The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Doctoral Student (and Full-Time Teacher)

October 25, 2010

Chapter 3: Toward a Cultural Approach to Literature

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 7:43 pm

Forgive me for my lack of blogging (and my upcoming future of over-blogging), life has been CRAZY for me lately. I read this chapter weeks ago, and it is still lingering in my brain. Before I break the chapter down for you, I feel it necessary to point out that the chapter was originally published in 1946. I was shocked. It is still relevant today, which is amazing because below are some images representing the 1940’s in the USA.




It's A Wonderful Life


In the aftermath of World War II, Louise Rosenblatt was writing things like, “In the field of literature the need to acquaint American youth with the literary achievements of foreign peoples has been urged as an important means of eliminating provincialism and fostering sound international understanding,” (Rosenblatt, 2005, p. 51). The fact that this was written well over 60 years ago amazes me, but the fact that this was written directly after WWII blows my mind. It has been my experience that during times of war (albeit limited experience) an increased sense of xenophobia emerges.

Rosenblatt addresses the importance of exposing youth to a variety of cultures, ways of thinking, and styles through the use of global texts. In addition, she argues that international texts help to combat racism and discrimination (perhaps she was writing in response to Americans’ attitudes following WWII). In addition she connects the positive effect of using global literature in the classroom with using American multicultural literature in the classroom.

One thing that impresses me about Rosenblatt is that she goes beyond reading for the sake of reading and literacy. She contends that reading international literature fosters understanding and sympathy for other cultures. Essentially, she is speaking of the humanity in reading. We don’t just read to read. Sometimes we don’t even read to learn. Reading efferently is also the humanity of reading.

“Unity need not mean uniformity,” (Rosenblatt, 2005, p. 56). Here Rosenblatt is arguing that the benefits of reading international texts go beyond culture. Certainly reading international texts can teach us about a different culture, but it can also show us how much the world is the same. Roseblatt shares the example of a contemporary American poet finding his or herself aligning more closely with a French poet than with another American poet. Styles, schools of thought, and niches in literature emerge in all cultures, and it would be more remarkable if there wasn’t intersection and commonality.

Rosenblatt makes a compelling argument for the integration of international and multicultural texts in the classroom. However, she leaves readers with a warning, “Only by turning a critically appreciative eye upon our own and other cultures, our own and other literatures, shall we avoid either excessive smugness or excessive humanity.”

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