Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Cultural studies examines the complex ways in which societal beliefs are formed. It is particularly valuable for teachers of multicultural literature because it focuses on the social divisions of class, gender, ethnicity, and race. Cultural studies looks at the ways in which meanings, stereotypes, and identities (both collective and individual) are generated within these social groups. The practice of cultural studies almost always involves the combination of otherwise discrete disciplines, including literature, sociology, education, history, philosophy, communications studies, and anthropology. An interdisciplinary approach is key to an understanding of these issues, because it allows students to study and compare multiple, varied texts that deal with the culture and history of a particular group.
Impact on teaching literature
In the classroom, a cultural studies approach usually combines literary readings with social and historical analysis. By reading texts in this way, students achieve a deeper understanding of how historical circumstances, social traditions, and the media work together to create a cultural milieu in which certain sets of beliefs are either reinforced or questioned. When the right texts are brought together, students can begin to see literature as a social product with a specific history and a particular agenda.
Incorporating cultural studies in the classroom
The central teaching strategy of cultural studies is intertextual reading: comparing each literary text to culturally related texts. By reading literature in the context of other cultural works, students learn how the literature they study both creates and reflects cultural beliefs.
Texts for this practice may be drawn from almost any source: advertising, television, historical documents, visual artwork, legal documents, theological writing, etc. It's best to contextualize literature with primary sources or compilations of primary sources. Teachers should also look for texts that raise issues with which their students can identify. For example, in this session, Ishmael Reed's poetry and Graciela Limón's novel both look at transformative journeys, which students may relate to their own experiences.
When using this intertextual approach, teachers will want to brief students before giving them materials to read. It's usually helpful to explain that students will be asked to look for ways in which the different texts address similar issues; it's also useful to explain that students will be asked how these texts reinforce or challenge our ideas about those issues. Teachers may also want to offer general information about the texts: when they were written, by whom, for what purpose, etc. Finally, teachers may want to provide background about the characters and images they'll find. For example, when teaching Reed's "Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man," teachers can describe the trickster figure and his role in African stories, African American folklore, and legends before encouraging students to look for trickster references in the poem.
Benefits and challenges of using a cultural studies approach
Cultural studies exposes students to a wider range of texts and media than traditional literary studies; it can also help them to focus more completely on the issues affecting one particular culture or social group. Moreover, by examining the social and political forces that have impacted a particular text, students learn to question the social and political forces that impact their daily lives.
Ultimately, a cultural studies approach aims to give students choices. By recognizing how beliefs and mores have come to seem natural in a given cultural context, students are better able to reflect on the cultural messages they encounter in their own lives.
Culminating projects for assessment may consist of papers, multimedia projects or performances that combine research with literary analysis, ethnographies (including interviews and observation), and personal reflections.