Approaching the subject of multicultural literacy

Multicultural Newsletter

What is Multicultural Literacy?

Approaching the subject of multicultural literacy for the first time a student might think it has to do with getting minorities to become literate — to be able to read and write in English or in their native language. That would be wrong, albeit it is a good goal in terms of bringing all students up to speed in communication skills. What is important to remember about multicultural literacy is that by the year 2020, an estimated fifty percent of the student population in American public schools will belong “…to an economic, ethnic, racial, religious, and/or social class minority” (Stevens, et al., 2011, p. 32). Teachers and counselors must be fully knowledgeable vis-a-vis the culturally relevant issues that are present when the classroom is diverse, as it clearly is becoming today and will continue to be in the near future as well.

What Stevens is getting at in his peer-reviewed article is that teachers need to become educated in terms of how they relate to the emerging multicultural classroom. It is clear from a teacher’s perspective that even in schools in the heart of minority communities there are not always a sufficient numbers of minority teachers. The diversity of students today in America’s public schools calls for teachers to show intelligence, knowledge, patience and the ability to address critical multicultural literacy issues and practices in the classroom.

Teaching the Holocaust, for example, can bring a multicultural classroom of high school students together emotionally and intellectually, possibly more effectively than any other subject available in a social studies and history context. Empathy cuts across all cultural and ethnic lines in America, and by teaching the Holocaust with care — and by using historically accurate material for the presentation — the alert, well-trained teacher in a multicultural environment will go well beyond the basic issues of a good education. He or she will be embracing cultural realism.

A good teacher trained in multicultural literacy shares traditional literature and zeros in on traditional tales, autobiographies, biographies, historical non-fiction as well as historical fiction, along with poetry, contemporary fiction — all of these shared assignments reflect the various cultures present in the classroom.

Diego Rivera — One of the Great Artists of the Twentieth Century

Diego Rivera is considered one of the most “noteworthy artists in the twentieth century,” according to Authors and Artists for Young Adults in the Gale Biography database (Gale, p. 1). Rivera was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, on December 8, 1886 and he died in Mexico City on November 24, 1957.

Rivera’s ancestors hailed from a number of cultures, so it can be said that this brilliant artist was a product of a multicultural lineage. His relatives provided him with a mixture of “Mexican, Spanish, Indian, African and Italian blood,” the Gale article explains. Moreover, there are sources that suggest Rivera also had some Jewish, Portuguese and Russian ancestors as well.

When River, a twin, was born — he was the first twin to be born to a mother (Maria del Pilar) who almost died giving birth to her sons — he was fortunate to be brought into a family of teachers. Both of his parents were school teachers. His father, Don Diego Rivera, had a background in industrial chemistry (he actually prospected for silver at one time), he was a local government official, and he had edited a liberal newspaper (El Democrata) prior to meeting Maria. In fact Don Diego met Maria when he was hired as a teacher in a school that had been founded by Maria’s mother. Sadly, Diego’s twin brother Carlos died before he was two years old, and Maria was so emotionally distraught at her son’s death that she “…slept in the local cemetery for a time” (Gale, p. 2).

When Diego was six he began school in Mexico City. As an adolescent, he lied about his age to be able to attend evening art classes. In time he studied art in Spain, he traveled Europe, he lived in Paris, and he travels and learning to him to Italy where he learned fresco style painting. Diego’s work is noted for his extensive “allegorical portraits of Mexican history, the colonization of the hemisphere, and the development of the modern industrial age” (Gale, 2). His biography reflects that in terms of his outside activities, he cheated on the several wives he had, carrying on affairs and having children with more than a few women.

As to his major achievements, and they are too numerous to be included here, but a few of the outstanding achievements include notable exhibitions: a) Galerie Berthe Weill, Paris, 1914; b) Museum of Modern Art, New York City, 1931; c) Museo Nacional de Bellas Artres, Mexico City, 1949 & 1977; d) Exhibition of Modern Art, Madrid, Spain, 1914; e) Golden Gate International Exhibition, San Francisco, 1946; and f) collections of Diego’s work is housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, New York City (Gale, 1).

In conclusion, Diego Rivera “…revived, and put to titanic use, the antique medium of fresco painting…He was the lion of the international movement in social-realist public art” (The New Yorker, 2011). In short, he made substantial contributions to his heritage.

W.E.B. Du Bois — Sociologist, Historian, Civil Rights Activist & Brilliant Writer

W.E.B. Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and he died on August 27, 1963, in Accra, Ghana, Africa. He grew up without a father in the home but his legacy was set because he was raised in a scholarly environment, and had the good fortune to be taught at Harvard University by psychologist William James, philosophers Josiah Royce and George Santayana, and historian A.B. Hart (Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, Gale, 2006). His mother, Mary Burghardt Du Bois, was a member of an African-American community that had settled in Massachusetts before the American Revolution. After receiving his PhD, Du Bois taught at Wilberforce University in Ohio where he married Nina Gomer, who was a student in his class (Gale, 1). Du Bois was “Appalled by the conditions facing blacks nationally,” and he was highly motivated to help change that situation.

In his collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folks (1903), which were received with great literary praise, he insisted that there was a “black double consciousness: the existence of twin souls,” and those twin souls for black folks were “an American” and “a Negro” (Gale, 1). Du Bois was a brilliant organizer, and his views on racism motivated him (in 1905-06) to launch the “Niagra Movement,” a group of educated and activist African-Americans who agitated for “manhood rights” for black men (Gale, 2). In 1911 he founded The Crisis, a monthly magazine, which became “…a powerful forum” for his approach to justice and race (Gale, 2). His books are used widely today in African-American history classes because they brilliantly chronicle the terrible injustices perpetrated on black people — and they illustrate the bold, inspired and literate nature of his writing. His books — including The Souls of Black Folk; Dark Princess; Black Reconstruction in America; Black Folk: Then and Now; Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept; Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace; and The World and Africa, among others, are classics in American literature.

Du Bois was very controversial, even within the African-American community. He was too far to the left for the NAACP, he was identified with radical socialism, and in time he renounced his American citizenship and became a citizen of Ghana. He was buried in Ghana but his literary, political, and social legacy burns brightly in the United States. The substantial and lasting contributions that he has made to the cultural heritage of African-Americans is impressive. Students of all cultures are fascinated with this brilliant writer and activist who was not afraid to take on other popular African-Americans, like Booker T. Washington, for example. Washington, the most popular black leader in America during Du Bois’ life, was foolish to “…surrender the right to vote and to a liberal education in return for white friendship and support,” according to Du Bois (Gale, 1).

Works Cited

Authors and Artists for Young Adults. (2001). Diego Rivera. Retrieved October 16, 2012,

Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. (2006). W.E.B. Du Bois. Retrieved October 15, 2012, from Gale Biography in Context.

Stevens, Elizabeth Years, and Brown, Rachel. (2011). Lessons Learned from the Holocaust:

Blogging to Teach Critical Multicultural Literacy. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 44(1), 31-51.

The New Yorker. (2011). The Painting on the Wall. Retrieved October 15, 2012, from Gale Biography in Context.

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