Tonight I went shopping with my former sister-in-law. She and I are still friends and her daughters are still my nieces. Melissa and her daughters, Brittany and Abbey, are all carbon copies of each other. Blonde hair, blue eyes, tan and very bubbly, and very well to do. Melissa has worked hard to achieve the life style they lead: two-three big family vacations a year, shopping at high end stores (though she is a sales-aholic) and living in a very white neighborhood with homes that are close to a million dollars. Whenever I am with Melissa, I don't complain about my lot in life (one income, three kids, lots of bills, lots of stress) because she does all the complaining. She seems to think that I will relate to her "financial" status. That I will feel sympathy for all the money that the government is taxing her. I tell her that she won't find a sympathetic ear from me: for crying outloud, I am a teacher; I have a tendency to be a little more left leaning than her or at least more open-minded about things.
So where am I going with this? I was thinking about all the homework I had as I was shopping at places like Justice, Claire's and Aeropostale (definitely the 9th circle of Dante's Inferno), and I realized that people like Melissa are the one's who don't recognize their "white privilege." She is oblivious to the struggles of underrepresented groups and she is passing on this thinking to her children. Yes, she is a kind and good Christian, but she is one of the most close-minded people I know. And she represents the type of person who wouldn't understand what I am trying to accomplish in learning more about multicultural teaching and literature. The fact that I want to give a voice to students who don't normally feel like they have one would be completely lost on her. And forget about teaching literature with gay or lesbian characters. I could totally see her saying that this went against her religious beliefs and that she wouldn't agree with her daughters reading this kind of work. That's why I think it is sooooo important to have a solid rationale based on sound research and pedagogy when tackling such difficult and often times, uncomfortable texts. Not all parents will be open to our "agenda," which is how they will see it. Melissa will argue that she is responsible for teaching those sensitive topics and my job is just to teach them to read and write and to get them ready for college (I promise she would say this.) I know it sounds like I am ranting, and maybe it is because I am tired and shopping with her is always a little irritating. However, the students that come to us will have parents like Melissa. Though I love her dearly, she is my complete opposite. She would be the one to try and "love one out" thinking that homosexuality is a choice even if I could counter all her arguments with research and readings that said otherwise.
It is not enough to just teach multicultural literature, but also to have a sound foundation for why you are teaching it and to understand your own ideas and motivations you bring to the teaching. We all have an agenda; we all want to change our students' thinking, but we need to remember the social worlds they are coming from while we are doing this.