Reading About What It Is Really like Is Eye-Opening: Literature for Youth and College-Level Critical Pedagogy

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Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy






Children’s and young adult literature are commonly used in a variety of professional and school settings when addressing challenging and controversial topics such as economic exploitation, gender and sexual diversity, and religion. We argue that since the best of such books are authentic, accurate, approachable, and emotionally engaging, they can also serve similar pedagogical purposes in college classrooms. This article outlines a set of three parallel-structured mixed-methods research and instructional projects that have sought to assess the appeal and effectiveness of books for youth that address three of the most hotly debated political and social controversies of our time: immigrants and migrants, gender and sexual diversity, and Islam and Islamophobia. The instructional and data collection processes are described with commentary on particularly effective or challenging elements. Pre- and post-survey data provide a quantitative backdrop for narrative qualitative data drawn from student interactions, inquiries, and summative reflective essays. With data from over a thousand participants thus far, these projects have yielded substantial findings and publications. The authors have documented ways to address student misconceptions and reactionary pushback, and the central importance of student-to-student interactions in transforming attitudes and dispositions. Particular books, both children’s picture storybooks and young adult novels, have been shown to be especially effective in opening productive conversations regarding tough issues. These projects can serve as a template for other scholars considering their own choices of materials, methods, activities, and pedagogical approaches when introducing critical perspectives into their classrooms.