Reading the World, the Globe, and the Cosmos

In the month of August, I am blogging on WOW Currents. You can access today’s post “Inquiry into Nonfiction and Informational Global Literature Focused on Prejudice and Discrimination against Children and Teens.”

Each of the four August School Librarian Leadership blog posts are focused on professional books related to the WOW Currents posts

Along with members of the Worlds of Words (WOW) Board of Advisors, I have been engaged in a monthly professional book study of Suzanne Choo’s Reading the World, the Globe, and the Cosmos: Approaches to Teaching Literature for the Twenty-first Century. The other members of the study group regularly teach children’s and young adult literature in universities across the U.S. and in Mexico. As a library science professor who mostly teaches courses related to school librarian leadership and instructional partnerships, I have rarely had the opportunity to focus on literature per se in my teaching.

This summer, I taught “IS445: Information Books and Resources for Youth” for graduate students pursuing degrees and certifications as school librarians and children’s and teen public librarians. I joined the WOW professional book study group in order to consider ways to privilege global literature in IS445. In our course, we defined global literature as a comprehensive term that encompasses both international and multicultural literature that “honors and celebrates diversity, both within and outside the United States, in terms of culture, race, ethnicity, language, religion, social and economic status, sexual orientation, and physical and intellectual ability” (Hadaway and McKenna, 4-5).

In Reading the World, the Globe, and the Cosmos: Approaches to Teaching Literature for the Twenty-first Century, Suzanne Choo critiques pedagogical approaches to teaching literature in English: nationalistic, world, global, and cosmopolitan. My interpretation of Choo’s framework for pedagogical criticism is that it centers on approaches informed by conceptual values that are shaped by global and nation-state forces that create “global waves” that extend beyond the classroom, geographic region, world, and globe (see Figure 1.2 on page 23).

Nationalistic Approaches
Choo makes a strong case for the historical impermanence of the borders of nation-states. She notes that, in the past, we have misguidedly examined literacy texts as representative of nations of the world when national boundaries and the movement of people across them has always been dynamic. With that understanding, there have always been “interpretive communities” that have assigned meaning and value to texts, privileging some over others. Choo offers publishers, reviewers, and award committees as examples of entities/people who mediate between texts and readers. What is “beautiful” art or “good” literature has always been judged based on changing mores and values bounded by cultural considerations. In that light, readers can and must take a critical stance regarding what has previously and is currently considered the “best” texts.

Literacy educators (including librarians) also serve as mediators who select, promote, employ, and privilege certain texts for student engagement. They also intervene in readers’ motivation or deeper understanding of texts through various instructional strategies. School- or institution-level decisions also come into play in terms of what texts are sanctioned or “acceptable.” Although the number of traditionally published books that meet the needs of readers in our increasingly multicultural U.S. society are growing, they are insufficient. Today’s preK-12 students must be invited to explore the cultures and experiences of ever more diverse classmates and U.S. peers… and in the opinions of our book study members, they must also explore beyond our country’s borders.

The World
Where is the “world” view in literature? Choo argues that “a world paradigm subscribes to a belief about the good of teaching literature that is tied to the goal of world citizenship as articulated via concepts of collective taste and universal humanity” (83).

Choo offers many examples including the concept of the “ideal citizen” as penned by the late 18th-century, early 19th-center German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. She summarizes Goethe’s world citizen as one who privileges the world over the provincial, universal over the particular, and common humanity over one’s own countrymen (73). Choo goes on to write about how this universal concept of humanity “takes over the religious function of the Absolute or God” yet is based in Christianity. In this context, there will be texts that win (are included) and texts that lose (are excluded).

She suggests (and critiques) four approaches to teaching world literature. The first approach: Teach students to read across historical time and geographical space; this was the way early world literature courses (1900–1930s) were organized. The second approach: Teach English, U.S., and global literature in English with a focus on readers reflecting on the global, political, and philosophical ideas of the time in which they were created. The third approach: Use literature to make history (facts) come alive! (I just witnessed how contemporary nonfiction and informational books can make historical/contemporary events and issues vivid.). The fourth approach: Integrate literature with other subjects through thematic units; her critique of this approach suggests a fear that literature will be marginalized by disciplinary content.

Globe
What is the difference between a “world” and a “global” literature pedagogy? Suzanne Choo captured my goal for IS445 in this quote: “The teaching of global literature is used to describe approaches aimed at promoting a global mindset in students so that they will perceive themselves and others as members of an interconnected global village” (91). Considering the current political climate in the U.S. and various European countries, in particular, the focus on human rights over citizenship rights seems timely to me.

Choo mentions the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), When it was written, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history. While the United States signed this Convention in 1995, no U.S. president has sent it to the Senate for ratification. (If you agree this is unconscionable, see next week’s post about “childism.”)

I appreciated Choo’s perspective on the differences between the flat map view of the world and the spherical reality of the Earth. She suggests that a “world” depiction of the planet suggests that parts make up the whole; while a spherical “global” view suggests the whole is made up of parts. (This resonated with me in light of the 50th anniversary of the moon walk. I was eighteen at the time and clearly remember the awe-inspiring view of the spherical Earth from space.) “Education that emphasizes spherical seeing of the human prioritizes students’ consciousness of themselves as citizens of the human race first followed by citizens of their nation or community” (96).

The Cosmos
To be honest, Choo lost me in the “cosmos” section of the book. While I found support for a shared urgency for privileging global perspectives, I did not as clearly see the cosmopolitan frame. “This idea of shared community and shared responsibility for each other and the fate of the human species is the starting point for a new kind of cosmopolitanism that might help us better transact the devaluing of our intellectual labor in the present age of neoliberal globalization” (xi). For me, the global view does result in a shared community and shared responsibility for the fate of humanity and for our planet.

In my quest to increase graduate students’ ability to build empathy through exploring diverse worldviews and experiences through nonfiction and information books and resources, I didn’t understand the need to go further than the globe. For educators and librarians who have been “schooled” in multicultural literature and education, globalizing curricula seems to me to be the next frontier. Leaping to the cosmos would be, I believe, too giant of a leap. That said, I hope to learn another perspective from my colleagues as they implement cosmopolitanism in their courses.

Works Cited

Choo, Suzanne S. 2013. Reading the World, the Globe, and the Cosmos: Approaches to Teaching Literature for the Twenty-first Century. New York: Peter Lang.

Hadaway, Nancy L., and Marian J. McKenna. 2007. Breaking Boundaries with Global Literature: Celebrating Diversity in K-12 Classrooms. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Image Credit

Altmann, Gerd. “Web Networking Earth Continents.” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/web-networking-earth-continents-3079789/

This entry was posted in Literature, Pedagogy, Professional Book Reviews and tagged , , , by Judi Moreillon. Bookmark the permalink.

About Judi Moreillon

Judi Moreillon, M.L.S, Ph.D., has served as a school librarian at every instructional level. In addition, she has been a classroom teacher, literacy coach, and district-level librarian mentor. Judi has taught preservice school librarians since 1995. She is currently an adjunct associate professor for the iSchool at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She has taught courses in instructional partnerships and school librarian leadership, multimedia resources and services, children’s and young adult literature, and storytelling. Her research agenda focuses on the professional development of school librarians for the leadership and instructional partner roles. She has published four professional books; the most recent is Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (ALA 2018). (See the book study on this blog.) Judi earned the American Library Association's 2019 Scholastic Library Publishing Award.

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