Using Literature to Appreciate Diversity

Instructor: Amy Kousch

Amy has taught English and communications courses and has a master's degree in agricultural communication.

In this lesson, we will learn how literature promotes social diversity appreciation and examine Narrative Learning Theory as it relates to this important topic.

Social Diversity and Literature

Why do parents tell stories to help children understand challenging changes in life? Why do teachers use narrative examples to explain difficult concepts? Stories help us to better understand unfamiliar ideas and different points of view. They provide an avenue for opening up discussions about diversity (and related subjects such as stereotyping and racism) in the learning environment. Through literature a safe space is created to appreciate and celebrate all of our differences and similarities as a diverse people.

In the context of our social world, diversity refers to variations in human traits, heritage and culture. Beyond race, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, the myriad ways we think, believe, celebrate, educate, and speak all constitute social diversity. Some people can easily become confused or even a bit afraid of those who are different. One way to dispel this confusion and fear is to educate people about human similarities and differences, and Narrative Learning Theory gives us a dynamic platform for the effective communication and reception of unfamiliar ideas, traditions, and modes of living.

Narrative Learning Theory (NLT)

Narrative Learning Theory, or NLT, refers to the processing of knowledge through a narrative lens. Essentially, when a story is told, the recipient uses an internal schema, or cognitive framework of her own memories and experiences, in order to relate to the story's concepts. The common elements of character, plot, imagery, and setting in narration make a diversity of stories about all types of experiences accessible to a wide audience.

Stories help us relate to others and empathize with them.
women conversing

When readers are exposed to new ideas, their schematic framework is expanded and strengthened. In this way, reading multicultural literature not only teaches new and diverse ways of thinking and doing but promotes a powerful appreciation of social diversity.

Examples of Multicultural Literature

Now that we have a clear picture of how and why literature helps readers understand and appreciate social diversity, let's look at some specific examples of respected multicultural literary works according to learning level.

Early Childhood Literature

Early childhood literacy creates a foundation for fluency and life-long learning. The following texts also help young readers to appreciate social diversity:

I Love Saturdays y domingos by Alma Ada

In this colorful tale, children learn from the point of view of a young girl whose family speaks both English and Spanish.

My People by Langston Hughes

Children are invited into the world of African American lives through a classic poem and accompanying photographs in this picture book.

Young Adult Fiction

As young people grow, they develop into independent thinkers. The following books enable readers to relate to the diverse experiences of growing up around the world:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Alexie Sherman

In this young adult novel, readers experience the universal pains of growing up via the unique issues of American Indian life.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

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