher might teach about traditional American Indian
cultural practices but not even mention their oppression today (p. 429). To back up Sleeter and
Grants thoughts, Stallworth, Gibbons, and Fauber (2008) discuss their study in Its not on the
list: An exploration of teachers perspectives on using multicultural literature. When surveying
multiple teachers throughout various school districts, they discovered many teachers positioned
in middle and high school settings, continue to teach Milton and Shakespeare because of the
familiarity with the academic community (Stallworth, Gibbons, and Fauber, 2008, p. 482). One
teacher throughout their conducted survery stated a positive thought supporting the teaching of
multicultural lit. She states, What does matter is that English Language Arts curricula include
literature that appeals to students interest and relates to their lives, kinds of book that will foster

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lifelong reading habits and nurture students interest in reading (Stallworth, Gibbons, and
Fauber, 2008, p. 483). It is okay for teachers to not be familiar with certain books, but that does
not mean they should only be sticking to classics either. Educators can learn right along with the
students.
Teaching authenticity through reading of other cultures, will lead students to take action
within the understanding gleaned from their reading of other cultural understandings. As
described before and also supported by many other publishers (see citation), teaching
multicultural lit will help students become more conscious, gain self-awareness and selfknowledge, which can lead to the reduction in stereotypes. (Kerber, Klampfleitner, McCune,
Bayne, Knottenbelt, 2007, p. 28). Dansenbrook (1987) also explains that the reader who is
interested in a work should expect to do some work to appreciate it (p. 11). He has a way of
refuting authenticity of literature, and explains that we cant always teach what is true. While this
can be true, Louie (2006) gives great insight of recent media portrayals and the way children are
learning. Louie wants educators to examine what has changed throughout the years and help
students come to an understanding between the then and now.
Throughout Louies article, he examines Dorothys classroom during their multicultural
unit. Louie explains that Dorothy teaches multicultural literature through teaching multiple
versions of the story Mulan. Unlike in my thesis, Dorothy does not teach multiple versions of a
text to Donna Nortons Five Phases of Teaching. As there are several ways to teach many
versions of a text, Dorothy encouraged her students to examine the way Disney portrays Chinese
values and the images of Chinese people compared to the first version of Mulan. With Dorothys
approach students were not given any background information on the Chinese culture. They were
to simply just look the oldest and newest version of Mulan. All in all, students found many

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inaccurate portrayals of the Chinese in the Disney version. Her students were able to gain a
better understanding of the way cultures are being portrayed and the reason stereotypes may be
so bold in the United States when she had her students analyze multiple versions of pieces of
multicultural literature. Instead of leaving out inauthentic versions, we turned them into
opportunities to teach the students how to examine the authenticity of folktales. (Louie, 2006, p.
447). Louies examination of Dorothys class proves that it is okay to teach inauthentic versions,
as long as you can teach and analyze the authentic versions with it.
Argument
Multicultural literature is one of the most important components of teaching as it
increases cultural awareness, helps children grow in understanding their own culture as well as
others and gives students awareness of different languages and backgrounds. Because the topic
of teaching multicultural literature is so broad, this paper focuses on ideas teachers can use when
teaching multiple versions of one text within multicultural literature. This teaching technique is
based upon the five phases of teaching that Donna Nortons (1990) Teaching multicultural
literature in the reading curriculum has displayed. This teaching idea is not intended to be the
only teaching method that works when teaching multicultural literature, but can be helpful to
teachers who are unfamiliar with teaching multiple versions of multi-cultural literature.
Because teaching authentic literature is crucial to students learning, it is best to teach
multiple versions of a specific text when available. Over the years as newer versions of texts
have been created, there may have been edits that depict certain cultural aspects that dont hold
true to the sole culture. It is true that most recent versions of texts may be Americanized and
may be easier for students to read, however some of the most recent versions depict inaccurate

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stereotypes within certain cultures. By having students read multiple versions of one selected text
students can learn about the past and the present and weave together values and themes that have
been important within a culture and some that still are. By following Donna Nortons teaching
approach, students are able to build and develop true understandings of a certain culture. They
will also be able to notice the differences between the past and present versions and be able to
depict each version and which one is most authentic and real. Each phase of learning builds off
of one another, allowing students to grow deeper into the culture.
Following Nortons learning phases, teachers will want to start with phase one of the
teaching model. Because there are so many cultures and versions of texts one could study, for
this paper I will be modeling how to teach versions of Mulan and Chinese culture through each
phase. Although Dorothy, as previously mentioned, also modeled her way of teaching versions of
Mulan, she did not have her students use the five phase teaching method, allowing children to
discover background information. Research has shown that Mulan and the Chinese culture is one
culture that has been widely studied in elementary schools across America. Many children are
familiar with the Disney version of Mulan, but are unaware of the inaccurate stereotypes
depicted throughout the script of Mulans songs. In order to stop these inaccurate stereotypes
being well known throughout the United States, students need to be reading the true authentic
versions as well. This five-step phase learning will allow students to enjoy the Disney version,
but also notice the differences and appreciate the original version as well. They will be enjoying
both versions while taking in all they can about the true essence of the Chinese culture.
Phase One: Getting Acquainted With Background Knowledge
To begin with phase one of Nortons five-step teaching method, it is important for
educators to discuss the background of oral traditions of the desired culture, in this case the

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Chinese culture. Taking a look at folktales, fables, legends, etc. can do this. Teachers may also
include songs, chants, and sayings that depict the Chinese culture to students to get them familiar
with the culture. For example, a teacher may want to display to students a song that is authentic
to the Chinese tradition, such as a song that the Chinese play at events or weddings. This way
students will be able to understand what oral traditions have been handed down from generation
to generation. It may be of extra help if teachers display a map of the location you are studying
for geography learning purposes. It is also important for students to become familiar with the
culture before they dive into any type of text.
Phase One, Part Two: Examining Background Information
Next in phase one of the teaching model, teachers will want students examine many types
of Chinese folklore. Teachers should have folklore that meets many different requirements such
as family tales that might focus on family dynamics, family needs and conflicts. It could be about
who provides for the family, who protects, etc. This would be just one example of a type of
folklore, but it is important to have multiple types of folklore for students to discover. During this
phase, share and discuss commonalities students have found between their pieces of folklore. To
end this phase, make sure the class has an understanding of the generalizations students make
about Chinese folklore.
Some examples in this phase that follow our example based on Mulan and the Chinese
culture could be Chinese Chilrdens Favorite Stories, by Mingmei Yip or Seven Magic Brothers,
by Kuang-Ts'Ai Hao. If you are teaching older elementary and middle school children, research
days in the library would be great for the students. The Internet has many fables, songs, and
poems to offer for children to read. It is important for children to find crucial information about
the Chinese culture, such as the hierarchal status within a family. Men are at the top, providing

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for the family and having the final say in decisions. Students will find in old folklores that the
man of the house ruled the decisions of his childrens future, where now days they will notice
this is not so true. Enabling students to gain their own background knowledge upon cultures is
extremely important to start out a unit.
Phase Two: Narrowing Down Cultural Groups to Assess
During the process of phase two, the weight of this phase is to narrow the folklore to one,
two or three cultural groups within the cultural group you are studying. As this paper discusses
Chinese culture, a teacher could put students into groups assigning them different culture groups
to study. For example, within the Chinese culture one group could study the Han Chinese,
another could study the Ming Dynasty, as that was when Mulan was written. During this phase it
is important to instruct students to identify values, beliefs, and specific people as reflected in
folklore (Norton, p. 33). Students will also want to point out and discover as many myths,
legends, etc. from this group as it will guide students into better understanding the values and
beliefs within their group. For younger children, if they are having a more difficult time
identifying values and beliefs, teachers may want to provide a question and answer sheet based
on the book they are reading. For example, if a group of children are reading about the Han
Dynasty, the teacher may ask, What are the personal characteristics of heros, or great people?
It is to guide students in the understanding of the values of their group they researching. This will
become important when teaching versions of Mulan, because what Disney portrays as a hero,
may not be the Chinese version of a hero. This understanding will help them with their
discoveries as they move forward into the third phase of teaching multicultural literature.
Phase Three: Introducing Students to Various Genres Within the Studied Culture

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Now that students have become accustomed to the beliefs, values, geography, etc. of the
desired cultural group, in this case the Chinese culture, students can now use what they have
learned from the previous phases and apply it to the third phase. In the third phase of teaching,
students are now ready to read multiple types of genres based on their studied culture. Students
will be able to read, analyze and evaluate both fictional and non-fictional literature (Norton, p.
34). However, specifically students in this phase of learning should focus on reading and
evaluating nonfictional literature that focuses on the historical perspective. Since in this Chinese
culture unit, we are focusing on teaching the different versions of Mulan, this would be a great
time for teachers to allow children to read nonfiction literature on the Northern Wei dynasty
since that is believed to be Mulans era. Another group may also considering reading up on the
Ming Dynasty, as that was when the poem Ballad of Mulan was created. Students will then be
able to compare the similarities and differences between the dynasties. When students have
distinguished the similarities and differences between the groups, students can move onto phase
four which leads us into our two versions of Mulan, which we are studying for this thesis.
Phase four: Teaching the Original Version
Now that students have been enlightened on the Chinese culture, dynasties, beliefs,
values and traditions during the first three phases, it is now time to move into the fourth phase.
During this phase students can now read the authentic version in which the educator is trying to
teach. For the Chinese unit, if we were to have students compare the versions of Mulan, this
would be a great time for them to read the oldest tale of Mulan, which is called Ballad of Mulan.
As the students read this version, they can be using their knowledge learned from past phases to
assess the values and philosophies being depicted throughout the story. This will allow students
grasp the full concept of the Chinese culture and will be able to compare what they read in the

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

20

poem to their historical findings from past phases. Now that students have read the poem or the
oldest version of Mulan, teachers can progress into phase five.
Phase five: Teaching the Modern Day Version of a Text
Phase five of Nortons teaching allows students to read contemporary or modern versions
of texts. During this reading of this modern day version students can use what they have
previously learned from past phases and analyze and search for evidence of continuity between
the pieces of literature. In some cases, students may find that versions from the past and modern
day are very similar, or they could distinguish many differences. In the instances of Mulans old
and new versions, after students read the oldest version of Mulan they will notice that Mulan was
very skilled with her weapons and she has been raised practicing martial arts. In the modern day
version, students will notice her lack of skill in this area. The Disney version of Mulan makes a
reference stating that Mulan is not quipped to fight in war because she is a woman and lacks
skill. According to the legend she fought for twelve years. During that time she was offered
twelve ranks as a way to reward her for her skill in battle (The Scribe, 2011). However, in the
Disney version of Mulan students will be able to notice that Mulan returned home after fighting
in one war and decided to live a quiet life at home with her family.
One of the biggest differences I think students will notice while reading the modern day
version is the gender inequality differences that are represented amongst the Mulans Chinese
culture. In the movie, Mulan disgraces her family honor by not being able to live up to the
expectations of the potential suitor. Song lyrics from the movie depict women roles in the
Chinese culture. For example in one song it writes, To bring honor to your family as a girl, the
best you could do is become a wife with good taste, [be] calm, obedient, work at a fast pace,
[] and have a tiny waist. (Disney Mulan, 1998). The roles seem to be different for men as the

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

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lyrics suggest, We all must serve our Emperor, who guards us from the Huns. A man by bearing
arms, a girl by bearing sons (Disney Mulan, 1998). It will catch students by surprise that Disney
had to include all of these gender inequalities about men and women in the Chinese culture, but
yet they couldnt seem to follow the real story of Mulan. By teaching both versions it allows
students to appreciate the true authentic versions of stories and be able to depict what modern
day versions have become.
Upon seeing these differences, one of the most important discoveries students will notice
from researching the background of the dynasties and the most recent Disney version are the
stereotypes within the newest version. For example one obvious stereotype is the Huns who
invade china vs. the Chinese army. Mulans Chinese army all have a tan completion and
everyones hair is pulled back perfectly, where as the Hun army all have a dark complexion,
crazy hair that flow in the wind, a permanent evil scowl and fangs for teeth. Students will be able
to tell right away based on their research the simple differences between fact and fiction and
what Disney is trying to portray to children.
Teaching to Nortons Five Step Process
In order for students to truly gain an understanding of a certain culture and be able to
understand multiple versions of multicultural literature I believe students need to pass through
each of Nortons five-phase teaching approach. However, I personally feel that phase four and
five are the most crucial to students learning. Students need to be equipped with the old version
to truly understand the true essence of an old tale. But, they should also be introduced with the
newest version of the tale in order to truly appreciate the authenticity of the original tale. While
the modern day version may be most familiar to young students, its important to point out the

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

22

transformation these tales have made over the past years. Because these two phases are most
important teachers may need guidance in how to go about teaching the two versions of Mulan.
I believe teaching multiple versions of texts are to be taught to upper elementary students,
such as third through fifth graders. I think it is important to grab the young readers attention.
This would be a great time to start students with a pre-writing activity. To start, guide students to
get out a piece of paper and write about a time they thought they were brave. Because Mulan is
brave going against her family and fighting in a war as a woman, its only fitting students get a
chance to shine and show off their bravery to the class. After teachers allot their students enough
time, they can ask a few students to share with the class, only if they want to volunteer.
Assuming students have already covered phases one through three they are enlightened with tons
of background on the Chinese culture. Students are now ready for the original version, Ballad of
Mulan. I suggest having a copy for all students because they are in third grade and a copy up on
the projector screen, suggesting students highlight important things they think are important
about Chinese culture. They will be queuing back to the previous three phases. The next steps
will be listed in numerical order for teachers to follow.
1. Ask students if they have ever seen the Disney version of Mulan. Grasp their attention in
your own way, leading into the idea they will be reading the original version called
Ballad of Mulan. You may want to discuss how Disney is the retold version and this is
the original folktale. They are queued in on Chinese folklore from phase one.
2. Read Ballad of Mulan out loud stopping on words that may be unfamiliar to kids.
Because this version is in poem form, it will be important to stop after each stanza and
discuss with kids what is happening. Encourage students to volunteer to answer or probe
a few questions to get them thinking without you just telling them what is happening.

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

23

3. Because the common-core follows text-dependent questions and this poem may be harder
for third graders to interpret, you may want to have students fill out a worksheet with text
dependent questions. Encourage students to read through the poem a second time. A few
examples could be:
Where does this story take place? When does it take place?
Who is the main character? What other characters are in the story?
What is the problem in the story?
Why is the Emperor calling for troops?
Why is the health of Mulan's father an important factor in the story?
4. After allotted time, discuss text dependent questions
5. Group children into 4 equal groups based on number of students in class. In these groups
inform class the first two groups will be focusing on all of the similarities they noticed
between this original version and the background of the Chinese culture from the
previous phases. The second two groups will focus on the differences (if any) between
what they learned about the Chinese culture and the poem. In this case students will
discover that Mulan is a women who fought in war and that was not tradition. Only men
were supposed to fight in war. This is just one, upon many examples.
6. After time allotted, report discoveries to the class and talk about each finding in depth.
A simple lesson like that would take care of phase four. Based on your class dynamics
this phase of teaching could take a few class periods or it may take up to a week. It is important
for students to be familiar with this version of the text and be able to appreciate it. The last phase
is a building block off of phase four as discussed earlier. To move your elementary students into
this phase, teachers could follow a similar approach.
1. Most students you will find have already seen Disney Mulan. For those who have not, teachers
2.

may want to introduce that it is Disneys retelling of Ballad of Mulan.


Inform students that they are not just watching a movie in class for fun, but they are to
watch it and listen closely to the lyrics of the songs, pay special attention to the way the

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

24

animated characters are dressed and portrayed and finally while they are watching have
them think about what they already know about the Chinese culture. It may be helpful for
teachers to give a copy of the lyrics to the students to follow along to, or have them
displayed up on the board as they listen. Encourage students while they are watching to
jot down some of these ideas and lyrics they find interesting.
Show the film.
On their own have give students some discussion questions to write down in order to get

3.
4.

them thinking about the movie. You may want to have this on a handout so students can
jot down their ideas. Some example questions you may ask could be,
Why was it important for Mulan and others in the film not to shame their families?

5.
6.

Why did the ancestors care about what happened to Mulan?

Why was it a crime for a woman to enlist in the army?


Mulan was not what the Chinese society thought a girl should be. What did this have to
do with her decision to substitute for her father?
Have students discuss their answers with a desired partner after each student is given
enough time to write down their ideas.
After students got a few minutes to share their answers with a partner, group students off
into five separate groups in whatever way you deem necessary. You will be introducing
this next step as a group project. I always loved visual art projects, so I think it would be
fun for students to be able to interact with each other and make a visual aid of their
findings. Each group is to research and be able to give examples of their topic given.
They are also to create some type of presentation to the class whether it is a PowerPoint
with clips to the movie, drawings of their ideas, poster board, etc. It is their time to be
creative. You may create your own rubric for your own students based on the dynamic of
your class.
7. The first group will be assigned their creative project on the similarities between
the original version of Mulan that they read and the Disney version they just

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

25

watch. The second group will be assigned their creative project on the differences
between the original version of Mulan and the Disney version. The third group
will be assigned similarities between this Disney version and their background on
the Chinese culture. The fourth group will be assigned their creative project on the
differences they noticed between the Disney version and their background
knowledge of the Chinese culture. And finally, the fifth group will be assigned to
look at the stereotypes within this Disney version. This group may need extra help
and guidance based on grade level. You may want to probe students to look up the
definition of a stereotype and include that in their project and possibly search
some Chinese culture stereotypes. Encourage them to look at lyrics of the songs
again, or the faces of characters. As each project is different in their own way,
hopefully by the end when each group is presenting, they will see how all of the
groups presentations relate. They will be able to discover the transformation
between the original version to the newest and discover the not so good
differences and possibly the good differences. They will see what Disney did to
8.

the tale of Mulan and be able to appreciate the original version more than before.
Allow time for students to work on this project. For a really well put together project I
suspect that this will take multiple class periods. My approximate guess is at least five to
six class periods to allow students to get clips of the movie, draw out what they want to

9.

present, create a script, practice it a few times, etc.


After allotted time, allow groups to present to the class. So students who are not
presenting get the most out of each presentation, it would be a beneficial idea for students
to write down three things they learned from each presentation.

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature


10.

26

After each group has had antiquate time to perform it would be valuable for you as the
teacher to wrap up what students learned from reading/watching the oldest version of

11.

Mulan compared to the newest.


If you are a really ambitious teacher, you could have your students write their own essay
on the comparisons, differences, and what they learned from each version using
supporting quotes from the text/movie.
My hope is that after so much planning, work and effort put into teaching these five

phases, that the students will truly have a full grasp and an abundance of knowledge of the
Chinese culture. Also my hope is that the students have grasped the true essence have a new
appreciation for the original version of Mulan. Although most people will agree that Disney
makes fantastic children films, such as Mulan, nothing can beat the accurate original version.
Now that this lesson has been made based on Mulan and the Chinese culture, it can be modified
to fit any culture focus in which you chose.
Necessity for Teaching Multiple Versions of Multicultural Literature
All in all, it can be said that teaching multicultural literature is crucial to implement in
young childrens lives. Multicultural literature offers countless opportunities for children. From
geography lessons to dissecting into another culture, children can absorb so many new things.
Not only are they learning about other cultures and the world around them, but they are diving
into their own culture making new connections and realizing how important knowledge of
oneself and others is important in society. Differences in cultures is what makes our world so
unique and for students to discover how every culture is so different from each other but to work
together to make this world go round is amazing. Not only is it imperative for students to have
multicultural literature in their lives but for educators to teach multiple versions of one text. Each
version of a text is like the game of telephone. Each time it is told, it gets a little more and more

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

27

distorted. For children to grasp the true reality of certain cultures, it is essential for educators to
teach the original version of the text. It is even more imperative for teachers to teach the modern
day versions right along with it so students are able to notice the changes in order to appreciate
the authenticity within the old versions. Again, Donna Norton has created a five step teaching
process that really emphasizes the whole dynamic of a given culture. If taught correctly it is one
of the most effective teaching guides any teacher could follow. It allows students to dig deep into
background knowledge, move forward into different versions of texts, leaving students to do the
analyzing and comparing between all phases of learning. There are many cultures and pieces of
multicultural literature out in the world that young children dont know about. In order for
students to gain a better perspective of society, stereotypes and others, reading multiple versions
of one piece of multicultural literature is crucial to the students lives.

Importance of Authenticity within Multicultural Literature

28

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