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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A postcolonial conception of the high school multicultural literature curriculum Greenlaw, James C.


Currently, in many high schools throughout Canada and the United States, English teachers have been developing literature curricula to meet the needs of their culturally diverse students. However, because in most cases these educators have not had at their disposal the interpretative techniques of such postcolonial literary theorists as Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak, they have been relying, instead, for their reading strategies upon traditional literary theories. Unfortunately, when teachers employ New Critical, archetypal, feminist, or reader-response methods of literary analysis in their reading of multicultural literature, they are often unaware of the Eurocentric biases contained within these perspectives. This lack of understanding of their theoretical frame of reference can then lead teachers to encourage their students to accept uncritically problematic representations of various cultural groups as they encounter these representations in their literary texts. Postcolonial literary theory, on the other hand, encourages students to problematize Eurocentric representations of imperialism’s Others. The advantage to students who use postcolonial reading strategies in order to become aware of the different ways in which people at the margins and centres of empire view each other is that they can thus attain higher levels of multicultural literacy by performing more sophisticated and complex interpretations of their texts than they might have done using traditional interpretative approaches. At the same time, the students’ use of postcolonial reading strategies can help them to become more effective intercultural communicators as they cross cultural borders by carrying out collaborative responses to literary texts with students whose heritage differs from their own. This project, therefore, involves a critique of existing conceptions of the high school multicultural literature curriculum by comparing their key features with those of the postcolonial conception. The principal focus of the investigation is upon how the postcolonial approach can help students to understand, more effectively than can traditional conceptions, the necessarily dynamic and heterogeneous textual representations of dominant and subaltern cultures to be found in both Eurocentric and postcolonial literary texts.

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