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The challenge of monoculturalism: what books are educators sharing with children and what messages do they send?

Abstract

The importance of recognising, valuing and respecting a child’s family, culture, language and values is increasingly articulated in educational policy. Diversity and inclusion are central themes of the guiding principles of early childhood education and care in Australia. Children’s literature can be a powerful tool for extending children’s knowledge and understandings of themselves and others who may be different culturally, socially or historically. However, evidence suggests many settings provide monocultural book collections which are counterproductive to principles of diversity. This paper reports on a larger study investigating factors and relationships influencing the use of children’s literature to support principles of cultural diversity in the kindergarten rooms of long day care centres. The study was conducted within an ontological perspective of constructivism and an epistemological perspective of interpretivism informed by sociocultural theory. A mixed methods approach was adopted and convergent design was employed to interpret significant relationships and their meanings. Twenty-four educators and 110 children from four long day care centres in Western Australia participated. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews, video-based observations, field notes, document analysis and a book audit. This study identified that current book collections in these four kindergarten rooms of long day care centres promote monocultural viewpoints and ‘othering’ of minority groups through limited access to books portraying inclusive and authentic cultural diversity. These findings have important social justice implications. The outcomes of this study have implications for educators, policy makers, early childhood organisations and those providing higher education and training for early childhood educators.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Bishop’s research in 1982 was published under her maiden name of Sims.

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Correspondence to Helen Adam.

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Appendices

Appendix 1

See Table

Table 3 Cultural diversity categories framework.

3.

Appendix 2: Viewpoints and ideologies framework

figurea

Unspoken underlying messages—passive ideologies and assumptions.

Guiding Notes:

Categorisation of Main Character for Ethnicity, Gender and SES.

  • Ethnicity

  • Indicators:

    Note references to race or ethnicity.

    Illustrations used as indicators of above.

  • Gender—male/female/neither/both

  • Indicators:

    Gender noted through storyline and/or illustrations. Use of pronouns such as “he” “she” used in case of animal stories or inanimate characters.

  • SES—upper, middle, low/working, uncertain/not indicated.

  • Indicators:

    • Indicators of SES—language use, context use such as furniture, dress, home and nature of activities performed by characters

    • Adults with white-collar/blue collar positions

    • Linear/sequential routines or other

Categorisation of Secondary Characters for Ethnicity, Gender and SES.

Secondary characters selected and analysed only when more than one race included;

Chosen by ethnicity—if more than one of same ethnicity selected first to occur in either image or text—subjected to similar assessment as above.

Unspoken underlying messages—passive ideologies and assumptions.

Does the book affirm non-mainstream lifestyles and perspectives either covertly or overtly OR.

Does the book facilitate the internalisation of the ideologies and values of the dominant group (Freire 1970/1999).

Indicated either overtly or covertly by story and/or illustrations as below:

  • Characters and actions; thoughts and feeling of the characters

  • Furniture, dress, home and nature of activities performed by characters

Assessing Informational Texts

Information texts are analysed for:

Racial representation:

E.g.: Chinese, Australian, mixed, etc.

Gender:

male, female, both, neither.

SES:

one or more, e.g. middle, lower, middle and lower, etc.

Minority/Dominant—this category classifies the overall viewpoint of the book, e.g.:

promoting authentic, contemporary, stereotypical or exotic viewpoints of races, ethnicities represented.

Classification of Majority/minority with room for comment, e.g. Out-dated.

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Adam, H., Barratt-Pugh, C. The challenge of monoculturalism: what books are educators sharing with children and what messages do they send?. Aust. Educ. Res. (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-019-00375-7

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Keywords

  • Diversity
  • Inclusion
  • Inclusive education
  • Early childhood education
  • Literature
  • Social justice