The canon revisited: An ethnographic study on the teaching of American literature to U.S.-Mexican students at Macario Garcia High School

Date of Completion

January 2001


Education, Language and Literature|Education, Secondary|Education, Curriculum and Instruction




Statistical social indicators continue to account the negative public schooling practices, experiences, and circumstances of Latinos in the United States. The graduation rate remains varied between 50 and 60 percent. By the age 25, about 25 percent of Latinos have completed high school compared to 79 percent for Whites. Recent research confirms that Latinos continue to enter school later, leave earlier, and receive proportionately fewer high school diplomas and college degrees that other U.S. students. ^ The purpose of this ethnographic study was to examine the sociocultural contexts surrounding American literature pedagogical standards of high school U.S.-Mexican students. The school is in a large city in the Southwestern United States with more than 2,000 students representing a predominantly Mexican-origin population. ^ To learn the beliefs, perceptions, and feelings of participants relative to the instruction of American literature, the researcher employed ethnographic techniques through observation, theoretical sampling, informal and semi-structured interviews, and analysis of documents. ^ Respondents to the Teacher Interview Questionnaire (TIQ) were of diverse cultural backgrounds. However, the majority of teachers within the Department of English/Language Arts are of Anglo-American heritage. ^ A picture emerges from the analyses of the TIQ and focus group of students that learning is taking place within a curricular culture that fosters (re)learning and (re)thinking through diverse literary canon experiences. Although all of the teacher participants who were interviewed expressed that they did not have any pre-service training in diverse works of American literature, they structured their curriculum and instruction toward the inclusion of their students everyday lived experiences—both their personal growth and ethnic culture. ^ The researcher expresses concern for the overall curriculum and instructional experience of the U.S.-Mexican students, because studies suggest that certain pedagogical practices have excluded minority voices and texts and represented only a portion of human experience. Rather than viewing diversity as a threat to the established, traditional canon of Western culture, teacher participants believe that a diverse approach to the teaching of American literature will only allow students the opportunity to explore questions about continuity and change in U.S. literature, culture, and society. ^