Culturally relevant curriculum: challenging the single Middle Eastern/Muslim story in public school classrooms

Middle Easterners and Muslims have historically been ignored or inaccurately portrayed in literature and curriculum based textbooks, as the limited information found was offered exclusively from a Western perspective (Wingfield & Karaman, 1995). Even before the September eleventh attack and influx of Middle Eastern, Muslims immigration in the United States, an imperialist perspective of exclusion or “other” took shape. The exclusion of Middle Easterners and Muslims in literature was reflective of the socio cultural assimilation era. Nonetheless, the systematic exclusion was, and is, psychologically detrimental for Middle Eastern Americans. For instance, Landt (2011) explains the “feelings of marginalization, invisibility, and rejection can occur when students do not see self reflected in what they read” (p. 3). The omission of Middle Easterners experiences fosters ineptitude in Middle Eastern children and youth (Al-Hazza and Butcher, 2008a; Fox & Short, 2003; Iskander, 1997). These students may surrender aspects of their Middle Eastern and Islamic heritage in favor of assimilation as a gateway to integrate and feel accepted by their peers (Miller, 1995; Nasir & Saxe, 2003; Olsen, 1997; Taylor & Whittaker, 2003). The researcher will provide primary and secondary educators in the San Juan Unified School District a comprehensive training on the effectiveness of facilitating cultural relativity through multicultural literature, with an emphasis on Middle Eastern American literature. The key elements of the project include summarizing the historic and current representation of the Middle East and Islam, examining the portrayal of Middle Easterners and Muslims in multicultural children and young adult literature and offering analysis on the implications of said literature for both Middle Eastern, Muslim American students and non-Middle Eastern, American students. Additionally, the researcher will provide recommendations to rectify the literary image of Middle Eastern, Muslim Americans from a multicultural, social justice paradigm. Cultural relativity training should be a fundamental element of education credential programs. While most teachers acquire classroom management skills and learn how to implement core curriculum, many lack the resources and preparation to teach to diverse student populations, and not at them (Freire, 1970). The goal of this project was to provide cultural relativity training, with an emphasis on the Middle Eastern, Muslim American culture through an interactive presentation and workshop. To promote a cooperative learning atmosphere, a familiar and comfortable setting for the participants was utilized to promote a discussion, collaboration and inquiry. A PowerPoint (appendix A) was utilized as a backdrop to virtually weave together the three main components of the training (Clark, 2008): A brief overview of the damage of the single Middle Eastern, Muslim story, the introduction of authentic Middle Eastern, Muslim literature via a comprehensive Recommended Book List (appendix D), a collaborative workshop to inspire participants to integrate the books in their classroom curriculum. Cultural diversity training can be effective in raising awareness and challenge the oppressive treatment of Middle Eastern, Muslim American students (Britto, 2011). The training is offered as an essential first step in challenging the single story ascribed to minority groups.