Learning the culturally diverse stories and stories of marginalized people can promote understanding and acceptance, according to two St. Xavier High School educators whose work on the subject is included in a new book.
Dr. Beatriz Pacheco is St. Xavier’s learning difference coordinator and Dr. Thomas Malewitz is a theology teacher. Their recently-published research has also been adopted by St. X.
Pacheco said she’d like to see a shift away from telling stories from the perspective of one culture.
“We all have something to add,” she said in a recent interview. “To promote an understanding of each other we need to tell these stories and make them accessible.”
Malewitz said he wants students to know that people’s lives are not that different. Working towards a more inclusive curriculum is in line with the church’s teachings. He points to the fact that many of the church’s saints come from diverse backgrounds.
“Pope Francis does a wonderful job at reminding us of the importance of diversity in the church,” he noted in a recent interview.
The educators said students at St. X are reading such books as John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men” as well as “Under the Feet of Jesus” by Helena Maria Viramontes. These books tell stories from the point of view of the marginalized, said Pacheco.
Such stories, the educators said, help students better understand the world around them.
For example, in reading Viramontes’ book the students at the all-boy school get to “see the perspective of a woman and a migrant worker.”
“They get it. It humanizes her. They see she’s not just the girl who shouldn’t be here because she doesn’t have a piece of paper,” said Pacheco.
Malewitz added that this type of storytelling helps underscore human dignity and also helps develop empathy. It helps them “understand we’re one and united. We can find peace between cultural groups.”
Hearing from individuals from other cultures, also “will give them the words and images to tell their own story,” especially during the pandemic, he said.
Pacheco said their research looked in particular at how a more diverse curriculum can lead to students being more engaged.
It “discusses ways to create a bridge for students of differing cultures in American schools, through intentional additions to curriculum of culturally relevant media and stories that will encourage them to more fully engage in their learning,” she said.
Malewitz said their research, which is one chapter of the book, is called: “No Soy de Aquí Ni Soy de Allá” (I’m not from here nor there). It was inspired by the song of the same name by the late Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral.
“There’s a sense of loss in ‘where do we belong?’ Many (of Malewitz’s students) feel displaced. We’re hoping to find out how to help them engage … and how curriculum can help,” said Malewitz. “Using stories from other backgrounds we get a sense of how they see and interpret the world.”
In the book, called “Promoting Motivation and Learning in Contexts: Sociocultural Perspectives on Educational Interventions” the educators also discuss how:
- Embracing stories from different cultures enriches the learning opportunities for all students by reducing the notion of the “other as something foreign.”
- Literature can serve as a tool to promote marginalization or it may become a tool to promote understanding and unity.
- Adding works from writers who use the voice of the marginalized is essential to promoting a “healthier world view.”
- Reading and hearing stories “in the context of dialogues that reflect the lived experiences of a people will help all students develop empathy for one another.”