Prepared by the NCTE Task Force on Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English, 1978
The following statement, “Non-White Minorities in English and Language Arts Materials,” is a revision of the Criteria for Teaching Materials in Reading and Literature. The original version was first accepted by the Executive Committees of the National Council of Teachers of English and the Conference on College Composition and Communication, and then officially adopted by the NCTE Board of Directors at the annual meeting in Atlanta on November 26, 1970. Since 1970, some changes have occurred. In some cases, publishers have included more multi-ethnic materials in their products. Similarly, teachers, in some cases, have given more attention to multi-ethnic materials in their classrooms. But problems remain. This revision looks at some of those problems and offers some solution. Both the original and revised statements were prepared by the Task Force on Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English, Ernece Kelly, Director.
We hope that you will share the final version of the document with others in your profession.
Permission to duplicate part or all of the statement is hereby given by NCTE.
Minority groups in the United States, especially the non-white minorities-Native Americans, Asian Americans, Blacks, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, et al. suffer crippling discrimination in jobs, housing, civil rights, and education. And they continue to face a school curriculum that, for them, is culturally impoverished. Ironically, it is also a curriculum which, in a different fashion, cripples white students and teachers by denying them the opportunity to learn about the history and literature of other Americans who are non-whites.
During the course of their education, students acquire more than skills and knowledge; they also find and continue to modify images of themselves, as they form attitudes toward other persons, races, and cultures. To be sure, the school experience is not the sole force that shapes self-images, nor does it totally influence one’s attitude toward others. But to the extent that school does exert influence, it is essential that its materials foster positive student self-images deeply rooted in a sense of personal dignity. School materials should also foster the development of attitudes grounded in respect for and understanding of the diverse cultures of American society.
Classroom teachers are immediately responsible for continuing action to accomplish these ends. However, curriculum planners, textbook selection committees, local, state and national education authorities, as well as designers of learning systems and publishers, are equally responsible and obligated.
Print (general anthologies, basal readers, language arts kits, etc.) and non-print materials (slides, study prints, films, filmstrips, videotapes, illustrations in texts, etc.) used in English and language arts instructions are distorted by:
- misrepresentation of the range of genres within which non-whites write
- misrepresentation caused by inclusion of only popular works by a few “acceptable” non-white writers
- inclusion of demeaning, insensitive, or inaccurate depictions of non-white minorities
- biased and out-of-date commentaries resulting from inadequate knowledge of non-white minorities
- refusal to acknowledge the influence of non-white minority persons on the literary, cultural, and historical developments in America.
Book editors and publishers should make certain that:
- anthologies purporting to represent American Literature have more than token representation of works by non-white minorities and that they reflect diversity of subject matter, style, and social and cultural views;
- texts represent non-white minorities in a fashion which respects their dignity as human beings and accurately mirrors their contributions to American culture, history, and letters, meaning that depictions of minority groups be balanced and realistic:
- illustrations and photographs of non-white minorities accurately portray historical and socioeconomic diversity;
- dialect is realistic, consistent and appropriate to the setting and characters;
- editorial and critical commentary include the roles played by non-white writers in literary developments;
- texts include criticism of non-white critics on the works of white as well as non-white writers; and that
- historical commentary and interpretations include the range of minority perspectives on social and political history.
Teachers and administrators should ask whether:
- their English and language arts curricula include more than token representation of minority writers and/or critics;
- efforts are consistently made in the classroom to encourage active use of materials which have more than a token representation of minority writers/critics;
- illustrations or photographs of non-whites in the materials are non-stereotyped and unsentimental;
- illustrations or photographs of non-whites show them in a variety of roles, including positions of authority;
- the dialogue of non-whites is realistic (not exclusively stereotyped);
- discussions of American literary, social and political history mention contributions by non-whites; and whether
- discussions of American literary, social and political history are also by non-whites.
If teachers and administrators had to answer NO to one or more of these questions, the material being used probably conveys a distorted picture of America and its literature. The NCTE Task Force on Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English urges that such material be balanced by other materials that present positive images of non-white minorities. When adopting new instructional materials, teachers are urged to use adoption criteria that will assure that classroom materials accurately reflect the literature of America.
Should teachers and administrators elect to replace their present material, the Task Force strongly urges them to write the publishers informing them of their reasons for doing so.
This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.