Discussion on Multiculturalism
Until recently the Classical Literature taught in schools has been, really, Classic English Literature. The writings of English poets such as William Blake, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Dickenson, and William Butler Yeats, were offered in literature classes in schools in America. William Shakespeare’s plays have always been taught in literature classes along with Jane Austen and Robert Lewis Stevenson.
American Literature wasn’t thought of as “Classic Literature.” Kocis (2002) points out that between 1975 and 2001 classic literature curriculum hadn’t changed much. She agrees that William Shakespeare is important to teach. And so is “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, the great American satirist and fiction writer, because of the way he “unravels the irony and hypocrisy of racism in a way than to other writer can” (Kocis, 2002).
Kocis (2002) also suggests that instead of “classic” literature, “great human literature” should be taught. She defines “great human literature” as being a literature that speaks to all people. It’s a kind of literature that addresses themes that are central to everyone’s feelings although those feelings may be expressed differently. The same feelings can be brought up for different reasons in different people. A person who has been treated badly might because of their sex or the color of their skin will still feel fear and distrust but not for the same reasons as a person that has been automatically accepted by society.
Barbara and George Perkins (2009) are highly respected for their series of textbooks The American Tradition in Literature. The series is now in its 12th Edition and has its own webpage by the publisher’s McGraw Hill which says,
“Widely known as the anthology that best unites tradition with innovation. The American Tradition is proud to enter its fifth decade of leadership among textbook anthologies of American literature” (McGraw Hill, 2009).
Most importantly their textbook addresses multicultural themes from multicultural authors. Their textbooks provide for more flexible choices of the readings instead of strictly adhering to a timeline with a rigid beginning and end. Also they allow the teacher and students to explore many varied voices rather than using a “cause and effect” (Kocis, 2002) format.
Students will find the poems of Emily Dickenson (an English woman) along with poems from Walt Whitman (an American man) in the first section of the book titled “An Age of Expansion, 1865-1910” (Perkins and Perkins, 2009).
The next section is titled “Crosscurrents: Freedom in the Gilded Age” Where among the four authors you will find one African American, Booker T. Washington, and his readings that address slavery and the difficulty of getting an in America education with black skin. A novelist in this section is a Creole, George Washington Cable. The other two writers are not surprises, they are Walt Whitman and Henry Adams; the point being that among the four authors, the spectrum of thoughts and experiences are wide.
Throughout the textbook an incredible variety and number of authors are offered who give a real feel for American authors who have seen the building of the country through different eyes. Each offer a unique perspective on what has made the country great and what have been the flaws.
Some examples of the variety include Edith Maude Eaton, born in England who wrote about the American Chinese experience, Zitkala-Sa, of the Dakota tribe who wrote about the Native American experience, Paul Laurence Dunbar who wrote poems using natural dialects, and even Dwight Eisenhower, the former President of the United States who seems unusual to find in a book of traditional literature (Perkins & Perkins, 2009).
Kocis, J., “A “new American” Literature.” Multicultural Education. Summer, 2002. 9:4 p.33-6. © 2002 Caddo Gap Press, Provided by ProQuest LLC. Web. 20 Sept. 2011.
“A Tradition of Literary Excellence.” The American Tradition in Literature, 12th Ed. Vol. 2. McGraw Hill Professional. 2009. Web. Retrieved from
Perkins, G., and B. Perkins. The American Tradition in Literature. Ed. 12, Vol. 2. Chicago: McGraw-Hill Companies. 2009. Print.