I believe that it is our responsibility as educators and future educators of the 21st century to help our students to explore and engage with topics, genre, societies and culture that are unfamiliar to them. This, in my opinion, is especially true for the literature teacher. If anyone is wonder, that means us… SO, how can we do this? Is there an easy way for us to help our students connect with something that is in its most basic sense foreign? The answer is most likely no, as we’ve seen so far this semester, there aren’t ever really any easy answers. So what do we do? When I asked this question, I thought on it for a while. We’ve been studying a lot of YA lit and how we can use YA lit to engage our students beyond what the classics can do for most of them. So, my first assumption was that whatever I need to look at, it needs to come from somewhere within the realm of YA literature. But, as we’ve seen, YA lit is a big place to draw from – so, I need to make that choice a little easier on myself and choose from one of the sub-categories within the categorical behemoth that is YA literature. I thought about what can really help in connecting cultures is to draw something that is directly related to a culture, and for me culture and language are two things that are truly inseparable. So I want to look for YA lit that has been written in a language other than English. There are still some problem there because, I can’t expect all my students to be able to read in any number of foreign languages – so these works have to be translated. Now I think I might have gotten enough to make a plausible question:
Can YA Lit in translation, when presented along with cultural context, give students ideas concerning culture ans what it means to be a teenager in the global context?
Okay, now I have a question all that’s left is to work toward the answer right? sounds easy enough doesn’t it?
Down to Business
… … … … …. This might be harder than I thought. I’ll come back to this in a minute…
Perhaps I’ll be able to think about more on how with a little bit of inspiration. Lets talk bout what has been done in terms of research concerning the use of foreign YA literature in a classroom, or a library, as a means of engaging students into the study of a culture that is different from their own. Let’s talk about what I’ve found.
In her article entitled “The Power of Foreign Young Adult Literature,” Gretchen Schwarz (1996) makes assertions about some big reasons why foreign YA lit is not only a useful tool, but an important part of a Literature classroom. Schwarz writes:
Foreign YA literature can open up the world to American readers, creating new understanding of and appreciation for other cultures. This literature is also a natural way to teach across the curriculum, connecting good literature to history, geography, politics, or science. (Schwarz 1996)
Schwarz sees a real importance and promise in using foreign YA literature as a means of educating students concerning not only cultures with which they are unfamiliar, but also a tool for teaching across the curriculum and engaging the literature class with the important events and moments in history, politics and the sciences. But, Schwarz also sees another importance in the use of foreign YA lit that is as applicable now as it was when she wrote back in 1996. Schwarz writes:
Discouraging prejudice towards other people, as well as minorities within America, remain an important task in out increasingly interconnected but fearful world. (Schwarz 1996)
What is amazing here is that when Schwarz wrote her article back in 1996, she was writing before the events that started the new millennium for many Americans, September 11th 2001. However, she manages to see how growing fears developed after the Oklahoma City Bombing, when people began to blame muslim terrorists and became intolerant of islamic people here is America, sounds very similar to what happened in the wake of 9/11. So, as we can see, what Schwarz has asserted as being important is still important around 15 years after she wrote her article. In her final statements, Schwarz concludes that:
The benefits of foreign YA literature are significant in teaching tolerance, in teaching across the curriculum, and in challenging adolescent readers. (Schwarz 1996)
Schwarz seems to feel that the answer to my question is ‘yes,’ and rather adamantly so. She sees potential in using foreign YA literature as a means of educating students and dispelling intolerance and fear of people from another culture. By showing students that teenagers living in different places, speaking different languages, learning different subjects, and believing in different religions, are very similar to them, that they live similar lives despite the sometimes stark social and cultural differences, we may be able to help to ease the fears and misconceptions that have been developed around people of other cultures. Not only was Schwarz a bit of a confidence booster, her article also provided me with a good deal more research to do. Schwarz often cited a book entitle Against Borders: Promoting Books for a Multicultural World by Hazel Rochman, so I decided to check it out.
Rochman’s Against Boarders, which was originally published in 1993, is actually a bibliography compiling and providing some descriptions of “multicultural” YA literature, videos, and other sources, accompanied by a Preface and Introduction explaining Rochman’s process in selecting what to include and her journey to her understanding of “multiculturalism.” In the preface, entitle “An Immigrant’s Journey,”Rochman recounts her own journey as an immigrant from South Africa and how that has affected her views on “multiculturalism” and her feelings towards books. Rochman writes:
Reading makes immigrants of us all – it takes us away from home, but, most important, it finds homes for us everywhere. (Rochman 15)
A beautiful and elegant point that gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling, but it is beyond that as it rings true in its beauty. As we allow our students to read foreign, or as Rochman focused on specifically “multicultural,” YA literature we are given them a portal, a tool with which they can find home in a place that is foreign to them, which leads to another point that Rochman makes concerning the true purpose of a “multicultural education. Rochman writes:
[W]hat this book hopes to aid others in accomplishing, is the real point of multicultural education: to help kids recognize their own particular culture and understand their connections with those who appear different. (Rochman 15)
Rochman goes further into a discussion of how good multicultural YA lit can influence students and serve as a useful tool by saying:
A good story lets you know people as individuals in all their particularity and conflict; and once you see someone as a person–flawed, complex, striving– then you’ve reached beyond stereotype. Stories, writing them, telling them, sharing them, transforming them, enrich us and connect us and help us know each other. (Rochman 19)
Looks as if Rochman also seems to think that there is an adamant ‘yes’ to my question, that it is indeed true that using foreign or multicultural YA literature is a proper way in exposing students to foreign cultures and helping them to accept and understand these foreign cultures and the people who are a part of them. Yay that’s more support for me! On top of that, Against Borders is a fantastic source of information concerning books and other sources that can be used to assist in a multicultural education. If you need some help choosing some books for teaching a class, I would suggest it despite that face that it was originally printed in 1993, it still provides a great deal of potential tools that are organized well and well described.
Finally, I discovered an article that tugged on my heart for multiple reasons. The article, written by Connie S. Zitlow and Lois Stover, is entitled “Japanese and Japanese American Youth in Literature” and it describes different books that feature themes concerning Japanese culture and gives a brief overview of a good method for teaching a class through uses of the suggested books and themes. Beyond the fact that I had to read this article, just for the sake of it, I found it to be quite useful in terms of content. Zitlow and Stover write:
Reading literature, which offers the closest approach to living through the actual experiences of life, is the way to come to know something about a country and its people whether they remain in the country or move to another. (Zitlow and Stover 1998)
Zitlow and Stover, like the others, are all very supporting to my idea. Foreign YA literature is indeed a good way to help to connect students with the idea of growing up in other cultures and how, despite cultural differences, there are similarities that exist within the teenaged age group, as well as humanity in general, across cultural boundaries. With that amount of support for my argument I might be ready to try to figure out how to go about finding my own answers.
Down to Business, the 2nd Attempt
Now that all my research has bolstered my confidence in my question, I think I’m ready to figure out how to get to my answers. Now, since I myself am not currently teaching I’ll be wrangling up some students from Michele and using them as my subjects. Now, Michele’s students have already gotten some experience with YA literature in translation, so I need to tell you about their background.
Over the summer, the students have read each story in A Walk in My World, which is an anthology of international short stories concerning youth edited by Anne Mazer. This is beneficial because the anthology already contains some works in translation that can be reviewed if they need to be so that the students can have them fresh in their minds.
Well, because the students have already been exposed to all of the works included in A Walk in My World I thought I might supplement their readings with some stories and excerpts that have been featured in Coming of Age Around the World, which is another anthology that was edited by Faith Adiele and Mary Frosch. I will select three stories that have been featured in Coming of Age that are supplementary, that is that deal with similar cultures and cultural issues, to some of the reading in A Walk in My World. As each work is assigned to be read I will give an accompanying question that the students will be asked for the students to think about while reading. After they have finished the reading they will be asked to record a response through a voice thread. After reading all of the stories and developing an opinion on each of them individually, they will be asked to listen to their fellow students responses and create a synthesis of opinions concerning coming-of-age as it appears in each culture and their own, and how they are similar and different. Before the student begin reading the supplementary reading, I will meet with them and provide a brief lecture concerning the cultural context of each of the stories that they will be reading. This session will be recorded and, along with the voice thread responses, will be presented as the multi-media portion of the project.
I’m really looking forward to this assignment and seeing how the students respond to reading works in translation and how they feel about the idea of reading foreign YA literature as a means of educating students about foreign cultures and drawing cultural connections. Let’s get started!
Buona Fortuna Tutti
Rochman, Hazel. Against Borders: Promoting Books for a Multicultural World. Chicago: ALA Books, 1993. Print.
Schwarz, Gretchen. “The Power of Foreign Young Adult Literature.” ALAN 23.3 (Spring 1996): n. pag. Web. 10 Oct. 2011.
Zitlow, Connie S. & Lois Stover. “Japanese and Japanese American Youth in Literature.” ALAN 25.3 (Spring 1998): n. pag. Web. 10 Oct. 2011