"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." (Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird).
I love this quote. I reread Mockingbird this summer because it had been a lifetime ago that I read it for the first time. I have never taught the book since it is taught in the junior high, but it is a book that kids inevitably bring up each year, even as seniors. To me, this quote encompasses what a good multicultural education should be about (notice I am not just talking about literature here), understanding the motivation of others, seeing things from their point of view, and then feeling empathy and compassion for those experiences, even if they can't in their wildest dreams imagine being in that person's situation. I am not saying a person needs to all of a sudden love and become BFF's with this other person or agree with the situation or ideas presented, however, students need to be taught that they shouldn't be so quit to judge a person and their actions (like Scout and Jem do with Boo Radley) without first "climbing into his skin and walking around in it."
When I was an undergrad (back in the 90's!), multiculturalism was not explained very well to me. It meant reading books by a diverse group of authors (not just dead white guys) about a diverse group of people (not just white males). Never did I receive explicit training about how and why to teach it. It was more about "exposure." Also, multiculturalism didn't really take into account other cultural identities such as gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, family makeup, etc. It was all about the color of your skin so to speak.
One of my group members made the comment that when he reads, he doesn't think about what identities he brings to the book. He isn't thinking about his preconceived ideas about things or what experiences he has had in the past that will connect with the book he is reading. However, I told him that I think he does this on a subconscious level because he is a good reader and I think all readers (good or bad) do this on some level: that's why we choose to read the books that we read for pleasure and (hopefully) want to teach. My students will see a novel, and before even reading the book, immediately begin judging it without really thinking about why they feel the way they do. And I think that is what a good multicultural education will do for a student; it will force them to question the why and how of their thinking, to think about why they are thinking about what they are thinking. (It makes sense when you say it outloud.)
So I think this year, Atticus's words will be my invitation into literature. Don't be so quit to make assumptions and judgments about characters (or people in their lives for that matter) without first climbing in to that tired skin and walking around in it.