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This Textbook is Antiracist. Would you use it?

Over the past two years or so, I have been speaking publicly about the need for textbooks in the college/university language classroom that reflect an inclusive teaching philosophy and that support equitable classroom engagement.  Unfortunately, I haven't seen nor heard of the publication of a single textbook that would accommodate this type of classroom philosophy.  I admit that the details of just what the characteristics of the textbook that would be appropriate in this type of classroom environment are lacking.  In the past nine months or so, I have been working on a plan, meant to solely outline what it is that I say that this type of classroom should be, to better articulate what I am expecting from an antiracist textbook.

It was only recently that I determined that I will have to make the book that I want to see--as per the social justice ideology of "see, engage, act". I'm wise enough to know that I don't have all the answers, that I need to form a team of like-minded professionals who will work on this plan with me.  So, I have begun to contact some scholars that I know would not only support my efforts to create a pedagogy for teaching literature in WLE, but also be willing to work with me on my vision for this antiracist anthology textbook, and therefore, I am now endorsing the curricular philosophy of "identify, collaborate, design." Thus far, I have approximately a dozen scholars who say they want to work with me. Once I have the team in place, I'll be looking for a textbook publisher.  So stay tuned.

I know this much: our textbook will be a literary anthology, a book made for undergraduate students who are reading original literature in Spanish for the first time. I have proposed that my textbook will have various authors who will provide what I deem to be sugnificant diversity-- geographically, gender/sexuality, thematically, linguistically, and racially/ethnically--so that I can introduce literature with issues of social justice to the undergraduate learner. I recognize that since the objective of the introductory literature course is the development of reading and critical thinking skills, the development of intercultural competence, and the continued growth in the area of linguistic proficiency in the target language, there is no need to have the students read only the works of traditionally canonical authors or to have them read for exposure only. I believe that if the students can come to value the texts for their message alone first, then for its artistic complexities, they may actually find literature more relevant.

Though usefulness and relevance are not in themselvesgoal for literature instruction—and nor should they be—I mention then here to counter the argument that literature study is arcane.While there are scholars and authors themselves who prefer maintaining literature as an entity very separate from the understanding of the common person, I am not one of them. Reading is a joy and writing literature takes great talent, so reading literature is an activity that can be done just for joy and for academic pursuits. The first course in literature for undergraduate students of a foreign language should not be about teaching great literary works, but instead, about learning to read (understand, interpret and evaluate) literature. Choosing texts whose themes, literary techniques, and vocabulary are accessible to the students just seems like the smartest thing to do. It is, I  believe, the way to introduce new skills and to polish skills that are already in development.

Because I endorse using this first literature course as the way to introduce themes of sociopolitical importance does not mean that I believe in emphasizing themes over form. Literature, after all, is an artistic endeavor.

It is a missed opportunity to talk about social justice and political unrest in Latin America if students aren't exposed to the power of literature. Literature has power because, as we all know, literature always helps to drive revolution. My favorite genre, the essay, for example, is specifically the form of literature that has been used across the world in protest. The essay is also the form of prose used to retell stories and to report the news, providing for us the art of journalism. Journalism is not only important as a responsibility to the people--a free press is the one sign that freedom of expression exists in a country. How many journalists have been imprisoned or killed for what they wrote and published in a newspaper? Other forms of prose are also equally interesting in a socio-political context too--the narrative and poetry allow us to see and feel what inspires those rebels, and through the use of drama, we can see art imitating life quite literally.

What I am proposing is to select texts for a literary anthology that have something to say and aren't just forms of literature for the sake of creating art.  Yet, all the texts will also have sufficient literariness and art to not lose the opportunity to discuss what is good literature too. I have just grown weary of textbooks that center whiteness and that actively avoid any discussion of the issues that the authors themselves may have faced when they wrote the work. While we can talk of literature used to distract from thornier issues, shouldn't we also identify what those thorny issues are in the first place? Why can't we have more women authors and authors from countries other than just Spain, Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile? And, what are we saying (what's the subtext?) when we publish/buy/use textbooks that only use authors from those sev n countries? Why can't we read texts with our students that discuss dictatorships, social issues, and economic concerns for the author and their contemporaries? I would bet that most of us believe in what we're teaching so much, that our literature courses aren't devoid of these works at all, but instead, we supplement our textbooks with photocopies or scanned copies of other texts that we either enjoy teaching or we think are important to teach. If we're supplementing our textbook, then, there's something wrong with the textbooks available to us. This is why I am proposing to work with some like-minded scholars to make a literary anthology textbook for the rest of us.

As much as possible, I would like the textbook to be reasonably priced. I would like to see Spanish majors keeping this textbook, though I know that very few students even purchase textbooks anymore. Textbook publishers are using more electronic materials and typically sell all the materials that the instructor will need in one package. There are reading comprehension questions, online dictionaries, and even biographic and background info on each author and his/her/their work all found within the course material attached electronically to a $200 textbook. I don't want a $200 textbook for my students. Instead, I want an affordable textbook that also brings living authors to our classroom. Keeping in mind that textbooks tend to be higher priced because of all those electronic materials and securing the rights to the literature, I want to be mindful of every step of the way as we create the textbook.

While some may use these photocopies and scanned pages to bring exposure to certain lesser-known and unanthologized authors to our classroom, what benefit do the authors get if they are not compensated for the use of their works? We are hurting them financially if we don't have them published in a textbook. And we are not doing as much good as we believe we are by "exposing" students to these authors by photocopy or PDF. Those pages are more likely to be lost or recycled precisely because they are not found in textbooks. Then, once again, no one knows the titles of those works, let alone the names of those authors, and no one is wiser for having been "exposed". We need those supplemental texts to be included in our textbooks. We need to be demanding this of both the editors of those anthologies and the publishing companies that sell them. Yes, the textbook price will go up for every author whom the publishers will have to pay to have the rights to reprint their works, but it is the honorable thing to do anyway. Why shouldn't the authors and their families be paid? It's easy to think that the only people who make money off those textbooks are the publishers, right? But, is that so?

Every author who is included in this antiracist anthology will make more money from the sale of our textbook to the publisher, even if we (the editors of the anthology) don't make much at all and I think that that is fair. When we supplement the textbooks we already use in our literature courses with photocopies and PDFs, those unknown and lesser-known authors don't benefit at all. If the textbook is successful (meaning well -sold) , maybe we'll have new editions coming out every few years.  But if it isn't, we can still use it in our own classes. It's still a win-win for our students and these lesser-known authors.

What remains important--the most important of all these important issues--is the learning that is possible when we (1) require the use of an official textbook in our literature courses; (2) anthologize diversity (authors of diverse ethnic, gender, linguistic, and geographic identities and sociopolitical contexts and origins) in our course curriculum; and (3) maintain the academic rigor of our discipline without obfuscation of its goals and relevance in the intellectual development of our students.

The study of literature in World Language Education (WLE) may be arcane, but it doesn't have to be and, furthermore, it shouldn't be if we examine literature as an artifact of culture that is not only worthy of our attention, but also a necessary intellectual pursuit and an exercise of higher order thinking from which we all benefit.

The study of literature, despite its origins, deserves an ideology and a specific methodology. Otherwise, who but other literature people will take it seriously? While it is so simple, and we are sometimes suspicious when confronting such simple logic, it remains true that when we treat the study of literature as an activity of exclusivity, the pursuit of a very elite intellectual few, we make it both arcane and irrelevant. An antiracist and inclusive teaching approach to reading and interpreting literature denies its consideration as a form of elitism and disrupts its use as a tool to separate people by distinguishing some of a certain class and others of lacking the pedigree to enter said social class. In this way, the use of a textbook, more specifically, making a deliberate choice to require the use of an antiracist anthology textbook in an introductory literature class is inherently democratic. Nevertheless, adopting an antiracist anthology textbook is only a small step forward and away from the kind of intellectual elitism that we should all reject. The antiracist textbook is both a statement and a responsibility.

Teaching, as a profession, is already fully recognized as a great responsibility--no matter the discipline. But when an educator selects an antiracist textbook, it's a statement about that educator's values. The antiracist textbook lets its reader know that the educator that chose it and uses it values diverse perspectives and seeks to facilitate the intellectual development of all her students through the use of pedagogical approaches that endorse the attainment of skills and the application of those skills to more effectively and creatively resolve problems. Therefore, the antiracist textbook requires both the educator and the student to take on very active roles for learning to occur.

Traditional roles in the classroom that acknowledge only one point of view and only one ideological center (a teacher-centered pedagogy) are ineffective in the classroom where equitable and inclusive teaching practices are prioritized. The antiracist textbook requires a student-centered teaching approach for the highest level of learning to occur.. Students are not only asked to take responsibility for their learning, they are required to take an active role in the teaching to make their learning possible. Flipped classrooms--where students participate in teaching activities that encourage them to question not only what is taught, but how it is taught--empower the students to challenge conventional thinking, learning, and praxis. Students must reflect on their life experiences and perspectives to understand more profoundly what is read, to interpret texts, and to evaluate why and how conclusions are drawn. The students' expectations for the value of what they learn is increased significantly when they are not obligated to "learn" the one right way to see, interpret, and engage with learning. As a result, learning--and education as a whole--is both liberating and unifying. When students understand that they have the responsibility and the power to determine to what extent that the information can be true and valuable to them, they feel free to express their opinions and to explore topics, to go beyond what they see on the pages of a textbook. The antiracist textbook doesn't provide the answer , but rather, it provides clues to routes and maps that lead to discovery and allows the students to flesh out answers of their own.

Indeed, the antiracist literary anthology that functions as a textbook, like the antiracist ideology that defines it, is incompatible with teacher-centered lectures, lesson plans, and curricula. This fact identifies the teacher's role as facilitator, which bestows upon the teacher less power, but even more responsibility, making teaching even more challenging. To facilitate learning, demonstrable goals must be stated only after designing the curriculum that will ferry the students to achieve those goals. The text selection within the context of the appropriate anthology used must be measured and deliberate to ensure that the goals are S.M.A.R.T--specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-oriented. The antiracist textbook de-centers and democratizes education, ideology, and power. While the educator that stands before the class has the formal preparation and the professional obligation (by virtue of the fact that she is being paid) to "teach", the antiracist educator believes in and practices an equitable and inclusive teaching approach and doesn't dictate, but allows the students the possibility of transformative learning by relinquishing the power over the class to allow the students to think for themselves. By asking questions that are increasingly more challenging for the students to answer, the facilitator, previously known as the "teacher", obligates them to develop higher order thinking skills and to be reflective and critical of their own perspective and logic. This type of dialogic praxis requires the learning facilitator to be prepared to model inquiry, exploration, and discovery by asking questions that lead to more critical thinking. Since the antiracist anthology textbook for the Hispanic literature class provides the students the opportunity to read complex literary works without a single perspective, a single central theme, or the concept of a single authority, the students have no other choice but to think for themselves, to form their own opinions and interpretations of the texts they read, and to support their arguments with the advantage that reading, literary theory, factual knowledge, and sound logic afford them.

Yet, the question remains--if an antiracist literary anthology textbook existed, knowing the preparation required to use it effectively, would you choose to use it in your literature courses?

If you are a professor in a college or university in the US and teach Hispanic literature to undergraduates, please click the following link to participate in a survey about the curriculum, textbook, and any materials you use to supplement the undergraduate literature courses that you teach.  It will take no more than 5 minutes and your participation may help improve textbooks and literary anthologies for literature courses in Spanish.

Feel free to share the link with colleagues and friends who also teach literature in Spanish at universities in the United States. 

Or scan the QR code below

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