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Literacy in Transcultural and Cosmopolitan Times: A Call for Change


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Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary
April 10th – 13th, 2015
Rahat Naqvi, University of Calgary
Literacy in Transcultural Cosmopolitan Times: A Call for Change
“Where have we received the image of cosmopolitanism from?
And what is happening to it?
As for this citizen of the world, we do not know what the future holds in store for it.”
(Derrida, 2001)
What is meaningful pedagogy in a time of transcultural cosmopolitanism?
This is Dilobar’s story a participant in an ongoing study on language awareness conducted in a
mainstream school in Calgary.
Dilobar, a grade 7 student emigrated with her family from Uzbekistan two years ago. Her family
speaks Uzbek, Arabic and Russian. Her grandfather was a scholar of great repute in the region
and was fluent in Uzbek, Arabic, Russian, Turkish and Persian. Her parents speak Uzbek to her
and her 10 year old brother. Many of their extended family members live in Turkey and parts of
Russia. Dilobar is a confident and focused student who enjoys learning languages.
As part of her grade 7 language arts curriculum she was invited to participate in a dual
language book reading project. The entire story is written in two languages that are juxtaposed
throughout the book: Spanish on one page and English on the facing page. Each title was read
three times a week. Once in Spanish and English followed by Tagalog/ English and
Urdu/English. During the reading the book was also projected on the smart board. After each
reading, Mr. Nelson their language arts teacher, would invite the students to focus on different
aspects of literacy acquisition and language awareness. These included initial perceptions about
language learning and the similarities and differences between languages. Students were asked
to focus on how language makes meaning and different cultures and languages intersect in the
Every year that passes, Canadian classrooms are becoming increasingly culturally and
linguistically diverse: 2012 welcomed 257 000 immigrants (Citizenship and Immigration
Canada, 2012), 82.4% from somewhere other than Europe or the US, with 19.2% 14 years or
younger (Statistics Canada, 2011). These are indeed 'new times', and teachers are at the forefront
supporting these students' language acquisition needs. Repeatedly, research has shown that
learners benefit from culturally and linguistically responsive pedagogical practices (Gay, 2000;
Ladson-Billings, 1995), yet teacher training programs and classroom practice have failed to
keep pace. This gap comes with a very real risk to students' identities, literacy engagement and
achievement, both immediately and into the future, and fails to take advantage of the gains
multilingual dispositions afford all learners. In addition to linguistic and cultural needs that
these statistics signal, there are identity-shaping issues having to do with global events and
political upheaval and our students’ awareness and understandings about these crucial events.
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Admittedly some of these topics enter the classroom, but the forms of composition and their
distributions on social media are not a part of their schooling experiences.
Even in the face of cultural differences, global conflict, war, and political upheaval, countries
like Canada, the United States, and Europe continue with status quo classrooms with
predominately neutral definitions of culture and religion, monomodal approaches to assignments
and skills development, and, on the whole, more anachronistic frameworks.
It is at this point that the link between meaningful pedagogy and cosmopolitanism needs to be
addressed. Benhabib (2006) defines cosmopolitanism as “a philosophical project of mediations,
not of reductions or of totalizations.” She considers cosmopolitanism to be different from global
ethic as such in that trying to categorize it through cultural attitudes and choices is insufficient.
In her writings she follows the Kantian tradition of understanding cosmopolitanism the
emergence of norms that ought to govern relations among individuals in a global civil society
(p.20). Kant’s doctrine (1795, 1994) of cosmopolitanism recognized three interrelated but
distinct levels of right in the juridical senses of the term: Domestic law, the sphere of rightful
relations among nations, and lastly cosmopolitan right {which concerns relations among civil
persons to each other as well as to organized political entities in a global civil society). It is time
to envisage literacy education in a future that takes into account transnational migration and the
idea of relations among individuals in a global society. I draw upon various theoretical
perspectives. The New Literacy Studies has argued for the need to examine literacy as
ideological constructions produced within social and institutional settings rather than as a
universal or neutral set of skills related primarily to individual cognition (e.g., Barton, Hamilton,
& Ivanicˇ, 2000; Bloome, Carter, Christian, Otto, & Shuart-Faris, 2005; Gee, 2007; Hull &
Schultz, 2001; Street, 2005). According to Lam & Warriner (2012) research continues to
demonstrate how within any act of reading or writing complex rhetorical styles, interpretive
strategies, and semiotic systems are reflections of the beliefs, practices, and social relationships
of particular social groups.
Meaningful pedagogy in a time of transcultural cosmopolitanism must take into account
narratives of war, turmoil, violence and a cultural concept of the world (Smits & Naqvi 2015).
Today we live in a time when public education seems to avoid the hard societal issues and
educators are often forced to operate within a bubble. Although there is much discussion around
citizenship, there is a dearth of discussion around identity and ideas about transnationalism and
cosmopolitanism must interact with ideas about identity and citizenship. In their discussions of
immigrant identities, Stuart Hall and Pnina Werbner both make the point that identities may start
with the past—with the way that people give an account of who they are—but what happens to
them in the future is equally important as what happened in the past.
The reality of today’s classrooms, which are indeed cosmopolitan in terms of children’s
backgrounds lives in the very fabric of our society. Placing integrated learning structures that
incorporate information about new cultures into a curriculum for example is one way of
informing students about immigrant cultures, how they take new forms and ultimately connects
to customs and traditions in mainstream society. In order to counteract the pervasive
generalizations of social, journalistic and critical media, it is necessary that people are provided
from a young age, with knowledge that can allow for the growth of understanding and relating to
others as well as certain kinds of competencies that will allow them to make educated decisions
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about how they will react to new and ever changing cultural dynamics within their own country.
Schools can be safe places, to meet others and to learn about different people and share
experiences. Similarly, innovative curriculum can be the catalyst to help break down barriers
between cultures and promote a sense of unity that extends into the community. If a school is
united a community can become more united. With a shared future vision and sense of
belonging, there will be a focus on what new and existing Canadian communities have in
common, and a recognition of the value of diversity as well as the cultivation of strong and
positive relationships between people from different backgrounds.
Hence, the task for education is to celebrate not a bland diversity, but a resistant hybridity
and originality in each child. (Davies, 2008). Our society has shared responsibility for living in
difference, for being responsible, not only for ourselves but for the ethics that sustain such a
relationship (Chambers, 1990:115). This line of reasoning has important implications for
community empowerment, especially within multiethnic and multiracial societies. Educators
need to engage practically with innovative practices underpinned by coherent philosophical ideas
will enable rejuvenated approaches to intercultural understanding and learning. The importance
of achieving this has been summarized by Giroux (1992) who advises, “Educating for difference,
democracy, and ethical responsibility is not about creating passive citizens. It is about providing
students with the knowledge, capacities, and opportunities to be noisy, irreverent, and vibrant.
Central to this concern is the need for students to understand how cultural, ethnic, racial, and
ideological differences enhance the possibility for dialogue, trust, and solidarity (p. 8)” In
essence, what Giroux is advocating is that today’s students need not be subjected to a totalized
view of culture, literacy and citizenship; they deserve ideas which prepare them to become more
capable citizens, nurturing their intellect while at the same time providing them the ability to
have a reflexive relationship with society and what it demands of people in terms of
How can we reimagine literacy pedagogies to include notions of transcultural practices,
multimodal epistemologies, and multilingual forms of communication?
A journey from multiculturalism to tranculturalism, opens the horizons and could
eventually lead to a cosmopolitan citizenship, encouraging us to envision the world through a
cultural prism. There are however global and societal challenges that this would entail including
the need for a new set of focal objects in the study and practice of literacy education. According
to (Luke & Dooley, 2011) this would involve examining the full potential, the possibilities and
the limits of community based literacies and how they can be used for development and
hegemony alike. Cucciollata (2002) states,”Transculturalism is not a total objective reality, there
has to be a conscious subjective component which must express itself in the public space, in a
democratic fashion without political interference.” With the integration of Europe and the
Americas, many researchers have been lead to question the validity of globalization on a human
and cultural scale. Nevertheless, what remains absent from globalization discourse is a lack of
what Cuciollata calls “a cultural concept of the world”. There exists an economic concept and a
political concept. However, Cucciollata iterates that the most important concept in our global
village is missing: “The question of multiple identities without barriers, based on the movement
and flow of peoples and of society”.
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I have spent the last ten years conducting research in highly ethnically diverse schools in
Canada, during which I have been disturbed by the strong dichotomies that are embedded in
social norms around the good and the bad, the right and wrong and the progressive West and the
Others. These discourses have been made apparent through impoverished versions of culture
where questioning such realities is a sign of not belonging (Naqvi 2015; Jardine & Naqvi 2008).
My work has been contextualized in the notion of difference and how it is lived in schools and
often goes unnoticed. Through my work I have sought to create collaborative, inspirational and
critical learning opportunities (Naqvi & Pfitscher 2011) that can engage teachers and students
alike in working towards a collective notion of being. Schools and, more broadly, teacher
educators need to be made aware of their global, plural and often inter-cultural identities. It is
only through systemic awareness and intentional work that we can move away from phobic
reactions to specific communities and ethnicities. Despite the fact that the twenty first century is
young, we face a complex and serious situation that needs to be attended to in various ways.
Conceptualizing cosmopolitanism is a viable ideological goal in literacy education.
In what ways can research theory and methods align with reimagining pedagogies?
Transcultural pedagogies and literacy development should involve a multilingual approach,
enabling pedagogues to build on learners’ “funds of knowledge”. Linguistic and textual practices
provide ways for young people to explore and incorporate various aspects of their lives across
cultural and geographical borders. Students draw on multilingual repertoires and dual frames of
reference, in creative and subversive ways, to participate in and make meaning out of their
experiences of migration, transnationalism, and literacy practices. A number of studies (Tetrault
2009; Bruna 2007; Rubinstein-Avila 2007) particularly examined how young people’s use of
language and engagement with texts are related to their social and cultural connections to people
and practices across countries. As a result, the development of reading skills is one reason for
taking a multilingual approach to reading education, literacy engagement (Cummins, 2011) and
empowerment of minority students and their families and communities (Sneddon, 2009; Naqvi,
McKeough, Thorne & Pfitscher, 2012).
As the fourth-most common destination for Canada’s annual influx of over 250,000 immigrants
(Statistics Canada, 2011), Calgary is undeniably diverse. Calgary’s North East is a particularly
rich multilingual and multicultural sector of the community, with several schools reporting more
than 50% ELLS (English Language Learners) (Cowley & Easton, 2013). Currently, after
English, the most common home languages spoken are Chinese (Cantonese & Mandarin),
Punjabi, Tagalog, Spanish and Urdu (Statistics Canada, 2011). The challenges faced daily by
students and teachers working in these classrooms is hard to underestimate. Multilingual students
can potentially thrive in an environment where there are affirmative actions taken to validate
their home languages and affirm their identities. Research has documented the important role
home languages can play in empowering minorities in multilingual settings (Taylor, Bernhard,
Garg & Cummins, 2008). There is general agreement (Cummins, Bismilla, Chow, Cohen,
Giampapa, Leoni, et al. 2005; Helot & Young, 2006) in the larger scholarly and practitioner
communities that languages are valuable, and that working with students to honour their cultural,
economic and existential realities is important pedagogically. Cummins’ (2011) Framework of
Literacy Engagement has made the connection between identity and literacy engagement clear.
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There is extensive research highlighting the potential of bilingualism to enhance children’s
metalinguistic awareness. (Armand & Dagenais, 2012; Bialystok, 1997; Cummins, 2001) There
is also consensus among researchers that transfer of knowledge and skills takes place across
languages (Creese & Blackledge, 2010; Cummins, 1979; Cummins, 2005; O’Duibhir &
Cummins, 2012; Garcia & Sylvan, 2011). However, strategic and explicit instructional focus on
pedagogies/practices that enhance metalinguistic awareness will enable children to make
crosslingual connections and develop their critical awareness of how language works more
effectively than if the process remains implicit and haphazard (O’Duibhir & Cummins,
The linguistic diversity in our society provides plenty of opportunity for “twisting the traditional
pedagogy” of literacy education. In these settings students may bring a dozen or more languages
to the one classroom, creating a rich and unique research platform of language awareness (Helot
& Young, 2006). One such research initiative has been the incorporation of dual language books
into the multilingual classroom. (Gregory, 2008; Sneddon, 2009; Gillanders, Castro & Franco,
2014). My most recent research has focussed on the use of dual language books within a literacy
program aimed particularly at Grade 5 and Grade 7 students in a mainstream, transcultural
setting. Initial results demonstrate the power of reimagining pedagogy and showcases how
transculturalism can be used to reimagine pedagogy. Following are some quotes from grade 7
Share one thing you have learned about language:
They have different accents; the different writing is beautiful; a lot of languages have the same
letter as English; some languages read right to left; some words with the same meaning can be
written almost the same way; I learned that grane means big; 21 words in Spanish; it is not
always in the same order; it’s fun but challenging
Share one thing you have learned about cultures:
Urdu, what they celebrate; Dates of Pakistan; They say it different;-All cultures are different
;Language is a big part of describing culture; They are all different; They can be weird; They
don’t have words we have;-Urdu people wear hijab;-They all different and the same; -Cultures
can be vast.
What do you wonder about regarding languages?
Why are they so worried? ; They have different kind of sounds; -Why are they different?;-How
people come up with them?; How hard is it to learn?;-How people know them fast;-Why are
some languages easy to learn and some not?; How did we develop languages?
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... As a result, what is largely missing from the literature are accounts that emphasize the differences within populations in ways that can complement what we already know and are finding out about the differences between and among populations. As Naqvi (2015) notes, these accounts that support the transition from a multicultural to a transcultural lens can open horizons, "lead to a cosmopolitan citizenship," and enable us to "view the world through a cultural prism" (p. 3). ...
... By operating from this premise, current trends in the research appear to reinforce dichotomies that pit the teaching of a supposed "nondiverse" teaching population against their "diverse" students. In doing so, we have continued to perpetuate a monolithic perspective of diversity that reinforces dichotomies and that is counterproductive to the goals of multicultural education (see Jardine & Naqvi, 2008;Naqvi, 2015;Smith, 2013). The downside is that teachers of literacy are taught to operate based on a notion that diversity resides within particular students and is particularly identifiable when the student is nonmonolingual, non-White, of low socio-economic status, and nonmainstream . ...
... As Naqvi (2015) and others (e.g. Cuccioletta, 2002) have observed, in a transcultural world, the most critical component resides in our ability to address efficiently the continuous evolution of multiple identities portrayed by students and educators alike, based on the consistent cultural flows of individuals and of society within and across communities (pp. ...
The approaches towards addressing diversity in literacy teacher education within the United States typically position in-service teachers to focus on differences within certain student populations as they operate from positions of power (e.g., White monolingual) in relation to “diverse students” (e.g., African American, Latino/a, immigrant). As a result, teachers are not often taught to focus on differences between themselves and students regardless of who the students might be. In this study, we argue that in a transcultural and globalized era where differences collide, intersect, and overlap, approaches to diversity in literacy teacher education must extend beyond current frameworks in ways that provide inservice teachers with mechanisms for considering differences not solely based on their oppositional characteristics but also by way of the overlaps that constitute these differences. In doing so, we drew from the notion of ideoscapes (Appadurai, 2006) to identify the ways in which in-service teachers related to K-12 learners when they were taught to approach diversity based on differences between teachers and students as opposed to differences within certain student populations. The study took place within the context of a course where an immigrant, multilingual teacher educator brought her perspectives about using ideoscapes to address diversity into contact with the perspectives of American in-service teachers. Findings indicated that in-service teachers (a) were more likely to approach diversity in their instruction and assessment based on differences between themselves and students by establishing a pattern of communication between themselves and students, and (b) seemed to reflect silence when approaching diversity through inclusion of all populations and through empowerment of dominant and minoritized populations. Implications for teaching and research are identified.
... 3-4). According to Naqvi (2015), a transcultural view of diversity would seek, as it were, to "twist the traditional pedagogy of literacy education" (Naqvi, 2015, p. 5) intentionally utilizing the various languages and cultures brought into the classroom as a means of enhancing metalinguistic awareness, improving crosslingual connections and cultural awareness for all students, and especially those in mainstream classrooms (Roswell & Zaidi, 2017). Thus, transculturalism, "with its emphasis on meaning-making as a result of global and cultural flows, while offering an alternative pathway for discussing diversity, highlights the complexity within which this discussion occurs as well as the need for pathways to tap into this complexity in mainstream literacy classrooms" (Smith, Warrican & Williams, 2017, p. 5). ...
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The intricacies of language and culture and the ideological tenets on which much of our current conceptions of transculturalism stand invoke logics guided by emerging critiques that question the basis for dynamics such as “historic amnesia” (Pavlenko, 2022) in the field of multilingualism. The tendency to present transcultural practice as it relates to language based on such amnesia creates a necessary pathway for revisiting approaches to transcultural practice in contemporary times. If transculturalism, premised largely on “normative multilingualism” that “until recently, fell through the cracks as no one’s history” (Pavlenko, 2022, p. 34), may not be new after all, how do we acknowledge the historicity of transcultural practice in our attempts to delineate how it functions in the present and might be advanced for the future? And if transculturalism, premised on long-standing historical multilingual norms, eroded by Eurocentricism, is not a new phenomenon, how do we reconcile transcultural pasts with those in our presents and futures? In this chapter, I argue that one mechanism through which transculturalism can be explored that allows for attention to the never-ending continuity in knowing production and revelation about culture across time and space is transraciolinguistics. Given the necessity of acknowledging historic erasure in our treatment of transculturalism as well as the overlooking of how hegemonic structures have played a role in this process, this chapter invites a rethinking of transculturalism by presenting transraciolinguistics as a vehicle through which we might acknowledge historicity and describe current practice for imagining just literate futures. I begin by providing a brief overview of how transraciolinguistics, through a Sankofan approach (Jorgensen, 2001), explains and illuminates the transcultural past. I then illustrate, through excerpts of data from my previously undertaken studies, how transraciolinguistics can operate to guide students and others through metacultural, metalinguistic and metaracial understanding within a transcultural present. Following this, I describe key considerations, through which transraciolinguistics can facilitate transculturally just literate futures. I conclude with recommendations for teachers, researchers, policymakers and others.
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Increasing diversity in student populations necessitates literacy coursework that offers teachers knowledge and experiences to meet these learners’ instructional requirements. Concomitantly, master’s online literacy teacher degree programs are the norm. Thus, online programs must support teachers as they learn to modify their perceptions about students who differ from them in order to foster students’ self-worth and learning. Accordingly, in this inquiry, we explored a graduate online literacy program that focuses on supporting teachers as they learn to acknowledge differences between themselves and their students rather than differences within certain student populations as teachers operate from positions of power.
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