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College of Liberal and Fine Arts

Teaching Social Justice Through Thematic Units:Food Representations in Spanish Children’s Literature

Teaching Social Justice Through Thematic Units: Food Representations in Spanish Children’s Literature

Rachel Oxford

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

 

Abstract: World language teachers at all levels have been impacted by the Standards for Foreign Language Learning and the goal areas of the five Cs—Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons and Communities. As facilitators of the classroom learning environment, instructors weave together interdisciplinary content and target culture in meaningful, communicative ways; therefore, integrating language and content is a vital role for world language teachers today. As well, engaging students with culture in thoughtful ways beyond superficial stereotypes is also critical for strengthening intercultural competence and building enduring knowledge, skills and dispositions sensitive to societal issues. Current thought in curriculum design encourages a focus on larger essential questions such as “Why do people eat what they do?” or “How do our food choices impact our lives and the lives of others?” as a point of departure to examine a multitude of personal, academic and societal perspectives. Consequently, in this paper I will examine food as represented in Spanish children’s literature and show specific examples of how a focus on food representations can serve as the basis for a thematic unit, and thus function as one avenue for achieving the goal of integrating language and content as well as teaching tolerance.

 

 

Impact of standards movement on curriculum and instruction

 

The Standards for Foreign Language Learning and the goal areas of the five Cs—Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons and Communities—have impacted world language curriculum and instruction at all levels. As teachers we focus on what students should know and be able to do. As facilitators of the classroom learning environment, instructors weave together interdisciplinary content and target culture in meaningful, communicative ways; therefore, integrating language and content is a vital role for world language teachers today. As well, engaging students with culture in thoughtful ways beyond superficial stereotypes is also critical for strengthening intercultural competence and building enduring knowledge, skills and dispositions sensitive to societal issues.

The shift in expectations for teacher preparation is evidenced in the core guiding principle for my language program in the School of Education. The institution has adopted a unified guiding principle of Urban Education and Equity “centered on advocating for and providing an equitable education to all students, particularly those in urban schools and agencies.” Our students are required to “demonstrate an understanding of the unique characteristics of urban contexts and keep issues of race, class, culture, and language at the forefront of their work. Candidates will have substantive knowledge about the varieties of urban contexts and cultures, the forces that maintain poverty, and other powerful historic and contemporary beliefs and traditions that support discrimination in society. They understand how other social identities, including gender, disability, sexual orientation, and religion, intersect with the forces of poverty, cultural traditions, language, and racism and lead to inequity in teaching and learning.” Within this framework of equity and social justice, most of our teacher candidates understand clearly the need to address the issues of diversity and culture within the classroom and directly in the curriculum but must craft the specifics as they begin planning instruction.

    Integrating language and content is a cornerstone of curriculum planning for both the world language and ESL teacher. This is facilitated by the use of interdisciplinary thematic units. Such instructional blocks can incorporate various content areas while addressing language development. Caution must be exercised, however, to give the themes sufficient depth and breadth. A focus on the “big ideas” is advocated by Wiggins and McTighe (2005) who define big ideas as “a concept, theme, or issue that gives meaning and connection to discrete facts and skills” (5). World language teachers seek to apply this concept of the “big idea” by engaging with larger, essential questions such as beginning level “Who am I?”/”Who are you?” or “What is my/your life like?” and to higher levels of language development with “How do we look at the world?” (Sandrock, 2002). Other questions might be “Why do people eat what they do?” or “How do our food choices impact our lives and the lives of others?” to serve as a point of departure to examine a multitude of personal, academic and societal perspectives. From this thematic center, students are able to brainstorm their ideas across the content areas of mathematics, science, social studies, language arts, music and other creative arts.

One vehicle to integrate language and content is to use children’s literature. Literature across the curriculum is an accepted practice and can introduce new resources to children which make the information more interesting and memorable (Tomlinson and Brown, 2002). The personal and academic benefits of using children’s literature are also many. In addition to the content areas and skills of reading, writing and art appreciation, students gain in enjoyment, imagination, inspiration, divergent thinking, vicarious experiences, understanding and empathy, cultural heritage, and moral reasoning (Tomlinson and Brown, 2002).

 

 

Teaching social justice

 

Culture is a tremendously complex concept and impacts students in profound social and academic ways. Bruner asserts: “Culture, then, though itself man-made, both forms and makes possible the working of a distinctively human mind. On this view, learning and thinking are always situated in a cultural setting and always dependent upon the utilization of cultural resources” (1996, 4). With this in mind, it is important to consider multicultural education in the quest to teach for social justice.

    Multicultural education is considered by many to be a powerful vehicle for school reform (Nieto, 1996; Banks, 1996). Banks delineates approaches to multicultural education that demonstrate a continuum of development. The Contribution Approach represents the first level at which heroes, heroines, holidays, food, and discrete cultural elements are celebrated occasionally. Next, within the Additive Approach, content, concepts, lessons, and units are added to the curriculum without changing its structure. The structure of the curriculum is changed in the Transformation Approach to enable students to view concepts, issues, events, and themes from the perspectives of diverse ethnic and cultural groups. In the final level of the Action Approach, students make decisions on important personal, social, and civic problems and take actions to help solve them. It is at the upper levels of the Transformation and Action that real change and moves for social justice become evident, and if cultural attitudes are developed by ages nine to ten (Fry, McKinney, and Phillips, 1994) then teachers should be concerned with these issues at the lower grades.

    World language teacher licensing licensure in many areas is now from early childhood through adolescence or grade pre-kindergarten through 12 and thus requires teacher candidates to think beyond the traditional high school or advances placement curricula to include attention to the young learner as well as early adolescent. It is critical to understand that even very young children are developing identity (Quintero, 2004) and can benefit from a multicultural approach. Age-appropriate choices and addressing the complex constructs of diversity, prejudice, and human rights are facilitated by curricula and resource guides from organizations such as the Holocaust Human Rights Center of Maine (Petovello, 1998). Another example, The Heartwood Curriculum An Ethics Curriculum for Children, is described as a multicultural, literature-based, developmentally-appropriate curriculum designed to foster moral literacy and ethical judgment that uses classic children's stories from around the world to present universal values to children pre-Kindergarten through elementary grades. Jweid and Rizzo (2004) provide a guide for middle schoolers emphasizing multicultural awareness and acceptance through novels.

    When teachers are not fortunate to have delineated curricula or when they wish to focus on a thematic unit for which they are developing new materials, having criteria for the selection of multicultural children’s literature is key. Steiner (2001) outlines his Criteria for Building a Collection of Multicultural Literature Promoting a Global Community including strong, diverse characters, authenticity, interconnectedness, historical representation, and balance (xx). Derman-Sparks and the Anti-Bias Curriculum Task Force (1989) further cautions teachers to avoid stereotypes and oversimplification. Indeed, Tunnell and Jacobs (2008) posit that “well-written books that express multicultural themes or are international in their origins may well have a profound effect on readers, prompting a global outlook as well as an understanding that members of the human family have more similarities than differences.” (188)

    Now our widening circle takes into consideration the integration of food in thematic units via multicultural children’s literature. Daniels establishes that “food events in children’s literature are clearly intended to teach children how to be human” (12) in a tome that begins with an examination of food and cultural identity. Via multiple examples we can see food as a manifestation of culture at both the macro and micro levels and across multiple grade levels. For example, early childhood literacy strategies include a range of activities equipping children in listening, speaking, reading and writing which are highly connected to children’s literature, such as picture books. Strategies include reading aloud, reenacting stories, book centers, and the use of recipe charts: cooking activities which are intended to build eye-hand coordination, introduce vocabulary, and make associations to books (Beaty, 2009). Norton and Anfin (1997) delineate how to cultivate emergent literacy of young children with Mother Goose with the preparation of snack or meals based on the nursery rhymes. After a caution regarding sexism (Peter the Pumpkin Eater’s wife incarceration) and violence (beatings by the King of Hearts) and a plug for fostering critical thinking by examining the political and social history of the version being used (i.e. a Humpty Dumpty that looked like Adolph Hitler), the authors almost a dozen rhymes and as many treats from “Pease Porridge Hot” to curds and whey and even churning butter. Beyond these rhymes, cooking appears as a motif in several stories with recipes included in a manifestation of the intertextuality inherent in some canonical Latin American works. Of course, for many teachers, the fact that a recipe is included is a practical tool for either making the treat or making curricular connections.

    So what are some issues of concern for world language teachers and thematic examples?

Immigration and acculturation, identity, and cultural celebrations are key areas which can be integrated. With regard to the issue of immigration, Kunstadter (2006) cautions foreign language teachers about the “growing tide of cultural and linguistic racism [that] can be found just beneath the surface of the national immigration debate” (23). The need to appreciate a pluralistic society is more important than ever. A modern classic, Everybody Cooks Rice, is a simple yet consequential story. Petovello (1998) states objectives, in part that the student should be able to:

Identify the different peoples, places from which they emigrated, cultures, and family structures in the story; understand the concepts of ethnicity and immigration; and recognize how diversity enhances the protagonists’ lives and analyze how diversity can enhance the student’s life. Bread, Bread, Bread is a powerful picture book with photographs from around the world of bread and its fundamental, life-giving goodness. “People all over the world eat bread.” In a delightful twist to the immigration experience, Amelia Lau Carling is the Guatemalan-born daughter of Chinese immigrants who owned a general store in Guatemala City where she learned about multiple cultures—Spanish, Chinese and Mayan—in Mama and Papa Have a Store.

Self-identity and bicultural and multicultural people and families are another area of focus as students benefit from seeing people like them portrayed in the curriculum. In Jalapeño Bagels, Pablo wants to bring something for International Day at school that reflects the cultures of both his parents who are Mexican and Jewish with the resulting jalapeño bagels. Diverse family structure, cultural diversity, and respect for diversity can be explored in How My Parents Learned to Eat, a tale in which an American sailor courts a Japanese girl and each tries, in secret, to learn the other's way of eating. In Dumpling Soup, preparations for the New Year celebration in Hawaii weave in Asian traditions and provided the launching point for study of mathematical concepts such as patterns, measurement and estimation, fractions, area, and graphing and probability (Smith, Babione, and Vick, 1999). Continuing the soup theme, Torres enchants with Saturday Sancocho, a stew prepared throughout Central and South America. With Grandmother Mama Ana’s ingenuity and perseverance, the ingredients are gathered for the family’s meal when they begin with only a basket of eggs.

Cultural traditions and international festivals and fiestas prove a rich association for understanding similarities and differences. Celebrating and recognizing diversity is a first step to greater cultural awareness of self and other. Originally published in English as Salsa Stories, Cuentos con sazón, is a collection of stories within the story of a family celebration where the guests relate their memories of growing up in various Latin American countries. Salsa music blares from the stereo. One by one, friends and family, who come from all around Latin America, arrive at Carmen Teresa's house to cook, dance, gossip, and play dominoes. Mice and Beans is a whimsical and colorful story of the preparation of a birthday party with the hunted mice saving the day.

A bridge between celebrations and farming, food production and harvest is Tonight is Carnaval. Replete with Andean culture, family life, farming and anticipation of the carnival, the book is illustrated with hand-quilted arpilleras from Peru and part of the proceeds from sales were destined for Oxfam America which is committed to create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger and injustice. Closer to home, the theme of farming, food production and harvest conjures ties to Cesar Chavez and migrant workers. For older learners, Jiménez’s The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child (1997) is a semi-autobiographical account of Francisco’s life in a family of migrant workers in California. The migrant theme also emerges in Esperanza Rising (2000) where Esperanza and her mother are forced to leave their life of wealth and privilege in Mexico to go work in the labor camps of Southern California, where they must adapt to the harsh circumstances facing Mexican farm workers on the eve of the Great Depression.

    At the beginning of my methods course I share a powerful quote from Sabine Ulibarri which encourages students to think about the link between language and culture:

In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was made flesh. It was so in the beginning and it is so today. The language, the Word, carries within it the history, the culture, the traditions, the very life of a people, the flesh. Language is people. We cannot even conceive of a people without a language, or a language without a people. The two are one and the same. To know one is to know the other.

Culture and language are wrapped together and can be reflected in meaningful ways in stories that celebrate human diversity and include food from the everyday to special celebrations.

As I have shown, then, food representations in multicultural children’s literature and integration into thematic units can function as one avenue for achieving the goal of integrating language and content as well as teaching tolerance. Teachers have many resources from which to glean and then focus their students on becoming more global and culturally literate citizens.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Banks, James. Handbook of research on multicultural education. New York:

    Macmillan Publishing Co., 1995.

Beaty, Janice J. 50 Early Childhood Literacy Strategies. Allyn & Bacon/Merrill teaching

    Strategy series. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Merrill Pearson, 2009.

Bruner, Jerome. The culture of education. Harvard University Press, 1996.

Daniel, Carolyn. Voracious Children Who Eats Whom in Children's Literature. New York:

    Routledge, 2006.

Derman-Sparks, Louise. Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children.

    Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1989.

Epstein, Freyda, et al. The Heartwood Curriculum An Ethics Curriculum for Children. Wexford,

    PA: Heartwood Institute, 2001.

Fry, Pamela G., Linda McKinney, and Kathy Phillips. “Expanding Multicultural Curriculum:

Helping Children Discover Cultural Similarities.” Social Studies and the Young Learner (1994): 12-15.

Jweid, Rosann, and Margaret Rizzo. Building Character Through Multicultural Literature A

Guide for Middle School Readers. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2004.

Kunstadter, Ruth. “The Immigration Effect.” The Journal of Communication and Education

    Language Magazine (June 2006): 22-25.

Nieto, Sonia. Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural

education. (2nd ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman, 1996.

Norton, Terry L. and Carol S. Anfin. “Ditties and Dishes: Cooking Connections with Mother

Goose.” Dimensions of Early Childhood (1997): 25-30.

Petovello, Laura R., Donna Taranko, and Sharon Nichols. The Spirit That Moves Us A

Literature-Based Resource Guide : Teaching About Diversity, Prejudice, Human Rights, and the Holocaust : Volume I, Grades Kindergarten Through Four. Gardiner, Me: Tilbury House Pub, 1998.

Quenk, Rachel. The Spirit That Moves Us A Literature-Based Resource Guide, Teaching About

the Holocaust and Human Rights : Volume II, Grades 5-8. Gardiner, Me: Tilbury House, 1997.

Quintero, Elizabeth P. Problem-Posing with Multicultural Children's Literature Developing

Critical Early Childhood Curricula. Rethinking childhood, v. 31. New York: P. Lang, 2004.

Wisconsin. Planning Curriculum for Learning World Languages. Madison, Wis: Wisconsin

    Dept. of Public Instruction, 2002.

Smith, Nancy L., Carolyn Babione, and Beverly Johns Vick. “Dumpling Soup: Exploring

Kitchens, Cultures, and Mathematics.” Teaching Children Mathematics 6, 3 (1999): 148-52.

Steiner, Stanley F. Promoting a Global Community Through Multicultural Children's Literature.

    Englewood, Colo: Libraries Unlimited, 2001.

Tomlinson, Carl M., Carol Lynch-Brown, and Carol Lynch-Brown. Essentials of Children's

Literature. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2002.

Tunnell, Michael O., and James S. Jacobs. Children's Literature, Briefly. Upper Saddle River,

    N.J.: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall, 2008.

Wiggins, Grant P., and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for

    Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005.

Wisconsin. Planning Curriculum for Learning World Languages. Madison, Wis: Wisconsin

    Dept. of Public Instruction, 2002.

 

 

Annotated Bibliography

 

Bertrand, Diane Gonzales, Alex Pardo DeLange, and Gabriela Baeza Ventura. The empanadas

that abuela made / Las empanadas que hacía la abuela / por Diane Gonzales Bertrand ; ilustraciones de Alex Pardo DeLange ; traducción al español de Gabriela Baeza Ventura. Houston, Tex: Piñata Books, 2003.

Told in the style of a cumulative folk song, a grandmother makes empanadas, a traditional Hispanic treat, for her family. Includes recipe.

Carle, Eric. Pancakes, Pancakes! [New York]: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers,

    1990.

By cutting and grinding the wheat for flour, Jack starts from scratch to help make his breakfast pancake.

Carling, Amelia Lau. Mama and Papa Have a Store. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers,

    1998.

A little girl describes what a day is like in her parents' Chinese store in Guatemala City.

Chandler, Clare. Harvest Celebrations. Festivals. Brookfield, Conn: Millbrook Press, 1998.

Discusses the significance of some of the harvest festivals around the world and describes how they are celebrated.

Corwin, Judith Hoffman. Harvest Festivals Around the World. Parsippany, N.J.: Julian Messner,

    1995.

All crop-producing peoples celebrate the harvest, the season of reward, and diverse cultural traditions.

Delacre, Lulu, and Susana Pasternac. Cuentos con sazón. New York: Scholastic, 2001.

A collection of stories within the story of a family celebration where the guests relate their memories of growing up in various Latin American countries. Also contains recipes. On New Year's Day, Carmen Teresa's Maryland home is filled with relatives, friends, and neighbors from all over Latin America. When Dona Joseph gives Carmen a blank notebook, each guest tells her a story to write down....

Dooley, Norah, and Peter J. Thornton. Everybody Bakes Bread. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books,

    1996.

A rainy-day errand introduces Carrie to many different kinds of bread, including chapatis, challah, and papusaa. Includes recipes.

Dooley, Norah, and Peter Thornton. Everybody Cooks Rice. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books,

    1991.

A child is sent to find a younger brother at dinnertime and is introduced to a variety of cultures through encountering the many different ways rice is prepared at the different households visited.

Dorros, Arthur. Tonight Is Carnaval. New York: Puffin Unicorn Books, 1995.

A family in South America eagerly prepares for the excitement of Carnaval.

Friedman, Ina R., and Allen Say. How My Parents Learned to Eat. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,

    1984.

An American sailor courts a Japanese girl and each tries, in secret, to learn the other's way of eating.

Hutchins, Pat. The Doorbell Rang. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1986.

Each time the doorbell rings, there are more people who have come to share Ma's wonderful cookies.

Jiménez, Francisco. The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child. Albuquerque:

    University of New Mexico Press, 1997.

Semiautobiographical account of Francisco’s life in a family of migrant workers in California.

Kadono, Eiko, and Satomi Ichikawa. Grandpa's Soup. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for

    Young Readers, 1999.

After the death of his wife, an old man gradually realizes that making the soup she used to cook and sharing it with friends eases his loneliness.

Krebs, Laurie, Christopher Corr, and Yanitzia Canetti. Nos vamos a México! una aventura bajo

el sol. Cambridge, MA: Barefoot Books, 2006.

A book about life and customs of Mexico.

Lin, Grace. The Ugly Vegetables. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 1999.

A little girl thinks her mother's garden is the ugliest in the neighborhood until she discovers that flowers might look and smell pretty but Chinese vegetable soup smells best of all. Includes a recipe.

Modesitt, Jeanne, and Robin Spowart. Vegetable Soup. New York: Macmillan, 1988.

Two rabbits, seeking carrots for the first lunch in their new home and receiving a variety of food from their animal neighbors, are at first reluctant to sample anything they have never eaten before.

Morris, Ann, and Ken Heyman. Bread, Bread, Bread. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard

    Books, 1989.

Celebrates the many different kinds of bread and how it may be enjoyed all over the world.

Orozco, José-Luis, and Elisa Kleven. Fiestas A Year of Latin American Songs of Celebration.

    New York: Dutton Children's Books, 2002.

A collection of more than 20 songs and rhymes from Spanish-speaking countries. Some songs focus on holidays that are unique to Latin American culture while others are for fiestas celebrated around the world, including New Year's Day, Valentine's Day and more.

Polacco, Patricia. Thunder Cake. New York: Philomel Books, 1990.

Grandma finds a way to dispel her grandchild's fear of thunderstorms by gathering the ingredients for an making a Thunder Cake. Unites bits of Russian heritage and an American farm setting.

Rattigan, Jama Kim, and Lillian Hsu-Flanders. Dumpling Soup. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993.

A young Asian American girl living in Hawaii tries to make dumplings for her family's New Year's celebration.

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Esperanza Rising. New York: Scholastic Press, 2000.

Esperanza and her mother are forced to leave their life of wealth and privilege in Mexico to go work in the labor camps of Southern California, where they must adapt to the harsh circumstances facing Mexican farm workers on the eve of the Great Depression.

Ryan, Pam Muñoz, and Joe Cepeda. Mice and Beans. New York: Scholastic, 2001.

In this rhythmic cumulative tale Rosa Maria spends the week getting ready for her granddaughter's birthday party and trying to avoid attracting mice--unaware that the mice in her walls are preparing for a party of their own.

San Souci, Robert D., and Jerry Pinkney. The Talking Eggs A Folktale from the American

South. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1989.

A Southern folktale in which kind Blanche, following the instructions of an old witch, gains riches, while her greedy sister makes fun of the old woman and is duly rewarded.

Torres, Leyla. Saturday Sancocho. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1995.

Maria Lili and her grandmother barter a dozen eggs at the market square to get the ingredients to cook their traditional Saturday chicken sancocho. Includes recipe.

Weeks, Sarah, and Betsy Lewin. Two Eggs, Please. New York: Atheneum Books for Young

    Readers, 2003.

A look at the many different ways to prepare the very same food, as everyone in a diner orders eggs.

Wing, Natasha, and Robert Casilla. Jalapeño Bagels. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for

    Young Readers, 1996.

For International Day at school, Pablo wants to bring something that reflects the cultures of both his parents.